It’s 8:00 PM. Do you know what your children are reading?

Parents today can give themselves a well deserved pat on the back if their children’s fingers are curled around the edges of a paperback instead of a joystick. In today’s age of the amazing vanishing attention span, parents who push reading as a leisure activity are doing a private and a public service by keeping non digital entertainment from going the way of the brontosaurus.

Parents, we can’t ignore the facts. Reading has been proven to boost success both academically and socially. Flipping through paper-ink worlds boosts imagination and helps children to think outside the box. Recent studies in neuroscience have demonstrated that reading aloud to young children actually stimulates brain growth. In short, encouraging reading in your home is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to your child.

But with over 32 million books in the Library of Congress, the art of reading can assume variant forms. If reading is such a life contouring event, shouldn’t we pay attention to what shape our children will be assuming? We need to attend to what our children are reading above and beyond our contentment with the fact that they are reading at all.

In my previous Kidslit column on Aish.com I reviewed a number of books that helped to cultivate positive core values in our children. This is the first crucial step in helping our children to connect with enriching and fun literature. And as Jews who are people of the book, we need to consider how we can nurture our children’s Judaism as well through the powerful medium of good reading.

In a move timed to coincide with National Children’s Book Week, Artscroll Publishers, the leading publisher of Judaic literature, has announced the introduction of Children’s Jewish Book Month. This Jewish themed literature-fest will take place every May in order to get kids excited about books and reading.

Says Rabbi Gedalia Zlotowitz, vice-president of Artscroll ; “Children’s Book Week was conceived 90 years ago as a way to introduce children to the pleasure and value of reading. Children’s Jewish Book Month shares that goal but has the additional objective of introducing Jewish children to the many wonderful books out there that speak to their own culture and tradition.”

In addition to a poster themed campaign and a special 30% discount sale on all children’s books during the month of May, Artscroll has introduced another initiative with their “Write, Draw and Win!” contest, a writing and illustrating contest for Jewish children. Children in more than 70 participating schools have been sending in their submissions on predetermined themes such as “My favorite Jewish book or character, or a five question interview posed to your favorite Jewish book character. Winners of the contest will receive prizes ranging from $200-$500 gift certificates for themselves as well as for their schools – in order to fill their libraries with more wonderful Jewish children’s books. As the submissions flood her desk, Miriam Zakon, Acquisitions Editor of ArtScroll and one of the contest judges, is impressed by many of the submissions;

“I’m having such a good time reading them,” she said. “I’m seeing lots of creativity and imagination (and, yes, plenty of spelling mistakes). We have a sixth-grader writing a time travel story, a short and sensitive piece about the Holocaust and interviews with all sorts of characters from Jewish children’s books. I was particularly touched by a submission from Shifra, a fifth-grader with Down syndrome. Her special ed. teacher explained that Shifra writes on a first grade level, and that she had actually learned many words about feelings, such as ‘jealous’ and ‘embarrassed,’ from a Jewish book. I feel so strongly that reading books is vital for children’s success, and reading Jewish books is what grounds our kids in Jewish values and ethics.”

Reading Jewish books helps to promote Jewish identity amongst young people.

With the rate of Jewish assimilation hovering around the 50 percent mark, it is vital that parents grasp all strings Jewish and tie them tightly to their children. *Reading Jewish books helps to promote Jewish and religious identity amongst young people. Anyone who has observed the interaction between Jewish children and Jewish books has seen the transformations that can occur as a result of connecting with an idea or a character in a book. As quoted from the New Jewish Values Finder from the Association of Jewish Libraries; “The epiphanies that come with reading can’t be anticipated because they are different for every reader….To encounter, consider and witness the effects of Jewish values in the pages of books, through the experience of characters, in settings sometimes distant and strange and sometimes familiar, is to grow as a human being and as a Jew.”

As such, it is the goal of Children’s Jewish Book Month to promote Jewish values as rooted in the Torah. Says Rabbi Zlotowitz of Artscroll; “When parents purchase books for their children, it sends a message that they consider reading an essential and worthwhile activity. Supplementing their children’s collections with Jewish-themed books sends a message about the importance of Jewish values and ideas as well.”

Artscroll invites Aish.com’s young readers to submit writing and illustration samples for the Write! Draw! & Win! Contest this May. Details are available on www.Artscroll.com


*Some ideas from this paragraph culled from the website of the Association of Jewish Libraries.