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The All-of-a-Kind Family Series

by Rebecca Ripperton
May 13, 2019

If you haven’t yet read Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family books, you are in for a treat.

This series of five chapter books recounts the lives of five Jewish sisters who live in Manhattan in the early 1900s with their Mama and Papa. Papa and Mama both immigrated to America from the “old country” and they now live on the Lower East Side where Papa runs a junk shop for local peddlers. (Mama has her hands full at home taking care of so many children!) 

At the beginning of the series, the oldest daughter Ella is twelve, and Gertie, the very youngest, is four. All five girls are spaced exactly two years apart, so they are a “steps-and-stairs,” or “all-of-a-kind” family, with Henny, Sarah, and Charlotte falling in the middle between Ella and Gertie. At the very end of the first book, a sweet baby boy named Charlie is added to the family! And at the end of the entire series, Ella has graduated from high school and is exploring a career as a professional singer.

All-of-a-Kind Family

Meet the All-of-a-Kind  Family — Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie — who live with their parents in New York City at the turn of the century. Together they share adventures that find them searching for hidden buttons while dusting Mama’s front parlor and visiting with the peddlers in Papa’s shop on rainy days. The girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises. But no one could have prepared them for the biggest surprise of all!
Ages 5-12

The sisters are all very different from one another, making them a lively gang. Yet, on the whole, the family is incredibly tight-knit and protective of one another.

The stories recounted in the series are simply about occurrences in the daily lives of the sisters. They include vignettes about mishaps that occur both at school and at home, the girls’ countless debates over deciding how to spend their daily pennies, preparations to throw a May Day party and countless other celebrations, despair over a lost and very precious library book, welcoming various friends from the community into their family, a Scarlet fever epidemic, one of the girls running for a high school class office as the very first female candidate, two very exciting engagements, and much, much more.

Family and Sisterhood

Growing up, being part of a family with five daughters would have been the fulfillment of my greatest childhood wish. I wanted as many sisters as I could possibly get, and consequently loved reading books about sisters! All-of-a-Kind Family was the gold standard in this regard, since there were a grand total of five girls with just one baby brother as a bonus. (Even though I preferred sisters, 5:1 was definitely an acceptable ratio.)

The sisters all slept together in one room and seemed to do just about everything, if not all together, then at least in pairs. Whenever one girl got into any kind of trouble, all the others were there to help. For example, in the very beginning of the first book, Sarah lends her weekly library book to a friend who loses it, but Sarah herself must pay the library for the cost of the book. Her sisters all agree to help her by each bringing a penny a week until the book is paid for in full.

All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown

Stand-alone chapters make this a perfect read-aloud, as the story follows the five sisters who are very busy, especially now that baby Charlie is growing so quickly. Ella gets a big role in the Purim play, Henny gets into trouble at school and runs away, Sarah gets her ears pierced, Charlotte has a scary kitchen accident, and Gertie finally is old enough to have a book of her own. This title, although written later, picks up right where the first, All-of-a-Kind Family, ended.
Ages 7-12

They are raised to look out for one another, and to share their joys and sorrows with each other. Family is clearly of the greatest importance to Mama, Papa, and each of the daughters; we see each character encounter situations where they must consider what is in the best interest of the entire family and make sacrifices for the whole family’s sake.

The girls also have aunts, uncles, and cousins aplenty who make appearances throughout the series, but it really is the relationship between all of the daughters that shines through most brightly in these books.

Love of Literature and Reading

The family isn’t able to afford books of their own, so the daughters have made a ritual of going to the library every Friday after school. Each girl is able to check out one book to read for the week, and they all look forward to this weekly event with great excitement. The younger daughters also anticipate the day when they are old enough to check out books of their very own, and feel that having a library membership is a great honor.

Two especial highlights of the series come when Papa receives a delivery of books at his junk shop and lets the girls pick out titles to keep for their very own, and later when one of the daughters wins a beautiful dictionary illustrated in color as an academic prize. The All-of-a-Kind Family girls truly cherish the books they are able to read, and as readers, we get to share in their excitement.

More All-of-a-Kind Family

​In the third book of Sydney Taylor’s classic children’s series, Ella finds a boyfriend and Henny disagrees with Papa over her curfew. Thus continues the tale of a Jewish family of five sisters-Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie-living at the turn of the century in New York’s Lower East Side. Entertaining and educational, this book brings to life the joys and fears of that time and place.
Ages 7-12

Today books are so readily available to us and are also much more affordable than they were in the past. It’s all too easy, as a result, to take their presence in our lives for granted, but All-of-a-Kind Family reminds us just how precious books truly are and just how much magic and joy they can bring into our lives.

The Jewish Faith

Throughout all of her books, Sydney Taylor does a wonderful job of introducing the reader to the Jewish faith, as well as many of its rituals and holy days. In her writing, Taylor manages to integrate the retelling of a biblical story, her description of its contemporary celebration, and the involvement of the All-of-a-Kind Family members. Their family’s faith truly is a living one, and Taylor portrays it beautifully.

Preparations for the Sabbath are woven into the fabric of the family’s week, with frequent references made to faith, the Torah, and Hebrew tradition. The family also prepares their food in accordance with kosher law, and observes annual holy days, such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukah, and Passover. Sydney Taylor also provides the reader with an in-depth introduction to lesser-known holidays, such as Sukkot, Purim, Simchat Torah, and even Pidyon Haben – a celebration honoring the birth of a first-born son.

All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown

​After moving uptown to the Bronx, the charming All-of-a-Kind Family have a new home, new neighbors and new friends. There’s always something exciting going on. Ella misses Jules who has joined the Army, Henny spills tea on a dress she borrowed without asking, Sarah works to win a prize at school, Charlotte takes the elevated train without paying her fare, Gertie makes a pancake, and Charlie is terrified when he meets Santa Claus! And things are are especially busy as Mother has gone into the hospital, and everyone must help out to make the house run smoothly.
Ages 8-13

Papa and Mama encourage their girls to ask questions about their religious beliefs and practices as they are growing up, and provide thoughtful answers, so the reader is given the chance to learn alongside of the daughters. (And the age differences between all the children make for a great variety of questions!)

Growing up in the Christian church, my brother and I were familiar with the stories from The Old Testament that Taylor retells, but not the traditions and celebrations associated with them. We loved listening to our Mom read the All-of-a-Kind Family books aloud to us, and we also learned a remarkable amount about the Jewish faith without ever realizing it at the time!

The “All-of-a-Kind Family” Books and the “Betsy-Tacy” Series

As I was re-reading this series in preparation for this post, I was struck by the many similarities between the All-of-a-Kind Family books and the Betsy-Tacy series. Both series feature families of (mainly) sisters of approximately the same age. Both series are set in the early 20th century and note the effects of World War I on their families and communities. Books, theatre, and music feature prominently in both series. Rich family lives are also at the center of both series, with faith as an ever-present backdrop. Education is strongly emphasized by both sets of parents, as is moral character and decision-making. And both series struck a beautiful balance of light-hearted play with more serious subjects.

Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family

World War I has ended, and Ella, the oldest of the five sisters, who dreams of singing and dancing in the theater, is discovered by a Broadway talent scout. It seems that she will have her chance at a theatrical career after all, starting in vaudeville. But her thoughts are also on Jules, just returned from the War, and marriage. Once again a loving family provides the support needed to make the right decision.
Ages 9-15

I was most struck, however, by the similarities between the later books in each series, in particular Betsy and the Great World and Ella of All of a Kind Family. These two books feel like outliers from the rest of their respective series, since both take one character and more or less isolate her in the early stages of her adulthood. Ultimately I think these two books merit their own post since they’re almost in a genre of their own. But more on this coming soon!

Share your experience!

Have you ever read the All-of-a-Kind Family books, or any other titles by Sydney Taylor? If so, we'd love to hear what you thought about reading them! If you haven't read them yet, do they sound like the kind of books that you or your children would enjoy?

Please let us know in a comment below! We love sharing our favorite books with you, and hearing your thoughts on them, as well!

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2

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers

by Rebecca Ripperton
March 11, 2019

Our family's experience reading Little Britches

We first read Little Britches aloud as a family when my brother and I were somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12. Over the years, we read a lot of books together, but this one was certainly one of everyone’s favorites. I don’t remember how quickly we went through this book, but I do remember that we begged our mom to please read just one more chapter every single night. (We were also very glad to discover that Ralph Moody wrote 7 more books in his autobiographical series – but more on those in another post). 

Westward bound

Little Britches is the captivating story of a New England family that moves to Colorado in the beginning of the 20th century to take up ranching. The book is narrated from the perspective of the young Ralph Moody, or as he comes to be called, “Little Britches.” Moody does a fantastic job of capturing the excitement of the rural west at that time, as well as many of the dangers and inherent difficulties of living there. In reading this book, it's hard not to become entranced with farm work, horses, and especially with the entire Moody family.

When the Moodys first arrive in Colorado, their land allotment is poor and the house promised to them in a dilapidated condition. Most of their savings had been poured into the move, so the only animals they can afford at first are two old nags – both far from ideal for farm work. Additionally, Mr. Moody's health continues to suffer, despite the fact that the family had moved to Colorado in hopes of improving it. 

But nevertheless, the family places their faith in God and is determined to make the best of their less than ideal circumstances.

Becoming a “cow poke”

The responsibilities that Ralph assumes in Colorado are serious ones, and the work he undertakes suitable for a much older man. When he is 10, his father agrees to let him spend an entire summer on a ranch about 20 miles from home. There, he works with a gang of “cow pokes” that take him under their protection and tutelage. These ranch hands adore and respect him, and Little Britches looks up to them in turn. 

Ralph's job at the Y-B ranch is simple, so to occupy the rest of his time, a cowboy named Hi Beckmann helps Ralph break in a beautiful blue roan mare called Sky High. Hi also teaches Ralph to perform all sorts of stunts and tricks with her.

Over the course of the summer, Ralph becomes an excellent rider and horseman, and even competes as a pair with Hi in the Labor Day Round-Up trick riding competition. Ralph’s description of trick riding is definitely the high point in this book, and quite possibly even more exciting than going to see an actual rodeo!

Overcoming the on-going difficulties of ranch life

Although the family does begin to fare better, their life in Colorado is never easy and they continue to be a family of relatively humble circumstances. Their crops occasionally fail, and from time to time an animal might become injured or die. In times of drought, Ralph’s father and his neighbors fight over water access with men upstream of them, with shots fired on both sides. Mr. Moody’s health also deteriorates as the book progresses.

But no matter how poor in means they may be, the Moody family remains rich in integrity, spirit, and resourcefulness – a fact that makes them well-respected and even beloved members of their community. The Moodys also pride themselves on being rich because they have a God who provides for them, and also because they have one another as companions.

The Moody family

Throughout the book, Ralph’s family reads aloud together – on picnics, in the evenings, and on holidays. Usually mother reads aloud to them, although later on the entire family acts out plays from Shakespeare. The children and the parents all cherish this special time that they are able to spend together. Each member of the family plays an important part on the farm, whether it be taking care of the animals, helping father in the fields, or mother around the house. 

Ralph has a particularly special relationship with his father, and this relationship is to me the most moving aspect of the book. Mr. Moody is a man of few words, but remarkable character. Ralph respects him more than anybody else in the world and always strives to make him proud. In particular, Ralph feels tremendous pride when his father asks him to be his “partner” on the ranch, and begins to shake his hand whenever they part. When his father speaks to him of his wrongdoing, conversely, Ralph takes heed and does not need to be admonished twice.

Becoming a man of integrity

Ralph’s father also speaks to him often about the importance of character and of always ​being “open and above-board.” In an episode where Ralph has deceived both of his parents about his reasons for borrowing a horse, his father tells him:

“A man’s character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn’t do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin. A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth.”

This memorable allegory stays with Ralph through the remainder of his life, even after his father passes away.

Ages

The first book is recommended for children ages 9-12. It can be read independently, although I would suggest that it makes a phenomenal read aloud. It is an especially good read aloud for boys or any child with lots of energy and a love of adventure.

Ralph himself is between the ages of 8 and 11 in this book, and notes that he is placed in 3rd grade in the beginning of the book and then in 6th grade at the end. (His sister Grace is 2 years older than he is, while the rest of their 3 siblings – Phillip, Muriel, and Hal – are younger.) It could be both interesting and exciting for children to read when they are his same age, although older children and adults will enjoy it, as well. 

As a note of caution: there are some difficult moments in this book, all of which are related to the realities of homesteading and none of which are gratuitous. The book, for instance, begins with both of the Moody’s horses falling through a train trestle. Although both animals ​do survive the ordeal, this section can be hard to read. If you have younger or more sensitive children, you may want to read the first two or so chapters to get a sense of how the author addresses these difficult topics before reading them aloud with your family.

Share your experience

Have you or your children ever read Little Britches? If so, tell us about your favorite memory of reading it in a comment below!

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