|Penguin BYR, 2018|
ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY HANUKKAH is written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, both of whom have garnered awards and commendations for wonderful works in the past. My hopes couldn't have been higher. Once I had a chance to read and explore it, the actual book exceeded my highest expectations.
This picture book extends the classic ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY novel series into a charmingly specific holiday celebration event that lets the characters shine through.
The historic context and Hanukkah preparations are so thoroughly engaging that readers need not be familiar with either the foundational characters and stories nor the customs of Hanukkah celebrations to enjoy the book. The flowing language and the childlike charm of the illustrations keep readers focused on the perspective and emotions of the youngest daughter, Gertie, who takes center stage. She is desperate to help with latke preparations. Each step in the process (the peeling, grating, slicing, frying) presents dangers for one so small, even with loving older sisters who are kind and willing to share their chores.
When Gertie has a meltdown, not unlike those likely taking place in holiday homes across the country (world), she is firmly banished to her room. Gertie's emotional rumination are recognizable, familiar, and explore feelings we've all experienced as children. When Papa arrives home his role adds humor and reflects the loving nature of the family as a whole.
The language and illustrations are nothing like a prior Jenkins/Zelinsky pairing in the TOYS GO OUT trilogy and picture book (TOYS MEET SNOW, reviewed here.). Just as Jenkins bends her ear and voice to capture those of characters she has loved for a lifetime, Zelinsky's art explores a rare childlike quality while incorporating a nod to authentic historic and cultural details. This approach provides expressive gestures and postures, with eye-level awareness of how dangerous a kitchen can actually be. The author's and illustrator's notes following the story are worthy reads, and you'll definitely want to return to the book after reading their notes.
And then you'll want to place an order for hot latkes!
In past posts I've mentioned that I grew up
That means I often reread books from our limited household library, including series titles like my sister's CHERRY AMES, STUDENT NURSE. There were other series from my meager public library, including The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries, although I was never desperate enough to read those titles more than once.
It's not uncommon to come across academic articles saying that reading series titles should be discouraged. They can be formulaic, with predictable patterns, plots, and character traits. I wouldn't deny that many series, particularly those written in the fifties and sixties, presented little challenge to readers, but they did provide better entertainment than the back of a cereal box.
One series I am certain I never heard of, or read, (and wish I had) is the ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY. Apparently, though, young readers in New York City, particularly in Jewish families, read every book in this series by Sydney Taylor. They certainly weren't alone. Taylor was the first author to write novels about Jewish family lives that also became popular with young readers from other religions and backgrounds, although they certainly weren't in my parochial school classrooms. Loyalties to this series extended across generations as children took these characters into their homes and lives and hearts.
Taylor's stories unfold at the turn of the twentieth century in a Henry Street neighborhood in New York's Lower East Side.The title comes from Papa's nickname for his family of five daughters, who are "all-of-a-kind".
I wish I had been able to access these when I was young, because I'm sure I'd have enjoyed the family dynamics, the lively and distinct personalities, and the historic insights from the era.
I'm always excited to read and enjoy any picture book with the appeal of All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah. In this case I'm grateful to a picture book that has provided me with gift to my younger self. I'll be checking out the five titles in Taylor's series and indulging in several hours of delightful stories that I missed when they were new. Once you read this terrific new picture book you may want to do the same.
Hanukkah begins at sunset on December 2 this year. Blessings to one and all.