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Courtesy of The Harold Grinspoon Foundation
Courtesy of The Harold Grinspoon Foundation

The Lantern Library: Books that Build Bridges for Peace

Picture of Deborah Moher
Updated: 6 January 2017
Sifriyat Pijama, is the Israeli version of American PJ Library, which gifts preschoolers around the country with books, enabling teachers to introduce a new book each month to their classes. In turn, each student receives the book to take home to read. Sifriyat Pajama gifts books to more than 215,000 preschoolers in about 7000 preschools throughout Israel.Between them, PJ Library in the United States and Sifriyat Pijama in Israel have given away more than 10 million books in nine years. More recently, they founded the Maktabat al-Fanoos program (Arabic for ‘Lantern Library’), which gives storybooks to children in all Arab, Bedouin and Druze kindergartens; as well as special-education schools, and some preschools-reaching more than 90,000 children, in some 2,700 preschools. We spoke to the founder, Harold Grinspoon about the idea behind this intiative.

What is the background behind the Harold Grinspoon Foundation?

I established the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in 1993 with my wife Diane. Our primary focus has been on enriching Jewish life and for many years, we did this by giving grants to many different organizations. In 2005, the foundation began focusing its giving with PJ Library which began by distributing books with Jewish content to young families locally in Massachusetts, then throughout the US. Books are now distributed in 11 countries, in three languages (English, Spanish and Russian). In 2009, we launched a parallel program in Israel, called Sifriyat Pijama (Pajama Library) with the Israeli Ministry of Education and in 2014 we joined the Ministry of Education to create Maktabat al-Fanoos (Library Lantern).

Courtesy of The Harold Grinspoon Foundation

Courtesy of The Harold Grinspoon Foundation

What do you believe books teach children?

Children have a great ability to learn from an early age, they absorb information so quickly. Reading books with children provides a holistic experience for a child because when a child is read to in these early critical years, it creates an intimacy that makes reading books something special and treasured. It is wonderful at this tender age to introduce them to characters and values that will provide reference points that can serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Tell us about the Maktabat al-Fanoos (Lantern Library)…

In both the Hebrew and the Arabic program, children receive 8 books throughout the school year as a gift to the family. The book of the month is delivered to public preschools. The teacher introduces the book of the month, reading it a number of times and she usually conducts book-related activities – a play or an art project and/or conversations around the themes of the book. Then the book goes home to be enjoyed by the family and become part of the home library. The books include original works in Arabic; as well as translations of books from English, Hebrew, German and Swedish.

Why do you believe the initiative is so successful? 

The programs in both Hebrew and Arabic fill a need on several levels. They provide an exciting new element in the classroom every month for the teachers; they promote reading readiness, which is important to developing language and cognitive skills, as well as contributing to the emotional development of children. The books help children develop empathy for characters and allow them to explore ways to handle dilemmas in their lives. And the books help to familiarize children with their cultural and linguistic heritage. Finally, the initiative encourages parents to spend quality time with their children. The books are chosen with a view to inviting a discussion between parents and children and open the door for parents to talk to children about what their own beliefs and values.

Courtesy of The Harold Grinspoon Foundation

Courtesy of The Harold Grinspoon Foundation

Do you believe books can act as a pathway to peace?

That is a lot to ask of books! People make peace, not books. Books can help form the identity and values of people, but of course, they are a very small element in the much broader context of society.