Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Jewish Literature Challenge, Part 2 of 5

The next book I read for the Jewish Literature Challenge is All-of-A-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor. Originally published in the 1950s, Sydney Taylor's classic book for middle readers is set in the Lower East Side of New York City and depicts the life of a traditional Jewish family in the early 20th century. All-of-A-Kind Family is the first in a series of novels about the lively group and is a sweet, charming read. The story takes the reader through most of year and involves not just the family but their friends and acquaintances, too. The book opens with a chapter about going to the library, and the children's librarian (or "library lady," as the girls like to call her) is a gentle, recurring presence. The children's adventures include a trip to the market, scarlet fever and an outing to Coney Island, where one of the girls gets temporarily, and happily, lost. Meanwhile the story meanders through a year of Jewish holidays and teaches the reader a little about each one. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Shabbat and how Taylor contrasts the hubbub of shopping and preparations with the simple serenity of the day itself. The family relationships struck me as very true and believable- for example, Papa's ambivalence regarding the present the girls get for his birthday and his quick turnaround struck me as realistic and human. I can imagine any parent reacting the way he did initially and then rallying in the end. I appreciate Taylor's honesty about her characters throughout the book, too. So often childhood and parenthood are romanticized and sentimentalized and it's always refreshing when a writer resists that temptation. It's a great book for anyone and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series and sharing in the further adventures of this fun, busy family. And All-of-A-Kind Family Downtown, another in the series, is on its way to me soon!

Sydney Taylor, by the way, is quite an important woman in the world of Jewish books. Not only are her books justifiably considered beloved classics, but the Association of Jewish Libraries has named a series of book awards after her, to recognize the best in Jewish books for children. You can learn more about the award at the Sydney Taylor Book Award blog or at the AJL's website. Both are terrific resources for recommended titles in the world of Jewish kids' books.

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