As fun as getting free books and music is, PJ Library’s monthly mailings have nothing on the live events that bring together their story lovers in the community. Chair Cori SaNogueira told Greenwich Jewish News what to expect from some of PJ's Fall get-togethers, why they transcend mere book learning, and how she and her programming team do it.
Q: What are PJ Library programs encouraging children to explore?
CS: They’re encouraging families to explore their Jewish culture and heritage together, and to understand how the traditions are part of our larger community. So it’s not just about children celebrating Shabbat or holidays; it’s about them doing it with their friends and peers and with their parents’ friends as well.
Q: How have PJ Library programs brought about a shift in how we think about children’s literacy, from a traditional educational approach to an experiential one that favors interaction?
CS: For last year's Purim party, we had our story acted out with mainstages theater troupe. The kids got to be involved, which really makes the pages come to life. They were learning in different ways: they heard the story and were able to feel what it was like to be in the play. Plus they learned about the Jewish holiday.
Q: Books are often taught with foregone conclusions. How do PJ Library programs let children find those conclusions on their own?
CS: When they come in for Story Time, they’re listening to the story and maybe they’re acting something out or having a craft activity. It’s a participant-based approach where the kids are raising their hands and giving feedback or, if they're really little, they're shouting out. We’re asking guiding questions and asking the kids to respond from their perspective. Their tiny, amazing brains are able to come up with these brilliant connections that we adults aren’t necessarily able to.
Q: What does a graduate of PJ Library look like? What are the results of all this literary, social and imaginative exposure?
CS: The beauty of this is that the graduates look like so many different things. It’s about what the family puts into it as well as what we as planners are providing. Kids can come out of PJ Library with a strong sense of their connection to Judaism and with a strong sense of ownership: this is their story. But it’s also deeper than that. It's part of the fabric of who they are.
Q: As a mother of three, what are your go-to programs at this stage?
CS: My little ones adore Party in the Park. And the Hanukkah program is always tons of fun. There’s always an action component and a tzaddakah component. This year I’m very excited about Hanukkah with Mister G. How often do we have Grammy winners? Kids will be talking about it the next day for sure.
Q: Where do the program ideas come from?
CS: A lot of the ideas come from the PJ planners—a group of mothers who get together a few times a year and who have their finger on the pulse of the community. We get together and do brainstorming sessions. Let’s say we really need something for the 2 to 4 year olds. Moms with children in that age group take ownership of creating and chairing programs for that group, and it’s really nice to see moms working together as leaders.
Q: For the really little ones, there’s JBabies. What does it offer Greenwich moms and infants?
CS: Moms get together and have regular playdates with their little ones. Those of us with children know that when you’re in a new environment with a new baby, you’re desperate to meet other moms. JBabies is a perfect way to connect us with new families coming to town. This fall we have some great speakers, like Elizabeth Isadora Gold, author of The Mommy Group. But moms also get babysitters and have an occasional moms night out.
Q: How do you manage to make time for PJ Library?
CS: My secret is coffee! And I have a very supportive husband who knows that I won’t be happy unless I’m doing things with my community. Any frustrations with late nights or worrying about rain dates get pushed to the back of my mind, because it’s just such an incredible chance to work with fantastic members of the Greenwich community.
Q: To wrap, what last thing should that community know?
CS: If you haven’t signed up for PJ Library books, it’s a free gift—there’s no catch. And if you haven’t tried out a PJ Library program, please come. We’d love to meet you!