A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
DECEMBER 4:

  • It’s the birth date of Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritan John Cotton (1585–1652). Read Mayflower 1620: A New Look at a Pilgrim Voyage by Peter Arenstam, John Kemp, and Catherine O’Neill Grace and Anne Hutchinson’s Way by Jeannine Atkins, illustrated by Michael Dooling.
  • In 1915 the Ku Klux Klan receives charter to function as a corporate fraternal order from Fulton County, GA. Read Witness by Karen Hesse and Night Fires by George Edward Stanley.
  • It’s National Cookie Day. Read Cookie’s Week by Cindy Ward, illustrated by Tomie dePaola.

For those hunting for a book about Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, today I want to remind some people of—and introduce others to—one of the most memorable books about Jewish life and customs ever written, All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. When Taylor published this gem in 1951, books featuring religious Jewish children were hard to come by. To create her rare offering Taylor drew on her own personal experience. Although she also pursued a career as an actress and dancer for the Martha Graham Company, today Taylor is best remembered for the vibrant Jewish community she brought to life in this series of children’s books.

Taylor set her saga in New York, in a Lower East Side tenement at the turn of the twentieth century. There a family of two loving parents and five girls experience great joy, even though they do so in the midst of poverty. For these children, finding a button while dusting or getting a piece of penny candy can be a cause for celebration. Much as Betty Smith does in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Taylor demonstrates that what people enjoy, not what they possess, makes them rich in spirit. But for these girls the greatest pleasures come at the Jewish holidays, and these are lovingly described, just as a child might experience them.

At the end of this book, a boy arrives, and then the saga of the family is continued in other volumes. These books remain one of the best representations of the Jewish faith found in children’s books. They also linger in the mind of the reader well into adult years. When I ask groups of people about their favorite books from childhood, inevitably the All-of-a-Kind Family series always gets mentioned. In Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, novelist Meg Wolitzer remembered a particular scene where “two of the sisters lay in bed at night eating the precious crackers and candy they had bought during the day. Because the family had very little money, they needed to make them last, and so one of the sisters instructed the other about what particular one they were allowed to eat, and how many nibbles from the edge they were allowed to take.” This book gave Wolitzer “a sense of the multiple textures of the world.”

All-of-a-Kind Family and its sequels provide a sense of history and convey why family and community are so important—these books remind us just how wonderful special holidays can be for children.

Here’s a passage from All-of-a-Kind Family:

September was almost over. The High Holy Days had come and gone. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, had been heralded with the blowing of the ram’s horn in the synagogue; ten days later Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, had been honored with fasting and prayer. Here was still another holiday on the calendar which would be celebrated before Jewish folk could once more settle down to a spell of ordinary living.

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Originally posted December 4, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Family, History, Immigration, Jewish, Multicultural
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for All-of-a-Kind Family
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COMMENTS

  1. Star says:

    These were some of the books my sisters and I loved the most! We re-read the All-of-a-Kind Family books so many times that to this day I can still recite lines from them! Our family also had five girls! We each used to assume one of the girls’ personas and we’d act out the stories in the books…and make up some of our own. I love these books so much and can’t wait to read them to my own girls someday!! Thanks for making me smile…very few people I know have heard of these books when I mention them, so this post really made me smile!

  2. Anita says:

    Star: Thanks for your comments. I love the detail about acting the stories out — each of you as a character. As you suggest, many people have missed these books, but those who find them often remember them vividly years later.

  3. Lynn Rutan says:

    Thanks for this lovely post on one of my favorite childhood series! I remember reading these books over and over and over again. I grew up in a mixed faith family and these stories about a Jewish family meant so much to me. Of course I fell completely in love with the characters as everyone does and laughed and cried with them through every page. I remember loving the illustrations too and spending a lot of time carefully looking at those. I think I’m going to have to go find these now and read them all over again!

    Thanks for this wonderful blog. I am really enjoying this journey.

  4. Anita says:

    Lynn: Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments on the series.

    I loved your recent blog on Wiesner’s Art & Max, which will be featured here on December 11.

    Anita

  5. Anita says:

    Jill: Thanks so much for the mention on your blog; of course this is fine. You can link to the site anytime you want.

    Best wishes, Anita

  6. Carol B says:

    Thank you so much for reminding people about these wonderful books. I was working on a post on my blog about them at the same time you were putting this up! Now if we can only coax the publisher to re-print the whole series…

  7. Mary D says:

    I remember reading these books when I was an adolescent. Our family was not Jewish, but I identified with these girls, as our family (all girls, too) was very cognizant of the place of faith tradition in our lives. I don’t know how I discovered them or was introduced, however, my family has grown up with an appreciation of diversity and a curiosity about the likenesses and differences among people, so perhaps it was my mother who found the books for us.

  8. brandie says:

    I don’t know about this story, thanks for sharing it. I will definitely read it this holiday season.

  9. I love that you are highlighting this charming book. I read the entire series when I was a kid, and I still remember many parts of them vividly.

  10. Pamela Ross (@WriterRoss) says:

    Like the poster mentioned above, I, too, inhaled the spirit of the five sisters. I wanted to be Just Like Them for all of their shining characteristics. I wanted to sing like Ella and have a boyfriend named Jules. I wanted to have Henny’s gorgeous curls and be the center of attention at parties and dye my party dress a tea-stained color to cover up for an accidental spill. I wanted to be a bookworm like Sarah and I wanted to Best Friend her Library Lady. I wanted to be maternal and inventive like Charlotte. I wanted to be sweet and innocent and adorable like Gertie. I wanted to dip into the pickle barrel with them and buy penny candy. Later on, I wanted to have an adorable baby brother named Charlie. (That never happened but when I grew up and was able to get my first dog, we named him Charlie.) ;>

    And what writer could resist the scene of the sisters in their papa’s junk shop, oohing and aahing in sheer delight over the books papa bought and allowed his daughters to pick books to OWN and take HOME. Amazing memories all. Thank g-d we can re-live them in the pages of the ALL OF A KIND books. Real life memories can be sketchy but I can’t forget what happened in these books.

    -Pamela, who, not coincidentally, feels the very same way about Francie Nolan in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN….

  11. Julie Larios says:

    I absolutely loved this book when I was a kid, and I’m sure that it set me up as a NewYorkophile forever. So glad to see it featured today.

  12. Tara says:

    This was one of my all time favorite series growing up! In fact I’m reading it aloud to my eight year old daughter right now. All the books in this series are so wonderful!

    I reviewed it on my blog a few years ago. http://talesofalibrarianmom.blogspot.com/2011/01/everything-i-learned-about-being-jewish.html

  13. McCourt says:

    I am sad to have missed this book as a child -it seems like one I would have so enjoyed. I will have to check it out to share with my own kids. Thanks for the recommendation! Also, for giving us an excuse to make cookies tonight!

  14. Anita says:

    Fran: Thanks for the link.

  15. Anita says:

    Robert: Thanks for mentioning this. Glad to hear.

  16. Sybilla Cook says:

    The Taylor books were my introduction to Jewish life–a loving family with a heroine who seemed like a best friend as I recall. Glad you are renewing interest!

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