Revisiting a Classic

Article by Joy

One of the topics we talk about a great deal in the kidlit world is representation. As with adult readers, but even more so, children and young adults want to enter new worlds through fiction, experience the lives of people who are different from themselves. This is one of the glories and values of reading and it builds understanding and empathy and a vicarious set of crucial experiences. But young readers also yearn to see themselves reflected on the page--to experience, at least just a little--characters who look like them or act like them or believe or live like them. It’s something that authors, publishers, librarians, and booksellers all keep in mind as we collectively write, edit, produce, buy and stock books.

(Some articles on the topic of diversity and representation in kidlit can be found here and here and here as a quick intro )

All of which leads me to the classic series ALL OF A KIND FAMILY by Sydney Taylor, once again regularly available through IG and other publishers. The books--originally published between 1951 and 1978-- are the ongoing story of five immigrant sisters growing up Jewish in New York’s Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century. As freelance journalist and publisher Lizzie Skurnick describes the books in a Boston Globe article: “The All-of-a-Kinds are completely singular. They’re the first series about a Jewish family ever, one that’s not only about the family, but about Jewish culture, New York, the turn of the century, vaudeville, polio, the rise of technology. Letting them go out of print would be losing such a huge chunk of American history, to say nothing of a wonderfully told story.”

And as one reader of the series, who loved the books as a child, says about the books in the same article: “I devoured these books as a kid, read them over and over. I’m not Jewish, but I was an eldest immigrant child, and I identified deeply with Ella, admired her responsibility and leadership. The family’s economic and cultural struggles prepared me for my own.”

As for my own thoughts, I, too, devoured these books when I was a kid. They were some of the very few books I read with Jewish characters that weren’t focused on prejudice or discrimination or bullying or the self-hatred of a Philip Roth novel or the sad slog of characters in a Saul Bellow book (I love Bellow, but these are not happy people that I want to hang out with). They were just the joyous saga of a turn of a century Jewish family living their regular lives Jewishly and adorably in this way that made me want to read each book over and over and over again. Gertie and Lottie and all that candy they bought! Mischievous Hennie and that white dress she ruined and had to dye ‘ecru.’ What was ecru? I had no idea --probably tan, I thought-- but I loved the word. They were not perfect books. but they hold up even today. Especially since even as an adult, I still find myself having to be pleasantly surprised when Jewishness is just snuck in there all normalized, like in some Judy Blume or Jane Yolen books, although let’s face it, the girl in DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC ends up going back in time to Nazi Germany. I’m all jumping up and down when I see, say, Tina and Queenie Goldstein, the witches in the FANTASTIC BEASTS film! Or just recently reading the arc of Becky Albertalli’s forthcoming THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED and its Jewish mc Molly, whose family is a delightful melting pot of diversity and whose main problem is simply finding the right boyfriend after a whole bunch of crushes.

And it’s not just me. Check out this article, by a teen reader.

If you and your young readers haven’t read Sydney Taylor’s ALL OF A KIND FAMILY, or if you, too, want to revisit the series, we’ll be restocking a few on our shelves. I know I’m excited!

All-Of-A-Kind Family Cover Image
$6.99
ISBN: 9780440400592
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Yearling Books - December 1st, 1984

More All-Of-A-Kind Family Cover Image
By Sydney Taylor, Mary Stevens (Illustrator)
$12.95
ISBN: 9781939601155
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Lizzie Skurnick Books - June 10th, 2014

All-Of-A-Kind Family Downtown Cover Image
$12.95
ISBN: 9781939601254
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Lizzie Skurnick Books - September 30th, 2014

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