All-of-a-Kind Fam­i­ly Hanukkah

Emi­ly Jenk­ins; Paul O. Zelin­sky, illus.

By – September 3, 2018

The deci­sion to revive Syd­ney Taylor’s clas­sic All-of-a-Kind Fam­i­ly for con­tem­po­rary read­ers is a bold one, call­ing for artis­tic con­vic­tion and maybe even chutz­pah. The children’s series is icon­ic in its depic­tion of a Jew­ish, East­ern Euro­pean immi­grant fam­i­ly liv­ing in New York’s Low­er East Side. While All-of-a-Kind Fam­i­ly Hanukkah is a pic­ture book, with less text than Taylor’s orig­i­nals, Jenk­ins sup­ports her poet­ic, descrip­tion-rich sen­tences with as much his­tor­i­cal authen­tic­i­ty as did Tay­lor. Jenk­ins and Zelin­sky have cre­at­ed a work of great beau­ty that both pays homage to and expands upon the beloved series.

The five sis­ters — Ella, Hen­ny, Sarah, Char­lotte, and Ger­tie — are all par­tic­i­pants in this tale of prepar­ing for Hanukkah. Sarah, the seri­ous mid­dle sis­ter who All-of-a-Kind read­ers will remem­ber for her love of the library, is paired here with Ger­tie, the real­is­ti­cal­ly-por­trayed, resent­ful, and rebel­lious youngest child. Ger­tie isn’t allowed to chop onions or peel pota­toes to make latkes because the required tools are too sharp. Her old­er sis­ter Henny’s prac­ti­cal obser­va­tion that Chop­ping onions is the worst of all jobs” may be true in a lit­er­al sense, but what four-year-old wants to hear You’re lucky. You don’t have to do any­thing. You can just play all the time”? Jenk­ins cap­tures the tough real­i­ty of sib­ling rela­tion­ships with brief but res­o­nant words, almost like those of a play. Sim­i­lar­ly, Mama’s qui­et author­i­ty is com­mu­ni­cat­ed with lines like I will call you when it is time to say the blessings…Until then, I don’t want to hear any­thing more.”

Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind books were illus­trat­ed by four dif­fer­ent, out­stand­ing artists, allow­ing Zelin­sky more flex­i­bil­i­ty in design­ing his own por­traits of the fam­i­ly and their urban immi­grant set­ting. In this new telling, the char­ac­ters have sharp, more eth­nic, fea­tures and scenes take place from a vari­ety of inter­est­ing per­spec­tives. The high-but­toned boots that an angry Ger­tie stamps with look ready to shat­ter the wood floor­boards, as she clear­ly wish­es they could. A few pages lat­er, we are at floor lev­el with her as she hides under a bed, sulk­ing; the two-page spread is a child’s view of despair. The book’s last illus­tra­tion is a view of the fam­i­ly eat­ing togeth­er, as seen through a win­dow. The blaz­ing first night can­dles of the meno­rah are the ini­tial focus, draw­ing the read­er into the fam­i­ly scene. Each pane of the win­dow con­tains a dif­fer­ent seg­ment of the joy­ous whole.

The book’s back mat­ter also deserves men­tion. A glos­sary of Yid­dish and Hebrew words is fol­lowed by thought­ful notes from the author and illus­tra­tor reflect­ing on the process of com­pos­ing their work. Jenk­ins dis­cuss­es Tay­lor in the con­text of her time and adds per­son­al anec­dotes about her con­nec­tion to All-of-a-Kind Fam­i­ly; Zelin­sky explains some of his artis­tic influ­ences includ­ing pop­u­lar Amer­i­can illus­tra­tion styles of the 1910s, Euro­pean Expres­sion­ism, and the uneven tex­ture of a good latke. There is also an excel­lent list of sources.

All-of-a-Kind Fam­i­ly Hanukkah is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed for read­ers ages 4 – 10, but also for all adults who remem­ber Taylor’s books with grat­i­tude for offer­ing, in Jenkins’s words, a mir­ror for their own tra­di­tions on the page.”

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

Discussion Questions

The chap­ter books that make up Syd­ney Taylor’s clas­sic series, All-of-a-Kind Fam­i­ly, about a Jew­ish immi­grant fam­i­ly in the ear­ly decades of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, have been beloved by gen­er­a­tions of mid­dle-grade read­ers since 1951. With full approval of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Foun­da­tion, Calde­cott-win­ning artist Paul O. Zelin­sky joins with author Emi­ly Jenk­ins to cre­ate a new, gen­tle pic­ture book about the family’s busy prepa­ra­tions for the first night of Hanukkah. We meet the girls as they make latkes and Hanukkah din­ner in their low­er east side ten­e­ment. But unfor­tu­nate­ly for lit­tle Ger­tie, most of what looks like fun kitchen prepa­ra­tion involves peel­ers, knives, graters, and hot oil, so it is too dan­ger­ous for her to take part. A mini-melt­down fol­lows, and she is sent to her room until can­dle light­ing. When Papa comes home, he saves the day with charm­ing, good-par­ent­ing wis­dom. Zelinsky’s large, exu­ber­ant paint­ings depict­ing cramped but joy­ous ten­e­ment life reflect the spir­it of the beloved source mate­r­i­al well. End­notes pay homage to the orig­i­nal Syd­ney Tay­lor books, stat­ing that Tay­lor was the first writer to pub­lish books about Jew­ish chil­dren that reached read­ers from oth­er reli­gions.” Also includ­ed is a list of resources that Jenk­ins used to authen­ti­cate the nar­ra­tive. This is a won­der­ful begin­ning to what will hope­ful­ly be a new pic­ture-book series fea­tur­ing these much-loved characters.