Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sydney Taylor - All-of-a-kind family

+Amazon India
@yearling Publications

"That slowpoke Sarah!" Henny cried. "She is making us late."

These opening lines are not as famous as:

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents."

But this story of five young Jewish Girls is as engaging as the one written by Louisa May Alcott. Ella is twelve years old, Henny is ten, Sarah is eight, Charlotte is six and Gerta is four.  Their father runs a shop dealing in gathering and selling Junk.  Their mother runs the household with efficiency.

Right at the start of the book, we find the girls in a flurry.  Sarah has lost her library book and is afraid she will never be able to draw another book again.  Their mother asks them to go the library and find out what can be done.  
Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gerta with Miss Allen
The girls traipse into the library and find a new lady at the book counter.  Miss Allen, the new library lady, is charmed by the sight of five girls dressed identically. 'A steps and stairs family' she calls them.  Henny says they are known as "All-of-a-kind family" as they look so similar. Miss Allen hears out Sarah's tale about having lost her library book.  Miss Allen says the book cost a dollar and it has to be paid, but the girls can pay in instalments. The girls promise to pay 5 pennies per week for the book.  

Miss Allen becomes a favorite with the girls.  They tell her about all that is going on in their lives and even take their mother to meet her.

Charlie works for their father from time to time.  He is a young man rumored to be from a wealthy family.  No one knows why he chooses to hang out in this part of New York where poor folk live. The girls love Charlie and he is happy to do things for them.  He brings them gifts and plays with them.

The Girls and Charlie

The book is about some important episodes in the lives of these young girls in the course of a year, 1913-14.  All the Jewish holidays and way of life are described here.  Most of the chapters could work as short stories on their own.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Helen John.

Charlotte and Gerta buy Candy.
I found some similarities between this book and  "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn".  They are both stories about poor families and how they lived in New York at the turn of the 20th Century.  "All-of-a-kind Family" is  more innocent, more of a children's book than the former which is darker and more sorrowful. 

There are some more books written about the same family and I would have liked to read them.  But they are expensive on Indian book sites, which put me off.

Years ago, I made friends with a young Jewish girl who lived in New York.  She sent me several books, this included.  I must have read it hundreds of times.  It was pure nostalgia that made me order the book once again.  I was happy to re-read this book.

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