Gift Guide 2018: Hanukkah in Good Company

December 1, 2018 § 6 Comments

Our family doesn’t celebrate Hanukkah, and I’m by no means an authority on Jewish children’s literature (I recommend this excellent source). That said, I could be considered something of an authority on Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family books, published in the 1950s and featuring a Jewish immigrant family with five daughters living in New York City’s Lower East Side at the turn of the century. As a child, I could not get enough of these books. As a parent, I listened to all of them in the car with my kids and…yup, just as wonderful.

If you heard a squeal echoing across the universe over Thanksgiving break, it was because I wandered into Books of Wonder in New York and discovered there is a now a picture book based on Taylor’s classic chapter books.

Written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (both of whom will forever have my heart because of these), All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah (Ages 3-7) does the seemingly impossible: it perfectly channels the old-fashioned warmth of the original books, then adds visuals so fitting, they may well have been there all along. It’s like going to see the movie of a favorite book and having it match exactly what’s in your head.

The five sisters—Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie—range in age from twelve to four; and no finer example of sibling affection will you find. But, because reading about perfect children is supremely dull, the gift of Taylor’s original books has always lain in the not-so-perfect moments, the times when the girls grow grumpy and irritable and don’t want to be models of helpfulness and patience. All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah is filled with just such moments, from Henny giving Gertie the side eye on the cover, to Gertie’s full-fledged temper tantrum halfway through the story.

It’s the first night of Hanukkah, and Gertie is tired of her older sisters prattling on about all the things that will happen when Papa gets home: lighting the menorah, saying the blessings in Hebrew, etc. As if she doesn’t know! She may be the youngest, but she knows about latkes, thank you very much (she just doesn’t remember how they taste). Even more, Gertie is tired of her sisters and mother keeping her from helping prepare holiday feasts. Why must the potato peeler always be too sharp for her?

We can hardly blame Gertie for feeling left out of such collaboration and festivity. Plus, the taste and smells evoked are every bit as mouth-watering as they are in the original books, from the “salty” chicken to the “sweet” applesauce to the “crispy” potatoes.

When Gertie explodes, her mother takes her by the hand lovingly but firmly and leads her upstairs for a time out. Gertie (I swear, I’ve no idea what kind of girl would do this) decides she will hide under a bed. She’ll show them. “They will miss her when they can’t find her./ Mama will be sorry she didn’t let Gertie help.” To heck with the singing and laughing going on downstairs. She is going to stay. under. the. bed. forever. (I swear, I have no idea what kind of girl would do this.)

Fans of Sydney Taylor know that, while Mama plays the disciplinarian, Papa has just the touch to mend the hurt. It’s Papa who finally entices Gertie out from under the bed with a handkerchief of gingersnaps. Papa who finds for Gertie, not just any job, but the most important job of all: “Tell me. Are you old enough to light the menorah this year?”

For those who celebrate Hanukkah, this is an easy purchase. And for those who don’t (our family especially appreciated the thorough Afterward, complete with index and the story of Hanukkah), this is still a resonant story about a family whose love for one another outshines any bumps along the way.

Book published by Schwartz & Wade. All opinions are my own. affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!

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§ 6 Responses to Gift Guide 2018: Hanukkah in Good Company

  • Melissa, our family read this wonderful series around the time that Westminster Church was worshipping at Agudas Achim during our major construction (about 15 years ago) and the books helped us appreciate the customs and holy days observed by our Jewish neighbors. Do you know if there is a similar series about a Muslim family?

    • thebookmommy says:

      That’s wonderful! (Also, I had no idea Westminster temporarily relocated into Agudas. I just love the support within our community.) I don’t know of a similar one about a Muslim family–I dare say I don’t think there is anything comparable (yet), which is a shame. Author Hena Khan has been a pioneer of contemporary Muslim fiction for children: her picture books, like “Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns,” are a stunning introduction to Islam (was actually going to feature her newest in my gift guide, so you can look for that) and her lovely middle-grade chapter book about a Muslim-American, titled “Amina’s Voice, is probably the closet thing to the spirit of what you are asking about.

  • Melissa, I got goose bumps when I read your post. I loved the All-of-a-Kind-Family as a child and I’m thrilled to learn about the picture book! I’ve added it to my Christmas wish list!

    • thebookmommy says:

      Thank you, Susan! I’m floating right now because my daughter (after reading the new Hanukkah picture book) has decided to go back read all the chapter books on her own. She realized she doesn’t remember much from listening to them years ago and was intrigued. She started the first last night and even brought it to school this morning because “I want to read it every chance I get today.” SUCCESS!!!

  • […] All-of-a-Kind-Family Hanukkah, by Emily Jenkins, illus. Paul O’Zelinsky (Sydney Taylor Book Award) […]

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