Look­ing For Me In This Great Big Family

Bet­sy R. Rosenthal
  • Review
By – August 7, 2012

This delight­ful book is full of sur­pris­es, start­ing with the open­ing page which is writ­ten in blank verse. Each chap­ter is a sep­a­rate poet­ic vignette, con­nect­ing to each of the oth­ers and telling the sto­ry of a fam­i­ly in a unique and mem­o­rable fashion.

Writ­ten from the point of view of an eleven year old girl who is num­ber four in a Jew­ish fam­i­ly of twelve, it is apt­ly titled Look­ing for Me. It takes place dur­ing the Depres­sion and is an explo­ration of this young girl’s iden­ti­ty. In a fam­i­ly of six boys and six girls, is she just the fourth child or is she some­thing more? She sees her­self as the good lit­tle moth­er” as she is con­stant­ly meet­ing the needs of her younger sib­lings. Addi­tion­al­ly, she feels she is one of her Dad’s work slaves” as she is required to clean and serve in his din­er until two in the morn­ing. She is shocked when the teacher tells her she is smart and should go to col­lege. How­ev­er, in a fam­i­ly that is always short of mon­ey, how will this ever come to pass? What does ensue is the beau­ti­ful sto­ry recount­ed here. But, Look­ing for Me is about much more than Edith, its main char­ac­ter. It also gives us glimpses into fam­i­ly dynam­ics that are informed by the time and place. How can Edith ever for­give her Bubbe, who left her moth­er in Europe when she was an infant and went off to the Unit­ed States? True, Bubbe brought her child over many years lat­er, but how could any moth­er aban­don a child in this way? By read­ing the inter­view between Edith and her Bubbe we begin to understand. 

The most poignant part of the book is the death of a younger broth­er, Melvin. We feel the sad­ness that affects Edith and her moth­er. Late at night she sees her moth­er iron­ing. Drops of tears fall on the shirt…” I wish I knew the right words to say to help her iron her sad­ness away,” says Edith.

At the end of the book, Edith grad­u­ates from grade school with a stu­dent achieve­ment award. How­ev­er, this too is a source of pathos. Her father works, her old­er sib­lings do too, and her moth­er is griev­ing. No one will be present to cel­e­brate. What hap­pens in the final scene makes this book worth reading. 

The book con­tains a glos­sary of Yid­dish and Hebrew words, an author’s note and pic­tures of the fam­i­ly on whom the sto­ry is based. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for ages 11 – 15.

Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

Discussion Questions