Sunday 13 July 2014

All-of-a-Kind Family

Author:  Sydney Taylor

Illustrator:  Helen John

Era:  1910s-Lower East Side Manhattan, N.Y.

Published:  1951 (Follett Publishing)

Awards:  Follett Publishing Co. Award
               Kansas William Allen White Award

Age Range:  8 - 14 yrs old.

Review:  ★★★★

Author Sydney Taylor uses her own Jewish family as a model for this delightful story of an immigrant Jewish family living in New York at the turn of the twentieth century.  Instead of following a natural plotline, the book offers vignettes, allowing the reader private glimpses into the relationships of Papa, Mama, Ella, Henny, Charlotte, Sarah and Gertie of All-of-a-Kind family.

While Taylor portrays a lively, close-knit and loving family, she does not gloss over the struggles in the everyday life of a child. When a precious and costly library book goes missing, Sarah must conquer her fear and confess.  When Henny gets lost in Playland, how will she ever find her family?  And will the family ever find out the mystery behind Charlie the peddler and learn the reason for the sadness behind his eyes?

Jewish holidays are also included and the traditions and habits behind them are truly fascinating for the non-Jewish reader.  The Sabbath, Purim, and Succos are explained, and Taylor's personal touch makes you feel as if you are part of the excitement of the celebrations.

My favourite chapter was the story of Mama's inventive "button-game" to help the girls learn to dust the front room carefully and thoroughly. Cleverly, she came up with the plan to hide buttons throughout the room, and the "duster" would have completed her job, when she had found all of the buttons.  Mama's ingenuity turned the work into a game, and by it she avoided having to nag her children.

The Jewish Market - Lower East Side
 c. 1890-1901

This book is a truly enjoyable classic that can be read over and over.  And please read the continuing books in the series to enjoy more adventures with All-of-A-Kind family.

  • More All-of-a-Kind Family
  • All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown
  • All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown
  • Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family

Supplement Questions:

  1. The Hebrew word "mitzvot" means commandments or good deeds.  Can you find examples of characters performing "mitzvot" in this book?  
  2. The Hebrew word "middot" refers to good character traits.  What "middot" do you think the characters in the story possess?
  3. The stories in this book take place a long time ago, in the 1910's, however, are you able to find a situation in the book that might be similar to a present-day situation?  Find the commonalities between "then" and "now".
  4. Choose a Jewish holiday and either describe it in your own words, or write a short narration describing it.

Source:  The All-of-a-Kind Family Companion

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  1. Nice introduction to his book series and questions to answer. I wonder if there a children's books that mirror life on the Lower East Side for Irish or Italian families?

    1. I'm not sure, but I may find something as I continue with my reading. However I did find this site that lists some interesting books:

  2. I just read this lovely book for the first time too, as it's the July read-along over at the Midnight Garden ( You might want to join us there on July 25 for the discussion!

    1. Thanks for the heads-up, Lory! I found your lovely blog through your comment on Classical Carousel and, through your blog, Midnight Garden's read-along. What a coincidence! I'm so glad to find two other people who love children's books as well! I'll try to join the discussion but I'll be away at that time with limited internet access, so I'll have to see if it works then. In any case, I'll be so interested in what everyone else has to say.

    2. Though the readalong may be most active on that particular day it will still be available to view afterwards, and you can certainly comment later if you want. This discussion from the MG bloggers is always interesting to read and they are very good about responding to comments. Nice to meet you in any case, and I look forward to your future classic picks.

    3. Thanks, Lory. I'll make sure to check in!

  3. I remember this book from my childhood but now I want to read it again. As an illustrator myself I appreciate the perfectness of Helen Johns' precious illustrations.

    1. That's wonderful that you are an illustrator! I have always admired people who could draw, as it's a skill that I would have loved to have been born with. Sadly it seems to have passed me by …. :-Z

      John's illustrations so accurately convey the emotions of each scene: joy, excitement, deliberation …… It appears that she only illustrated the first book, so it will be interesting to compare her illustrations to the illustrations in the following books.

      Thanks for stopping by, Carol!