All-of-a-Kind Family Series

Book review by
Carrie Kingsley, Common Sense Media
All-of-a-Kind Family Series Book Poster Image
Loving stories of a large Jewish family in 1915 New York.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This series was among the first children's books to center on the life of a Jewish family in America. Filled with historical details about the language, traditions, and culture in the tight-knit world of immigrant Orthodox Jews in 1915 New York, the books weave family and religion into a rapidly changing world, with World War I on the horizon.

Positive Messages

Family, community, and connection is everything here. These books are chock full of kindness, integrity, and devotion, both between siblings and within neighborhoods.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, librarians, shopkeepers -- everyone is gentle and caring, and the series stresses the importance of being a good person and looking out for others.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family series delves deep into the lives of hardworking Jewish immigrants who are poor in material goods but rich in love. The language is fairly formal (think Laura Ingalls Wilder rather than Judy Blume), reflecting the style at the time the series was first published in 1951. These books use a close-knit family -- parents, five girls and one boy -- to explore the Jewish culture and how it changed as the children are born, grow up, and become adults themselves. The family celebrates every Jewish holiday -- often with thorny the political issues of the era as a backdrop -- and language and traditions are explained and translated. As the children grow up, there's the push-pull of tradition vs. assimilation so common in immigrant communities, but also struggles parents in any community can relate to: picky eaters, arguments about curfews, tantrums playing out all day, the rules for dating, and not having any space to yourself. These books are easy to read, but are surprisingly deep, so they work well for a wide range of reading abilities.

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What's the story?

The ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY series is a sweet, old-fashioned look at an Orthodox Jewish family's life in a poor, immigrant neighborhood in 1915 New York. Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, Gertie, and Charlie live with their parents, surrounded by extended family and friends whose affection for each other more than makes up for their community's modest means. The girls welcome a baby brother, enter the dating world, face serious illnesses, and celebrate milestones, while the family moves to other boroughs and the wider world enters World War I. There's always a lot going on for a family this large: Ella's boyfriend enlists in the Army, Henny runs for a spot in student government at a time when girls just didn't do that, and a dear friend is orphaned. The series follows the children in the family as they mature into young adults, each with their own personality and on their own path, but solidly together.

Is it any good?

These were among the first children's books that focused on Jewish characters, and author Sydney Taylor was careful to explain the significance of each holiday the family celebrates. Readers learn about the food and prayers of a Seder, the rules for observing the Sabbath, about the history of Passover, and more -- all surrounded by a family's love. The kids' everyday events have surprising depth, and are complex enough to keep readers' interest. Amid the everyday, the big events tackle politics: Workers' rights are a running theme, and the women's suffrage movement is in full force. There are layers to the story that readers will understand as they mature; the nuances of immigration, and Papa's acceptance that prayers will be heard whether they're said in English or Hebrew is a subtle acknowledgement that life is always changing. These sweet, enthralling books are full of kindness and family love, and they give a glimpse into a world that is both 100 years old and still relevant today.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the richness each culture brings to America as people immigrate, like the families in All-of-a-Kind Family. What traditions does your family have, and have they changed over time?

  • The children are growing up in a different culture than their parents did. How can they help each other understand what they're going through when faced with new situations? What makes a family strong during hard times?

  • What other books have your read about families and immigrants?

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