A History of Jewish Children’s Books—Part Two

Sydney Taylor and the All-of-a-Kind Family

Adapted from a talk given by Lisa Silverman, Library Director of Sinai Temple, Los Angeles, May 23, 2010 at the Highlights Founders Workshop, “Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books

Then we get to the most well-known, probably, Jewish-themed book of all, which is All-of-a-Kind Family.  The books in this series were the first Jewish-themed books that crossed over into the mainstream.  This became popular for every child—no matter what ethnicity—because he or she could relate to the storyline. There are four sequels, so there are five books all together.  They are about a family of Jewish immigrants—a mother, a father and five sisters (and eventually a brother)—who are living in New York’s Lower East Side on the eve of World War I, around 1912. Jewish readers encounter experiences with which they can identify and non-Jewish children gain some understanding of Jewish holiday and life-cycle events and the home life of a warm, loving family.  If you think of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women or Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie—those are family experiences you could identify with the even though you have no idea what happened in Concord, Massachusetts or on the homestead. All the non-Jewish kids identified with this Lower East Side family, because the family was so charming and the fictional chapters full of different adventures were very appealing.  It was about the Jewish values of compassion and social justice, and all these things proved to be popular for subsequent generations.

All-of-a-Kind-Family was published in 1951, written by Sydney Taylor, a woman. The next edition that followed has the most famous illustration of the girls running down the library steps.  Other editions followed in 1975 and 1984.

How All-of-a-Kind Family came to be published

Sydney Taylor had a manuscript in her desk that she had written about her life growing up. Her husband’s name was Ralph, and he was president of a company, a firm of chemists and perfumers and he heard about an award called the Charles W. Follett award for writing,  Sydney’s book won the award and was published by the Follett company in 1951.  It launched her career as a writer of children’s fiction.  In 1952 it won the Jewish Book Council Book award.

So in All-of-a-Kind Family, Mama and Papa love their girls dearly and teach them to be good to one another, to their parents, neighbors, friends, and to their faith.  Taylor integrates the rich traditions and heritage of Judaism into this family’s life.  The reader learns about the celebration of Purim, Passover, Sukkot, and Hanukkah as a central part of religious Jewish life.  Such activities as attending shul, making a Sukkah and celebrating Shabbat are interspersed with foods and typical family activities of an Orthodox Jewish household:  rolling dough for teiglach, making gefilte fish, and baking challah.  When the family moves uptown to the Bronx into a predominantly Gentile community, America is shown to be a country where you can be successful and are able to advance as well as be free to retain your Jewish roots.  This mirrors the life of Sydney Taylor herself.

“It was heavenly to borrow books from the library”

One chapter takes place in the library. The librarian is so nice to them and they sit around and get all the books every day and carry them home. You could see how this book would be a crossover because this was a common immigrant experience. But it is interesting how Orthodox Jewish life would be of interest to so many non-Jewish children. You could meet someone in Indiana right now, a kid who’s ten years old who loves these books, right now.  So it has no relationship to what they know about Jews whatsoever.

The last book in this series, Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family, focused on the eldest daughter and was published in 1978, the year of Taylor’s death.

About Barbara Krasner

History writer and award-winning author Barbara Krasner writes Jewish-themed poetry, articles, nonfiction books, and novels for children and adults.
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5 Responses to A History of Jewish Children’s Books—Part Two

  1. When I was a child, I loved this book. It mirrored my grandmother’s experiences growing up in NY and it was the first set of books I read that mirrored my own faith as a Jewish Texan and my own family experiences as one of three daughters with a baby brother. So I was especially proud when the AJL honored my manuscript with the Sydney Taylor award and The Treasure in the Tiny Blue Tin was later published.

  2. Barbara,

    Your blog is filled with such wonderful information – a true gift to Jewish children’s book lovers! THANK YOU!!!

  3. Pingback: A History of Jewish Children’s Books « Jewish Book Council Blog

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