Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What We're Reading and Watching Wednesday

For our read aloud, we have been reading books in the All of a Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor:
All of A Kind Family
All of a Kind Family Downtown
More All of a Kind Family
and Ella of All of Kind Family
(missing All of a Kind Family Uptown)

When the kids ask if this is a true story, the answer is yes, even the names are Sydney Taylor's sisters names. (She is Sarah, and changed her name to Sydney). Sisters: Ella, Henny (Henrietta), Charlotte and Gertrude.

Told in a style like Betsy & Tacy or Little House books, it is a collection of memories from Taylor's childhood of her Jewish family growing up in the lower east side of New York City in the early 1900's. There some plots lines, relating mostly to relationship encounters, mostly a collection of memories and a day in the life stories. They have a close family, stair step ages of five girls with younger brothers to follow. 

The tales revolved around daily life: library trips on Friday; "It was heavenly to borrow books from the library."  Stories about getting lost, sharing nighttime hopes and dreams with sisters in bed, fleeing town to avoid epidemics, holidays with lots of work for mama, chores for the girls. In an effort for mama to get the girls to take more time dusting, she invented a button game, when it was each girl's turn to dust, she'd have to recover a certain number of buttons hidden throughout the room found as the dusting was done. I always thought I'd try that, but never got around to it.

We enjoyed the perspective into a Jewish family culture and their celebrations of their faith. As our older brother and sisters in faith, they practice so many similarities of feasts and festivals marking the calendar and how we, as Catholics, spend time together in services or with family and friends. Taylor's stories give a taste of what it was like to celebrate and prepare for the Sabbath, Purim, Seder, and Succos. 

A couple things my kids mentioned, as a honest review: Papa is a good dad, but he is no Pa Ingalls. My kids also noted there is something missing or different, but I'll leave it to you to see if you notice differences, between Christianity and Judaism in a family culture. Taylor is very honest on her portrayal of real family situations and dynamics in her family memories, some members with annoying personalities and occasional unkind behaviors. The sister do love each other and their family.

For Rosh Hashanah, while their mother fasts in the synagogue all day, the daughters brought her a bouquet of flowers. Apparently the fragrance of the flowers helps to stay off the discomfort of fasting. We might have to try to have fresh flowers around Ash Wednesday to test out the idea.

I wanted the kids to see ceremonies from All of a Kind Family, we watched Fiddler on the Roof, a favorite of mine from my childhood. It is a very long movie, three hours. The musical score is wonderful. We watched it many times during my childhood, and I still love to sing along to the songs, much to the embarrassment of (some of) my kids.
If you just watch the first half, up to intermission you will see preparations for the traditional Sabbath meal, a wedding ceremony and other cultural practices of the early 1900's persecuted Jews in the Ukraine under Russian rule. My kids did not like the practice of having a Yenta.

The kids made the connection of the influx of immigrants in NYC could have been neighbors in All of a Kind Family stories.


  1. I loved the All of a Kind Family books when I was younger. And Fiddler on the Roof. Back when it was a VHS I always just stopped after the first tape.

  2. I've been meaning to read these aloud to my girls (I think with four girls in our family, they'll strongly identify!) but just needed a reminder. :) Thanks for posting this!
    I laughed at your remark that your kids don't like the idea of Yenta--because a few days ago, my 4-year-old asked me, "Mama, when I'm 18 could you and Papa pick out a nice boy for me to marry?" Somehow I think she'll grow out of her desire for an arranged marriage by then. :)

  3. We've read the first, I keep meaning to buy the rest. Our children are always keen on family books

  4. Sydney Taylor's books are classics. I think I need to *gasp* actually buy them. And Fiddler! We were on a big Fiddler kick last summer and I wrote a lengthy post about the movie and the political history behind it: