All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

Captain’s Log: Module 2

Port of Call: Taylor, S. (1951). All of a Kind family. New York, NY: Follett Publishing Company.

First Lines:

“That slowpoke Sarah!” Henny cried. “She’s making us late!”

Mama’s girls were going to the library, and Henny was impatient.

“If it was Charlotte, I could understand,” said Ella, who was the eldest and very serious. “I’d know Charlotte was off dreaming in some corner. But what can be keeping Sarah?”

Summary: This is a story about a young Jewish family living in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century. Each chapter tells about a different adventure or even that happens in the lives of these five little girls, but there is also an overarching continuity that moves the story line through the book. In one chapter, the girls go to the beach to escape the summer heat and one gets separated from her family in the crowd. Another story talks about the girls’ trip to the library and the friendship they strike up with the new librarian there.

A family, father, mother, and five young girls are walking down a street in New York City, 1912.

Cover of All-of-a-Kind Family

My favorite chapters were the ones about the Jewish traditions the family celebrates in their homes. I do no know very much about these holidays and customs, so I thought they were a fascinating insight to that religious culture. We meet characters from outside the family too, Papa’s friends, particularly a young man named Charlie who brings the girls gifts frequently.

This was a very sweet book, and its 1950’s writing style lends the book a laid-back, homey feel of a century past. I was reminded of the Bobbsey Twins books I read as a child and enjoyed very much. For being a bit dated, it was never hard to read, and I think it was a very easy book to get wrapped up in.

First Impressions: I was not drawn in by the cover, but thought the setting looked historical and so I would give it a try. The first chapter didn’t really have much action, but was interesting enough that I decided to keep reading. Truthfully, I don’t think this book really hits its stride until chapter 3 or so. I think it’s because the first two chapters seem to have been written solely to introduce certain characters, but the real story doesn’t start rolling til later.

Suggestions for use: I would use this book to teach about an older era in American history, especially if children are interested in life at the beginning of the 1900’s or early New York City. It’s also a more ‘traditional’ story that might appeal to young girls who like Little House on the Prairie and other period books. Finally, this would be a story that could teach about Jewish holidays and traditions to both Jewish and non-Jewish children alike.

Reviews: (audiobook version)

School Library Journal:

“Gr 3-6-Five young sisters experience life in New York’s Lower East Side at the beginning of the 20th century in this reading of Sydney Taylor’s story (Follett, 1951). The close-knit group encounters everyday realities such as boring chores, missing library books, and trips to the Rivington Street market, as well as those details which bring the early 1900’s to life–scarlet fever, peddlers, and bathing at Coney Island. Woven into the story are the traditions and holidays of the Jewish religion. The girls celebrate the Sabbath with Hebrew prayers, and dress up for Purim so they can deliver baskets to friends and relatives. Suzanne Toren delivers flawless narration, using different accents to distinguish between characters of various cultures and backgrounds. Her intonations and pacing ably reflect the actions and emotions of the characters and fully convey the warmth and humor of the story. This excellent audiobook will find an eager audience in schools and public libraries which need materials reflecting the Jewish culture or serve children who enjoy family stories such as Little Women and Little House on the Prairie.” -Paula L. Setser, Deep Springs Elementary School, Lexington, KY

Setser, P. (2001) School Library Journal review of All-of-a-Kind Family. Retrieved September 6, 2010 from http://www.amazon.com/All-Kind-Family-Sydney-Taylor/dp/0385732953.

The Providence Journal:

“Here’s a book in which nothing much happens, over the course of four hours… and which absolutely charmed my kids on a recent family car trip.

It’s the story of a family on the Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the 20th century. There are five daughters, plus Mama and Papa, and their adventures are simple — they go to Coney Island on a hot day, or to the library or to the market. They dust the house and get sick.

But the market they go to is alive with sounds and smells of a different time, and when scarlet fever strikes there’s no simple trip to the doctor’s for a few antibiotics —the doctor comes to them and places the house under quarantine for weeks. There’s a plot involving two family friends and their problems with love, but it’s the least believable and sappiest part of the story. Much better are the moments when the family celebrates Jewish holidays, each described with loving care as it was celebrated a century ago.

Taylor wrote the book in 1951, based on her childhood memories and it was out of print for some years before being issued last year. The time between her experiences and the recounting of them undoubtedly colored the stories with sentimentality.

But this is a gentle tale of a very different time, and there’s value to that. Toren, a theater and TV actress, reads with an attention to accent that helps create characters from the daughters and those who surround them.” – Retrieved September 6, 2010 from http://search.barnesandnoble.com/All-of-A-Kind-Family/Sydney-Taylor/e/9780440400592

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