Free children's PJ Library service enjoys novel launch


Celebrities have revealed their reading habits in support of the UK launch of the PJ Library, which provides free monthly children’s Jewish books on modern non-denominational themes.

Over 250 children and their parents attended the opening event at the Arts Depot in Finchley, at which PJ unveiled a display of “Stories That Shaped Us”, including contributions from newsreader Emily Maitlis, actress Tracy-Ann Oberman, scientist and TV presenter Lord Winston and prominent rabbis.

Ms Maitlis recalled that her favourite childhood book was Midnight is a Place by Joan Aiken. “It is very very dark and somehow she recognised that children would lap it up.

“It describes child labour in a carpet mill in Victorian times and has a Dickensian quality, as well as a fantastical element to it.

“Of course, I can’t get my own kids to touch it because I’m recommending it!” Lord Winston opted for First Year of Scientific Knowledge by Paul Bert (1889), given to him by his grandpa. “It contains wonderful Victorian illustrations of heavily moustached Frenchmen doing experiments.”

Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks nominated Alice in Wonderland. “As a child I was intrigued by the imagination and creativity of the story. Looking back, you realise there were also some deep philosophical thoughts in there as well.”

PJ (as in pyjamas) gifts over 400,000 Jewish-themed books every month to children aged up to eight in America, Mexico, Israel and Australia so that families can create their own bedtime libraries. In the month since its UK website went operational, 1,000 parents have registered interest.

Its UK director, Lauren Hamburger, said “it was fantastic to introduce our books to so many new families and get parents excited to read beautifully written and illustrated Jewish books to their children”.
The annual cost of the UK operation is around £350,000, funded by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and philanthropic partners here.

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