The Whole Megillah (TWM): Parents and grandparents are the first to say how much they love PJ Library. How do you reach out to them?
Chris Barash (CB): The first important step in creating a meaningful connection with families is to provide them with consistently great Jewish books. We have a fabulous Book Selection Committee that takes that joyful responsibility very seriously.
PJ also sends out parent surveys every other month, each of which reaches about 10,000 participant families, asks for input about individual books and offers space for open-ended responses. Every one of those thousands of comments is read, and our Book Selection Committee considers them when making its choices.
Of course, a good deal of engagement takes place at the local level. PJ is an international program that’s implemented locally. We have a growing cadre of PJ Professionals throughout North America who, with support from our home office, work to link PJ families to each other, to local events and to offer other engagement opportunities such as PJ story times and neighborhood holiday celebrations.
The PJ Library website offers another way for us to reach out, as it features family-friendly Jewish content. Our blog integrates content from partners such as Shalom Sesame and Kveller. We share that blog content via Facebook, Twitter, and our monthly e-newsletter. We have 80+ geographically-specific PJ Library Facebook pages and more than 250,000 recipients of localized PJ e-newsletters. So, we know PJ parents are among those making use of these on-line resources.
TWM: How do you select books for inclusion in your program?
CB: There are several ways books come to be included in our program. Published book recommendations come to us from publishers, authors, PJ Professionals, parents, grandparents — and sometimes from folks who fondly remember a title from their childhood and want to see a new generation enjoy a certain book as they did.
In addition, we happily accept manuscripts from authors, publishers and the occasional agent. On average, we receive 15 to 20 of these per month. Only a small percentage of those manuscripts make it through our rigorous selection process. Each manuscript is read by committee members. For each reading, a rubric is completed with narrative written responses. Each is then discussed by the committee as a whole. Those manuscripts we feel would be a great fit for our program are sent to publishing houses with an initial commitment from PJ Library. Happily, the great majority of manuscripts we accept find a publisher.
To date, PJ Library has helped bring to publication approximately 35 new books, with another 25 currently in process of editing or publication. In addition, about 25 titles have been brought back into print for our program, half of which are also available on the trade market.
TWM: Are there plans to expand the program?
CB: Harold Grinspoon, the founder and creative force of PJ Library, sees to it that ideas for improving and expanding our ability to reach more families in enhanced ways are always on the drawing board.
Our PJ sister programs, Sifriyat Pijama (in Israel) and Sifriyat Pijama B’America (books in Hebrew for native-speaking Israeli children living in North America), are two good examples of PJ’s expansion, while PJ Goes to School reaches a growing number of young children by supplying PJ Library books, teacher resources and professional development to preschools around the country.
We’re also exploring how best to reach PJ “graduates,” those in the 9- to 12-year-old age range. It seems a very natural extension to find ways to keep post-PJ Library children reading, discussing and being involved in Jewish life.
TWM: How can writers submit directly to the PJ Library?
CB: We encourage authors to submit books and/or manuscripts for consideration, either directly to us or through a publisher of their choice. To submit work directly, they should contact us at email@example.com. In response, they will receive an email detailing simple submission requirements. Once a submission is received, it will be acknowledged and will then make its way to our Book Selection Committee for consideration. This process takes from a few weeks to several months.
TWM: How can they know if they have a manuscript or book that would be a good fit?
CB: Our Book Selection Committee has created several documents that we freely distribute to authors, editors, and publishers with information about the selection process as well as detailed lists (according to age groups) of subjects we are particularly interested in seeing addressed in new books. These are available by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
TWM: Can you describe your relationship with publishers, for instance, Shofar?
CB: PJ Library has great relationships with a number of Jewish and secular publishers. Of course, we have closer ties with those publishers that provide us with the most titles — for example, Kar-Ben Publishing.
In late 2011, one of our strongest publishing associates, Marshall Cavendish, began the Shofar line, which has provided us with half a dozen new titles to date, with more in the pipeline. In the trade market, each Shofar book carries a seal stating that the book is a PJ Library selection.