|First book in the series of five, first published by Delacourt in 1951|
When I was a young child during the early 1960s, I knew little about the Jewish faith or holidays - even though I now realize one of my best friends was probably Jewish (her mother was a Holocaust survivor). My family, though not religious, celebrated the standard Christian holidays, and at school, we only discussed and celebrated these Christian holidays or the official American ones like Thanksgiving and Memorial Day. The local stores and my community then (Arlington, VA) only decorated for them too, and so if there were Jewish kids in my midst, it just didn't come up. In short, there was little to expand my cultural knowledge - except books, which I was lucky enough to have in abundance.
|The Stair-step Sisters checking out library books in an illustration by Helen John|
|Second book in the series|
|Third book in the series|
|Fourth book in the series|
Her illustrations added enormously not only to my enjoyment of the books, they really brought the time and place to life for me, by providing information not necessarily clear in the text. Looking these over again made me sad that relatively few middle grade novels today include any illustrations - kids don't outgrow their pleasure and profit from pictures when they begin to read alone.
|Illustration by Helen John from chapter "Rainy Day Surprise" in All-of-a-Kind Family|
With the volumes of Dickens, the book of fairy tales, and The Dolls That You Love parceled out among them, they trooped back to the front of the shop to show Papa their finds.
"May we keep them all?" Ella asked.
When he said "Yes," they could hardly believe their ears. They never thought to own even one book and now they had twelve. It was too wonderful!
|Fifth and final book in the series|
Most of my family's copies of these books arrived wrapped in white tissue paper and tied with white ribbon in the giant boxes of Christmas gifts my grandmother sent to our family from her home across the continent in California. Most of the gifts were books obtained from the bookstore where she was a clerk and squirreled away all year until the holidays in a large sandalwood chest she owned. To this day, the sight of red ribbon against white paper or the scent of sandalwood sets my heart beating with anticipation.
Now for the sad part: as I mentioned in the first paragraph, most of these books are no longer in print, and even the old editions are hard to find. What's worse, many have not been in print for years. Most of my copies are pre-1984, the year of doom under CPSIA. Yes, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act continues to prohibit all children's books printed before 1984 for use by children, regardless of how miniscule the risk they might pose (see the links in the sidebar for more information about the law and the safety of books). Many libraries have already removed all these older copies from their shelves (and discarded or destroyed them); many used booksellers won't carry them for fear of incurring gigantic fines and criminal penalties; and they are getting harder and harder to find at prices families can afford. I thank God every weekend that the yard sale people still don't seem to have heard of the law.
I have hope that with a new chairman of the commerce committee (Henry Waxman, former chair, will be replaced when Congress reconvenes) that Congress will finally relent and revise the law (or at least hold hearings on it) - but meanwhile, these precious books continue to fade away. It would be a crime if they were lost altogether. After the holidays, please write again to your senators and congressional representative. (By the way, the stay of enforcement for testing of new, harmless books expires in February - so expect prices of kids' books to rise still further and choice to drop still more if nothing happens legislatively. See this Publisher's Weekly article here.) And maybe we can all persuade Delacourt to re-print them again...
Hope springs eternal in this season.
Amazon reviews about the books, and Anita Silvey's wonderful book-a-day blog post on the books here. You can also read a detailed tribute to Sydney Taylor, who lived a fascinating life (including a stint as a Martha Graham dancer), at the Association of Jewish Libraries here. Finally, much of what I learned about Sydney Taylor, I gleaned from her thorough biography in Children's Books and Their Creators: An Invitation to the Feast of Twentieth-Century Children's Literature (Houghton Mifflin, 1995), edited by the always fabulous Anita Silvey! (If you love kids' books, it's a great reference book to add to your wish list.)