Here are the last two books of the All-of-a- Kind Family series. Interestingly, the Downtown story, though the fourth book published, is actually the second set of adventures, chronologically speaking. According to the fascinating introduction to this book (written by June Cummins, who is at work on a Sydney Taylor biography), the book was delayed because it tackles difficult issues, which were not necessarily appealing to the publishers. The gritty realities of life on the Lower East Side — poverty, illness, the hardships faced by newly arrived immigrants — are front and center in this book, in the characters of Guido, a young boy with no father and a very sick mother, and Miss Carey, a nurse at the settlement house. But readers looking for the lightness of the other titles will not be disappointed. From a Purim play, to dancing in the streets to the organ grinder’s tunes, to the bliss of blintz-eating, to the yearly building of the sukkah, this is a family who gets pleasure out of every day.
The oldest sister, Ella, gets her own book in Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family. Again, thanks to the introduction, we learn that the author’s original plan was for each sibling eventually to star in his or her own book. Alas, Taylor died before she could accomplish this, leaving readers able only to imagine what might have been in store for the other sisters. In this last book, Ella is a young woman torn between her desire for a performing career and her love for Jules, newly returned from a stint as a soldier in World War I. Even twenty-first century readers will find a lot to ponder in the choices Ella must make as she figures out what she wants in life. And, of course, we are treated to the usual family fun — haircuts gone wrong, student elections (a girl is running for office for the first time!), and vaudeville is in full swing. If the series had to end, this is a lovely book to go out on.
Highly recommended for ages 4 – 10. These books still set the standard for great Jewish writing for children.
Leslie Kimmelman grew up outside Philadelphia and graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont. She is the author of many children’s books, awards for which include Best Children’s Books of the Year from the Bank Street College of Education; Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies; and Sydney Taylor Notable Books. Kimmelman is an editor at Sesame Workshop and lives with her family just north of New York City.