Tuesday, February 05, 2008

All of A Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

Taylor, Sydney. 1951. All Of A Kind Family.

Originally published in 1951, Sydney Taylor's novel, All of A Kind Family, is set in New York City around 1912. The family consists of a mom, a dad, and five "step and stair" daughters. (They range in age from twelve to four.) The book is about the adventures the five sisters have together. It's definitely not your typical book if you're judging it by modern standards. There is less plot, for one thing, but the charm--or part of the charm--is in the individual stories, the episodes. The fact that it is more a compilation of loosely connected stories masquerading as a novel isn't a problem in my opinion. (But I'm curious what modern children would make of it all???)

The book does have its charms. There's no doubt about that. And one of the things I do like about the book is the fact that it highlights so many different aspects of being Jewish. For example, I haven't come across too many fiction novels (or picture books for that matter) that show families celebrating Purim and Succos. (These aren't the only celebrations by any means.) It was just interesting to see these aspects of culture and religion interwoven with the typical and traditional threads of family life and social life--going to school, going to the library, going to the beach, going shopping, getting a new baby, etc.

Part of me is curious as to how modern readers would respond to this novel and others like it. Would it be considered too old fashioned? Too dated? Too boring? While I can appreciate it the novel as an adult, I'm not sure what I would have thought of it as a child.

For example, the chapter that is really "out there" for me is how the mother tricks the children into doing housework. The chapter is called "Dusting is Fun." And it doesn't matter if you're 8 or 9 or 29, you KNOW that that sentence is a lie and always will be a lie. The mother successfully tricks her five children into playing a game "find the buttons while you dust" to get them to do their least favorite chore each week. I don't buy it. It's not like finding a button is a great reward. It's not like they get to keep the button. It's not like they can trade the buttons for a penny or two to keep. They're just finding the same buttons over and over again each week and making it an-ever-so-fun game. I just don't buy it at all.

However, the rest of the chapters do work for me for the most part.

First sentence: "That slowpoke Sarah!" Henny cried. "She's making us late!" Mama's girls were going to the library, and Henny was impatient.

It is 189 pages.


Unknown said...

I love these books! I gotta tell you I read this (and the next one) to my son when he was about 9 and he loved it too!

Buttons don't sound too interesting do they? But I remember my mum talking about when she was a little girl and how much she used to love playing with her mother's jar full of buttons.

Melissa said...

My two older girls both loved this one (and Betsy-Tacy, too). I remember reading it out loud to each of them, and they were just charmed by it all.

And I don't think dusting for buttons is a stretch for a poor hard-working family in NYC in 1912. Life was different, then. I also think it was the challenge of finding the buttons, rather than the buttons themselves. You don't necessarily need a monetary reward for everything. :)

Carrie said...

I TOTALLY loved this book series growing up. It's just fun and lighthearted. Actually, I had just pulled out my copies to give them a re-read. Sometimes books like these can be the most refreshing thing to a "modern world."

Thanks for your review!

alisonwonderland said...

this series was a favorite of mine when i was a child - partly because i come from an "all of a kind family" too. it also was my introduction to Jewish culture, which has been a love of mine ever since.

it's interesting that you'd mention the dusting for buttons. that is a piece of the book that i think of often. and while my kids are more likely to be enticed to do their chores by the promise of "screen time" (TV, computer, or video game) in return, we have occasionally played a "find the chip" game and they've enjoyed it. i think it's basically the idea of meeting the challenge - to find all the chips that i've hidden.

Anonymous said...

I read this book when I was a kid and really loved it. I read it over and over and still keep the book on my shelf.

I have to tell you that English is my second language, I read the translation at the time, so it was a great opportunity for me to learn of western culture at such young age. I think the fun of it is that I saw how people live their lives in details. I like to read how they shop for their dinners, or how their food and sweets are different from those in my country or how they celebrate their holidays etc. In all I really love it and consider the book as my all time favorite. And since it's an old book, I'm glad that someone 's talking about this book!

Oh, as for the button finding, at the time I read, I had no problem with it. I think I bought the idea.I guess it 's more like playing games.

Donna Boucher said...

My little girl (9) just finished reading this book.
She loved it!
She loved the button game.
She wants to play.

Brittanie said...

I just finished reading the first two books in this series. They were great and I loved learning more about Jewish customs. It kinda reminded me of a Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I can't believe I missed this series growing up. I am 26 so that may be part of it. :)

Ava said...

I was gifted this book when I was 11. That was in 1971. I sure loved the book a lot, and also learned about the Jewish way of life. I had forgotten all about it, and only remembered it was about a Jewish family. I googled for it, and find there is precious little on it. But am glad to discover your blog.

I liked the book a lot when I read it and it has stayed in my mind. Especially the episodes about Henny discovering Sketches by Boz books among the old books, and having a crush on her father's young partner.

bermudaonion said...

I just read this book and felt much the same way as you. I enjoyed it - I made me think of the books of my childhood, but I wonder if it's sophisticated enough for the children of today.

Anonymous said...

Sidney Taylor did an assembly program at my school in New York. It was 1963, I was 12 and a fan of her books. She took volunteers from the audience, assigned them characters, and gave them a problem to solve in skit form. We loved it and I still remember one of those skits. Two children were seated in a "movie theater. One child dropped a candy wrapper on the floor, and struggles to pick it up while not being detected by the other child. Most of us were third generation Americans, but we understood the message: real Americans don't litter.

Momcat said...

I bought this book for my grand daughter who is a precociious reader of 6+. I loved the story, but decided to wait until she is a bit older so that she can better understand the things she has read which do not really compute in today's world --the value of a penny, quarantine for scarlet fever, customs and cultures at the turn of the century. I think she would enjopy it now; but then she would have read it -though not understood it and might not go back to it, because she had allready read it. The author correctly uses the subjunctive andthe possessive personal pronoun before the participil form of the verb. That makes her a favorite by my standards.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the middle of reading this to my 8 and 9 year old girls. We found it on a trip to the library. My girls are loving it! They keep wanting me to read more. They are very interested in the aspects of Jewish culture described and ask lots of questions. We just had a whole conversation on which sister they like best. I'm enjoying sharing such wonderful reading memories with them.

Anonymous said...

A beloved book from my childhood. I loved learning about Jewish customs. Also, my parents would have been just a little younger than the kids in this story, and the world of not-wealthy gentiles in the 1920's and 30's South was not so different from that of the All of a Kind Family. I felt the same about Sam Levenson's In One Era and Out the Other. Those families lived in New York City and mine in the South, but there were the strict-but-loving parents, the value of a dollar, the hospitality, the respect for education and for work, the belief that character was more important than status or money - I could go on and on. It was a window into my parent's world, and I'm glad they raised my this way.