Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sydney Taylor


Born October 31, 1904 in New York
Died February 12, 1978

America, drawing its people from all over the world, has some great stories about assimilating into a new culture, each of those peoples then making their own contribution to the American melting-pot. There are some especially wonderful family stories from immigrant families. One of the crown jewels in this treasure chest is the All-of-a-Kind series by Sydney Taylor.

Like so many of the great children's stories, this one was told first as entertainment to the author's own child. Only years later through an unlikely set of circumstances did it actually become a printed book.

Sydney Taylor was born October 31, 1904 into an immigrant Jewish family in the Lower East Side of New York City. Her parents, the Brenners, immigrated to the USA in 1900 from Germany. They settled in the Lower East Side of New York City and there raised their family of seven, all, other than the first-born, Ella, being born in the US. Sydney was the third-born in the family and was actually christened Sarah but changed her name in high school.

Sydney Taylor grew up in the crowded tenements of the Lower East Side in a tightly knit family, taking full advantage of the limited opportunities for experience and mischief presented by her immediate surroundings. Graduating High School, she started work as a secretary, married and became involved in the world of dance.

She eventually became a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company. She left the Dance Company when her only child, Joanne, was born. After spending seven years at home with her young daughter, Taylor was drawn back into the world of dance from a new angle. She spent many years involved with a non-profit camp, Camp Cejwin, as the camp drama counselor. She had already begun writing, in that capacity, producing new scripts for her productions.

Daughter Jo, loved hearing Taylor retell the stories of her childhood in the Lower East Side in a family of five sisters (and latterly three brothers). At one point, prompted by Jo's question "Mommy, why is it that whenever I read a book about children it is always a Christian child? Why isn't there a book about a Jewish child?," Taylor wrote down all the stories that she had been relating to Jo for Jo to read as a book. After being read and circulated among Jo's friends for a while, the manuscript was packed away.

As Taylor relates in More Junior Authors edited by Muriel Fuller:

In 1950, when I was in my children's world at camp, my husband chanced to read the announcement of a contest for juvenile literature. He disinterred the manuscript without telling me. When I heard from the Follett Publishing Company that I had won the prize, I did not know what they were talking about. I showed the letter to my husband - and the secret was out! That's how I became a recognized author.

Thus was born All-of-a-Kind-Family, the first of five in the series recounting the adventures and misadventures of five sisters growing up together in the Lower East Side at the turn of the century. Following the success of the first book in 1951, More-All-of-a-Kind Family was published in 1954, succeeded by All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown (1957), All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown (1972), and Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family (1978).

In some ways these books are New York's answer to Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie. They capture the feel of a distinct time and a distinct place but do so within the timeless framework of a tightly-knit family. By building on the foundation of family circumstances, independent readers are perhaps more easily transported into the less familiar realm of long ago and faraway.

In this regard, the All-of-a-Kind Family stories have the additional dimension that they introduce children not only to living in straightened circumstances in the 1900's in New York City but also, incidentally to some of the structure and traditions of the Jewish faith. There are numerous stories that don't set out to teach you something but you end up learning something as a by-product of the entertaining story. The All-of-a-Kind Family stories fall into this select group.

Taylor wrote a handful of other books as indicated in the bibliography as well as articles for magazines but nothing struck home to the same extent as All-of-a-Kind Family. If you have not come across them yet, I recommend you add the series to your child's library.

Take a look at our book list, The American Immigrant Experience, for other excellent stories about families moving to America.

Independent Reader

All-Of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor and illustrated by Helen John Highly Recommended

More All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor and illustrated by Mary Stevens Recommended

All-Of-A-Kind Family Uptown by Sydney Taylor and illustrated by Mary Stevens Suggested

All-Of-A-Kind Family Downtown by Sydney Taylor and illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush Suggested

Ella of All-Of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor and illustrated by Meryl Rosner Suggested


All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor, 1951

The Holiday Story Book, by Sydney Taylor, 1953

More All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor, 1954

All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown, by Sydney Taylor, 1957

Mr. Barney's Beard, by Sydney Taylor, 1961

Now That You Are Eight, by Sydney Taylor, 1963

The Dog Who Came to Dinner, by Sydney Taylor, 1966

A Papa Like Everyone Else, by Sydney Taylor, 1966

All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown, by Sydney Taylor, 1972

Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor, 1978

Danny Loves a Holiday, by Sydney Taylor, 1980

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