Flashback Friday: The All-of-a-Kind Family series

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight — and you’re invited to join in!

Here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

All-of-a-Kind Family (All-of-a-Kind Family, #1)

All-of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

(published 1951)

Synopsis:

There’s something to be said for a book that makes you wish you’d been part of a poor immigrant family living in New York’s lower east side on the eve of World War I. Sydney Taylor’s time-honored classic does just that. Life is rich for the five mischievous girls in the family. They find adventure in visiting the library, going to market with Mama, even dusting the front room. Young readers who have never shared a bedroom with four siblings, with no television in sight, will vicariously experience the simple, old-fashioned pleasures of talk, make-believe, and pilfered penny candy. The family’s Jewish faith strengthens their ties to each other, while providing still more excitement and opportunity for mischief. Readers unfamiliar with Judaism will learn with the girls during each beautifully depicted holiday. This lively family, subject of four more “all-of-a- kind” books, is full of unique characters, all deftly illustrated by Helen John. Taylor based the stories on her own childhood family, and the true-life quality of her writing gives this classic its page-turning appeal.

There are five books in Sydney Taylor’s lovely, heart-warming, classic series:

  • All-of-a-Kind Family (1951)
  • More All-of-a-Kind Family (1954)
  • All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown (1958)
  • All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown (1972)
  • Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family (1978)

Through these books, we meet the five sisters and their parents, and get a sweet and savory view of life on the Lower East Side of New York in the early 1900s. The girls live in close quarters, bicker and play, make up stories and get into trouble, and learn important (but not overly preachy) lessons along the way.  The very first chapter in the first book is about the hugely important weekly trip to the library — and between the lovely library lady and the emphasis on having great books to read, it’s a great way to start! Another chapter is about dusting (!!) — and it really is the stuff of legends, for kids who grew up with these books. In order keep dusting fun (I can’t believe I’m writing this…), the girls’ mother hides buttons that they can only find by cleaning super-carefully.

And now I’m praising a book that has us thinking housework is delightful. So not me. But I digress.

library aoakf

The library scene from All-of-a-Kind Family, illustrated by Helen John

The All-of-a-Kind Family books are memorable for the wonderful and distinctive characters, the upbeat look at life in a relatively poor immigrant neighborhood, the non-sentimental view of some of the era’s hardships, and the positive portrayal of life in an American Jewish family. With penny candy stores, Coney Island, pickles, Fourth of July celebrations, and later, very circumspect parties and dating rituals, the books are at once of historical interest and human interest. I think, as a kid reading these books, I didn’t think about the history too much — I was too busy siding with the different girls in their squabbles and plans, worrying about them getting caught when they got into mischief, and wishing I lived in a house full of girls.

So talk about a flashback! The All-of-a-Kind Family series was a huge part of my childhood. My sister and I pored over these books as kids, reenacting key scenes (the button search was a special favorite!) and in general maintaining a fascination with the five sisters. (Ella, we agreed, was glamorous; Henny, on the other hand, was a big trouble-maker — although looking back from the adult perspective, she also probably had the most gumption of the lot!)

Later on, I found myself returning to these books. As a summer camp counselor, I would read a chapter a night to my girls, who despite being almost too cool during the day, really craved the connection these stories offered at bedtime. And still later, the All-of-a-Kind Family books were read-aloud favorites for my daughter and me.

In a way, these books are like a Jewish parallel to the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In each, we see a family’s challenges over the course of many years and many books, set in a particular point in America’s history — but written in such a way that kids today won’t feel like they’re being taught, as they’ll be too busy being entertained by the characters’ antics and adventures. In both series as well, the fictional characters are directly based on the authors’ own lives, and perhaps that ring of authenticity is what helps bring these books, with their detailed descriptions of daily life and routines, into such rich and resounding life.

Did you read the All-of-a-Kind Family books as a kid?

And have you ever, for even a second, believed that dusting is fun?

Happy Friday, and enjoy your flashbacks!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

7 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: The All-of-a-Kind Family series

    • Thanks, Lianne! It’s one of those series that people seem to go back to again and again. We still have the full set here, although I have a feeling I may have to fight my daughter for them eventually!

  1. This series sounds delightful. I wish I had known about it when I was younger. We knew about and read Little House on the Prarie thanks to the TV series being shown in Australia, but ones like this often missed us completely…but I guess we had our own ones like Seven Little Australians that I highlighted last week 🙂
    Thanks for sharing a part of your childhood this week.

    • Thanks, Brona! And I think your Seven Little Australians post was one of the factors that got me thinking about my own childhood favorites! This is really such a lovely series — and it’s funny, I started poking around on the internet yesterday to try to see how many people have childhood memories of it, and I came across so many comments from people talking about the girls’ scrapes and adventures — such fun!

  2. A Jewish parallel to the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder? These sound great and I like the WW2 home front setting. I think if I had to pick a book similar to this that takes me back it would have to be the Anne of Green Gables series. Just thinking about them makes me want to read them all over again! 🙂

    • See, that’s one of the big gaping holes in my childhood reading — I never read the Anne of Green Gables books (hanging head in shame…). I know I should — I feel like I’ve missed out on a major cultural marker by not knowing those books. It’s amazing how a children’s series (like these) can really stick with you, even so many years later!

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