T is for Taylor and 1950s Literature

For a T author, I read All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor nee Sarah Brenner. I may have read this book--or had it read to me--when I was younger. If so, I didn't remember, so the experience was fresh.

Overall, I recommend it despite the beginning and the end.

The first two chapters reminded me of those "wholesome" books which revolve around a child's bad behaviors; each naughty behavior is  successfully corrected by the end of a chapter ("And then Ruthie learned to be kind to others!"). These types of books were likely not as prevalent in the 1950s as we tend to think they were.  Nevertheless, their existence explains the post-1950 explosion of darker children's books, such as the Goosebumps series and ultimately the Lemony Snicket volumes (in which the narrator matter-of-factly informs us that "all those nice things that happen to those children in those other books are not going to happen here").

The last chapter of All-of-a-Kind Family, a family of five daughters, wraps up with the birth of the family's first son.

I have nothing against the event itself, and if it had happened halfway through the book, I would have welcomed it as a delightful next chapter in this slice-of-life narrative. One of my favorite children's series is about the Melendys, a family comprised of two girls and, eventually, three boys. And I get a huge kick out of the Anastasia books, which include the birth of Anastasia's baby brother Sam.

But All-of-a-Kind Family resolves with the birth of the baby boy: the reader experiences pages of  adventures and day-to-day activities in a family of girls. Hmmm, thank goodness it's paid off with the birth of a male heir.

Not exactly the most elevating message for young female readers in 1951.

The middle of the book is what makes All-of-a-Kind Family a decent and worthwhile read. A family of children doing childhood stuff is mildly interesting (The Betsy-Tacy books are oddly engaging for being so entirely about nothing--my first writing experiments at 7/8 were Betsy-Tacy wannabes). A family of little girls in early twentieth century New York City is quite interesting. A family of little Jewish girls in early twentieth century New York City is fascinating.

Aside from the first two chapters and the last, the book revolves around Jewish holidays. It definitely falls into the slice-of-life genre (there's an unobtrusive subplot of Charlie and the library lady). It is similar to those pinnacles of day-to-day youthfulness, The Betsy-Tacy series and the Katy series (which latter was voted one of the most popular for young teen girls in 1995; it's hard to find now). Readers enjoy each holiday not through lecture, as a history lesson, but through the thoughts and behavior and enjoyment of the family.

Sometimes a little bit of drama ensues, as when the girls get scarlet fever. Overall, the book reminded me of the street sequences in The Jazz Singer (some of the most remarkably filmed sequences in any movie). Welcome to 1912 in Jewish New York City: enjoy!

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