Five of a Kind: All-of-a-Kind Family

Posted July 25, 2014 by Lory in reviews / 6 Comments

Sydney Taylor, All-of-a-Kind Family (1951)

Sydney Tayor family story

I don’t know why I never read All-of-a-Kind Family when growing up, but I was reminded that I needed to thanks to The Midnight Garden’s Classic MG/YA Readalong. I was very glad to finally get to know this beloved account of five girls growing up in a Jewish family on the Lower East Side in the early twentieth century.

Often compared to other period family stories like Little Women and Little House on the Prairie, All-of-a-Kind Family has far less conflict than either. The girls get scarlet fever, but nobody dies; there are no wolves, panthers or bears to menace their cozy home. Each chapter is a small domestic drama centering around incidents that may seem trivial to an adult — a lost library book, a trip to the beach, a search for a birthday present for Papa — yet are exactly the kinds of events that loom large in the life of a sheltered child. With her loving descriptions of festivals such as Purim and Passover, and of settings from street markets to Coney Island, Taylor brings us into the heart of a Jewish family with sensitivity and grace, and evokes a vanished way of life that was full of poverty and hardship but also rich in warmth and human connection.

There is little indication of the social struggles going on in the wider world. It’s stated several times that the family is poor, but though their food is simple they don’t go hungry, and they enjoy penny candy and special Sabbath meals. They don’t complain about the hand-me-down clothes that make them “all of a kind,” or about having to all sleep in one room. Unlike Jo March and Laura Ingalls, they seldom long for things they cannot have. Under the wise guidance of ever-serene Mama and hardworking Papa, they live contentedly and unquestioningly, and larger troubles of prejudice, class consciousness, or impending war do not disturb them. Occasionally the adults’ perspective is taken, with its heavier load of cares and responsibilities, but the focus is still on problems of the home (getting the girls to do their chores, or dealing with a spell of contrariness). In this small-scale narrative, it’s the details of daily life that fascinate.

In real life, Sydney Taylor was the middle child, “Sarah,” of the book (she changed her name as a teenager). She originally told these stories of her childhood to her own daughter, who was a lonely only child, then wrote them down and forgot about the manuscript until her husband submitted it for a literary award. It won the award, and the rest is history.

Written simply and unpretentiously, without literary flourishes but with a storyteller’s sure sense for the ear of her child audience, All-of-a-Kind Family retains its appeal for a new generation of readers. The four sequels have just been taken up this year by the new Lizzie Skurnick Books imprint, which is a good thing — once you’ve met this family you won’t want to say goodbye.

Links:
60th Anniversary article in The Tablet
An article by Lizzie Skurnick 

Five of a Kind: All-of-a-Kind FamilyAll-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Published by Dell Yearling in 1989 (originally published 1951)
Format: Paperback from Library

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6 responses to “Five of a Kind: All-of-a-Kind Family

  1. Aww…I loved these books. Did you read them aloud or to yourself? The thing that drives me nuts about reading aloud is that I want to speed through and read to the end, something you can't really do when reading aloud. Have you read the whole series, or just the first?

    • I've only read this one so far — I'm sure I'll read the rest at some point. I didn't read it to my son yet but he's the perfect age to enjoy it. Maybe when we're done with Swallows and Amazons.

  2. Talk about a flashback to childhood…I loved reading these books! I found All-of-a-Kind-Family Downtown once at a library sale and quickly snatched it up for the bargain price of 50 cents. I think there's one a book about Ella, too. Great post! It totally made me smile.

    • I'm really sad I didn't experience these books as a child, but I'm looking forward to enjoying them now and sharing them with my son.

  3. Ah, I'm so glad you joined us for the readalong and enjoyed the book, Lory! There books are very dear to me and it makes me so happy that new readers are finding their way to this author.

    You're right, the dramas are much less intense than the ones in Little House, and while I appreciated a glimpse here and there at the adults' perspectives, this really is the girls' story. I think it makes sense, though, if taken from the viewpoint that children don't always know everything that's going on or see the bigger picture. I'm really glad to see such wonderful adult/child interactions too, in a way that's loving and encouraging, but also clearly parental/mentoring.

    I just reread the second book late last night (I was in the mood for another comfort read!) and I think you'll be tickled by an anecdote in which Henny pretends to be poorer than she is so she can get a doll for her younger sisters. There's a lot of pride described in this family, and it's interesting that even with the family's lack of luxury (7 mouths on one income from a junk store…the mind boggles!), there's so much dignity and gratefulness for what they have. I think all the time about the fact that children often don't know what they're missing unless they're exposed to it from either (television) advertising or other kids. It's interesting that these girls seem untouched by jealousy for the most part–perhaps they know mostly children just like them, at least as far as this first book goes.

    As always, thanks for the discussion!

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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