Monday, April 25, 2016

All-of-a Kind-Family and Historical Diversity

by Michelle Ule

Growing up in the port of Los Angeles, I lived in an ethnically diverse community. Many neighbors and schoolmates came from families that originated in European fishing villages.

I lived in a babble of foreign tongues, regularly hearing the languages of Croatia, Norway, Italy, Greece, Spain, Sweden and even Mexico.

Most of these nations supported a strong Catholic Church with the addition of Lutherans from Scandinavia.

I didn't meet a Jewish person until I was a teenager.

 Yet, I knew a lot about the traditions and customs of the Jewish faith because of a series of children's historical stories I checked out of the library: The All-of-a-Kind Family of books by Sydney Taylor.

The five short novels which I discovered at age 10, tell the story of a five sisters living in the Jewish lower east side of New York City in the second decade of the 20th century.

They were poor, the children of a rag collector and a determined mother. Yet, the homelife depicted was rich with family life, the Jewish holidays, terrific food (except maybe gefullte fish--it never appealed to me) and the normal everyday-life of going to the library and hoping to save up enough pennies to buy candy.

Two years apart, like stair steps, Ella, Henrietta, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie were “five little girls [who] shared one bedroom—and never minded bedtime. Snuggled in our beds we would talk and giggle and plan tomorrow’s fun and mischief.”

We read historical fiction to learn about a different time and place, to gain cultural understanding as to why things might have happened the way they did and to recognize how similar people are across time, races, tradition, religion and elementary needs.

The All of a Kind Family stories are amusing and with a light tone, the five books were set against a society in turmoil and riven by class, money and the threat of World War I.

The five girls learned what it meant to sacrifice for others, to give generously to those in less prosperous circumstances than their own, and to rejoice in the simple pleasures of family life.

I hadn't read the books in many years, but was struck by how fondly I remembered how they handled trouble. To name a few:

* Dying a white dress that had tea spilt on it by dipping it in more tea, for one.

* Learning to dust well when a clever mother hid pennies to find and keep if you dusted the right places.

* The kindness of a librarian when--gasp--your friend lost your book.

* The generosity of sharing with your sisters to help someone in need, even if it your discouraged father.

* The family and food traditions of a different faith, told in a simple matter of fact way.

These books are the reason I've understood Purim, Hannukah and the Festival of Booths!

The stories were born of Sydney Taylor's family and at her death in 1978, a prize was established to honor Jewish Children's Literature: The Sydney Taylor award.

It didn't take me long to read the five All-of-a-Kind books as an adult; I'll soon be reading them aloud to my own granddaughters.

The All-of-a-Kind Family teaches gently, with love, and provides historical insight without a child even knowing it!


 All-of-a-Kind Family and cultural diversity. Click to Tweet

 How I learned about Jewish traditions in a Catholic town. Click to Tweet

 Kid books and Jewish traditions: All of a Kind Family. Click to Tweet

Michelle Ule is the bestselling author of historical fiction novellas. She is currently writing a
biography of Mrs. Oswald Chambers which will be published in 2017. For more information about her, check out her twice-a-week blog at


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