PJ Library, a nonprofit program that distributes 245,000 books each month free to families in the U.S. and Canada, has made changes to its PJ Publishing imprint as part of a strategy to publish more books and reach more readers.
The Harold Grinspoon Foundation—a Jewish philanthropic organization headquartered in Agawam, Mass., founded PJ Library in 2005 with the aim to strengthen readers’ Jewish identities and encourage their involvement in Jewish life. PJ Library is funded by both the HCF and donations via philanthropists, Jewish federations, community centers, and other nonprofit organizations in local communities. Globally, PJ Library ships 680,000 books per month, reaching 36 countries with books translated into seven languages to support both the PJ Library program for kids 0-8, and its PJ Our Way program, for kids 9-12.
Since it was established in 2014, PJ Publishing has published 41 books to date. Output for the imprint is expected to increase to 20 titles a year moving forward through efforts to sign more authors and illustrators around the world. “We want to share new stories that haven’t been told,” says Alex Zablotsky, managing director of PJ Library. “Global expansion requires a broader bandwidth to find authors in other languages and to adapt the books accordingly.”
To meet its publishing targets, PJ Library recently hired Simon Klarfeld as director of content. Additionally, Jill Shinderman joined PJ Library as director of publishing and creative development, while Chris Barash, formerly chair of the book selection committee, has been promoted to director of acquisitions. Finally, Catriella Freedman has been promoted from director of PJ Our Way to director of author and illustrator stewardship. Klarfeld reports to Zablotsky, while Shinderman, Barash, and Freedman each report to Klarfeld.
Speaking with PW about her new role, Shinderman says PJ Publishing has “the opportunity to create engaging narratives with relatable Jewish characters that reflect the diversity of Jewish life and practice.” She adds, “There isn’t a lot of content out there for Jewish kids and families. It’s exciting to be a contributor in this space."
Shinderman’s background includes working for Nickelodeon, PBS Kids, Disney, and Scholastic. She also founded the small press Barclay Square Books. Shinderman’s goals at PJ Library include creating more author and illustrator connections and increasing annual output. Referring to PJ’s backlist as “nutrient-rich soil,” she notes, “We want to grow in a way that takes the beauty there and elevates it.”
Challenges lie in “being very intentional with the titles you’re going to publish,” Shinderman says. “Working within a program that reaches such a large number of families, we are conscious of and respectful of those narratives and characters that can speak to all different kinds of families, and in a way that connects to Judaism and Jewish life. It’s very important to us.”
PJ's past, present, and future
In addition to expanding the staff, PJ Publishing is releasing five new books between now and early 2023. These include Jonah by Tammar Stein, illustrated by Sabina Hahn (Aug.), which is an early chapter book that retells the story of Jonah, timed with the Jewish High Holidays; Hi, Hello, Welcome by Chris Barash, illustrated by Rosie Butchera (Sept.), a lift-the-flap board book about welcoming guests during Sukkot; and Five Brave Knights vs. the Dreadful Dragon by Netalie Gvirtz, translated by Shira Atik, illustrated by Menahem Halberstadt (Oct.). Originally published in Hebrew, the book is based on a fable from the Talmud that follows five siblings. Also slated for publication is Hanukkah at Monica’s by Varda Livney (Nov.) and I’m a Little Acorn, a board book illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford (Jan. 2023).
While some of the books PJ Library sends out through its programs are licensed from other publishers, several are new and original to PJ Publishing. Nevertheless, all of the titles tell stories through a Jewish lens, and the content has a broad appeal, according to Zablotsky. Further, PJ Library’s website states that all Jewish families are welcome to enroll in the programs, “whatever your background, knowledge, or family make-up, or observance may be.” Zablotsky explains, “We view being Jewish as a religion, but also as a culture, nationality, ethnicity, thought, and philosophy.” And the books “tell all-encompassing Jewish stories, both religious and secular,” he says. Selected titles are also available to anyone via Amazon.
As for its name, PJ stands for pajamas, because "PJ Library supports reading any time of the day, but we know that many families sit down to read books at bedtime, in their pajamas," the website reads.
Reflecting on PJ Library’s programs, Zablotsky is particularly proud of efforts to engage families and respond to their needs in real-time through various platforms, including not only books but audiobooks, animated stories, and online engagement activities. For example, PJ Publishing is creating a Ukrainian-language animation of The Suitcase, originally published in English by Nosy Crow in 2019, “to support families in this extremely challenging time,” Zablotsky says. “Our expansion into multiple formats enables us to reach different people in different ways.”
Looking ahead, Zablotsky hopes to grow PJ Library’s Spanish-language program. “We are actively working to bring PJ Library to Argentina, the largest Spanish-speaking Jewish community,” he says. “Accomplishing this goal would effectively double [the] program.”
To find out more about PJ Library, click here.