Friday, November 16, 2012

A New York-Centric Pick of the Week

It's not a coincidence that I selected this week's pick directly on the heels of last week's pick. When Ada and I first read ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY by Sydney Taylor

(shown here – small. Sorry – with its most recent reprint jacket), my first reaction was that it was like a LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE of New York. The book and its four sequels follow the lives and adventures of five – count 'em – Jewish sisters (and eventually, one brother) growing up in the early years of the 20th century, and are heavily based on Taylor's own girlhood. 

Throughout this series, as in the LITTLE HOUSE series, there are illnesses (the dreaded scarlet fever); big moves (from the largest Jewish neighborhood in the world at that time, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, uptown to a more integrated and swank locale); celebrations of holidays (Purim, for one notable example); the saving of pennies for highly coveted candy; detailed and fascinating descriptions of everyday life and various childhood mishaps and triumphs. Here is micro-history, not of the American plains but of urban streets, and every bit as engrossing and unfamiliar when contemplated now, over a hundred years later. There's a dwindling number of New Yorkers who remember, say, street-side pickle merchants, or buying crackers by the pound out of a barrel (broken crackers were cheaper). 

AOAKF was another book that captivated Ada so thoroughly that she could not tease out her favorite parts. As for me, I loved the sisters' Friday visits to the library (a perfect happenstance, since the book was originally recommended to me by a librarian). The highly anticipated recurring event is a thread that stitches some otherwise anecdotal chapters together. It's also a great reminder of the beauty and importance of books, which were once so rare and valuable that, for all but the privileged, owning one was almost unthinkable. 

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