Multi-millionaire plans to give books to UK children

By Simon Rocker, February 21, 2014

In the digital age, the People of the Book may be in the process of becoming the People of the iPad.

But for one American Jewish entrepreneur, a book at bedtime is still an irreplaceable experience for children.

Every month, Harold Grinspoon’s PJ Library sends out nearly 350,000 Jewish-themed books free for children aged from six months to eight years in the US, Israel and elsewhere.

Now, the 84-year-old businessman, whose project was originally inspired by Country and Western star Dolly Parton, is hoping to extend his scheme to the UK.

“Everyone knows the first 2,000 days of a child’s life is very important to nurturing the development of that child,” he said.

He had been one of the sponsors of the Imagination Library, a gift book scheme launched by Dolly Parton to promote reading among children, when the thought occurred, “Why not have a Jewish book?”.

So, in 2005, he launched his own PJ Library with the aim of not just exciting the imagination of children with Jewish stories but also, he said, of “encouraging a conversation about Judaism between parent and a child.

“Each book has a flap that goes in it explaining the Jewish content to parents so they know what it’s in the book and to be prepared to answer questions.”

Each month, a PJ Library book goes out to Jewish schools or families who sign up to the programme. Mr Grinspoon’s foundation meets half the cost, with other partners covering the remainder.

A Spanish-language version has begun in Mexico, a pilot scheme has started in Australia and an advisory team has been assembled in Britain to explore its feasibility after a visit to London by Mr Grinspoon last month.

Citing a recent report in the UU which put the non-Orthodox intermarriage rate at 70 per cent, he believed there was an even greater need to bring “Yiddishkeit into the home”.

Even attendance at a Jewish school does not guarantee a love of Jewish books.

Mr Grinspoon, who came from a poor background, started by driving an ice-cream van and made his fortune in real estate. His foundation now gives £12m annually to Jewish causes.

As for his own favourites in the expanding library, he said; “Bagels for Benny is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.”

Last updated: 6:45am, February 21 2014