“By the big red barn In the great green field, There was a pink pig, Who was learning to squeal.”
Those are the opening lines from “Big Red Barn” by Margaret Wise Brown.
There was something about this book that I loved. Loved it more than Brown’s more famous “Goodnight Moon.” Even now, when I read it to myself, I hear my voice reading it out loud and feel as if I’m moving forward and back on the glider in the baby’s room.
I read to my children each night since the day they came home from the hospital. Even when they were just days old, I read to them and sang to them.
I thought about these books recently. I was recommending books to Sofie — books that I had enjoyed and thought were important. Books by Dave Eggers, Jhumpa Lahiri, Henry James and Jean Rhys. Grown-up books for my grown-up daughter.
But I couldn’t help thinking about the baby books. “Good Night Dinosaurs,” “4 Pups and a Worm,” “Puff-Puff, Chugga-Chugga.”
Everything by Eric Carle and Sandra Boynton.
Sofie would practically fall off of my lap from laughing at “Are You My Mother?” We even worked out a re-enactment of the book. She played the baby bird, fluttering around looking for her mother. I played all the other parts. We put on this performance every time grandparents visited.
And “Hug,” the book about a little monkey roaming the forest, asking all the animals for a hug. One word, “hug,” appears on each page. One by one, the animals turn him down until the last page, where his mommy is found, and he is quickly wrapped in her arms.
I remember hugging Jules very tightly as we reached this page.
I remember nights we stayed up past bedtime reading Harry Potter because Voldemort was coming.
I feel the phantom pain of my children in my arms. I can still feel them snuggled into me, one arm around them with the book between us, me, sneaking a kiss on their keppies every once in a while as I turned a page.
Of all the books, I can’t remember many with Jewish content. Things have changed in the few years since my teenagers were toddlers.
They’ve changed because of Harold Grinspoon.
The Grinspoon Foundation created PJ Library and forever changed the publishing industry. PJ Library sends free Jewish children’s books to any home with children under the age of 8. All you have to do is ask. And be fortunate enough to live in a community that supports it.
PJ Library books are free to families, but for a community to be able to offer the service, someone needs to match funds. I guess it’s the community’s way of demonstrating a commitment to the project. Baltimore has made this commitment.
The books are an amazing way for children — and parents — to learn about Judaism. And, because being selected as a PJ Library book means upward of 100,000 copies sent to homes around the country, there is now a market for Jewish children’s books. Which means more are being written.
We now have books such as “Camp Wonderful Wild” by Laurel Snyder, “The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street” by Ann Redisch and “Matzo Ball Moon” by Leslea Newman.
Go to cjebaltimore.org. Sign up now and start making memories.
Meredith Jacobs is managing editor of JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.