Skylar Burris's Reviews > All-of-a-Kind Family

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
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Apr 06, 2010

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bookshelves: childrens, judaism
Read from March 16 to April 06, 2010

This children’s novel, set in the early nineteen hundreds in New York City, follows a year in the life of an orthodox Jewish family with five daughters. It provides a good overview to most of the Jewish holidays and was a good way of introducing my daughter to Jewish customs. (She kept asking me, however, why only the dad went to synagogue, and I wasn’t sure of the answer.) I personally didn’t find it very interesting; it’s slow-paced and not written in a particularly alluring style, and, on the heels of so much Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis, it seemed rather bland, but it’s a great book for young girls, because it deals with so many of their little everyday trials, the small problems and concerns that loom so large for them. It’s something to which a young girl can relate, and my daughter enjoyed having it read to her. We will probably be reading another one of the novels in the series sometime in the future. Even my almost-four-year-old son liked listening in to it from time to time, and my ten-year-old nephew listened to a chapter while we were visiting, so there must be something appealing about this book to modern children.
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by K (new)

K Interesting review, Skylar. As for why only the dad went to synagogue, women's active involvement in Orthodox Judaism is a fairly recent development, influenced by feminism I think. According to many rabbinical authorities women don't have the same prayer obligations as men do, and in a time before feminism, labor-saving devices, etc., women's participation in ritual looked different than it does today. It may sound anti-feminist, but the book is simply true to its time and many things were different then.

Skylar Burris I did know that women didn't have the same prayer and other religious obligations as men, and that's what I told her, but the explanation didn't suffice for her. LOL. She had a LOT of questions. But the book did kind of make it seem like the mother and girls never went to the synagogue at all. In Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis saying Susan shouldn't use her bow and arrow because women shouldn't fight in wars really stood out to her too, so maybe I just have a budding feminist on my hands.

The book is true to its time and a little out of date in some ways (I had to explain what freak shows were and how we don't call people freaks anymore and don't pay to see them...), but it was also very real for her because it dealt with all those little child concerns, struggles, with family stuff, going to the library, being told you don't have enough money to buy this or that, etc. Kid life. And there's something ordinary and warm and comforting about it.

message 3: by K (new)

K Raising a feminist should be interesting! I'll be happy to try to answer any pressing questions your daughter has if you want; my perspective is not necessarily representative but it may be helpful.

It's so interesting how quickly things become dated, isn't it? I don't remember the book feeling that dated to me when I read it 30 years ago, although I don't know whether that was because it was a long time ago or whether I was simply sheltered. I did find it a warm and comforting read.

Skylar Burris I don't think my daughter found it dated. What we adults call dated is only dated because we live to see so many social changes. Kids are still learning social norms. They don't care much about what's "socially correct" or not in a book; they just enjoy the characters and stories. She's pretty sheltered herself (which is how I'd like to keep it for as long as possible!). This is probably how she thinks the world is.

Thanks for the offer - I may be sending some of her questions your way in the future! I expect we'll read another one of these - we just got it from the library.

Skylar Burris The truth is, I just found it a little boring. I was a tomboy growing up, never interested in clothes or dresses or dolls, had no that may be the reason it didn't catch my fancy. My daughter is a girly girl (albeit a super active one), so I think it's more up her alley than it would have been mine. I was never interested in reading The Little House on the Prarie books either. I did like Nancy Drew. That's the only "girl series" I can remember really liking.

message 6: by K (new)

K Thanks for your kind words, Abigail! Incidentally, while I started out as an avid Nancy Drew reader when I was a kid, I came to prefer Trixie Belden because she was more human and less perfect. Even then, I wasn't a big fan of Mary Sues.

Skylar Burris I do recall that Nancy Drew could do ANYTHING. The first book I ever wrote was in 5th grade, and it was a Nancy Drew minimystery. I didn't like the newer Nancy Drews; I read the original ones. Oddly enough, I have had virtually no interest in mysteries as an adult.

Kressel Housman The All-of-a-Kind-Family series is a childhood favorite. Even though you found it boring, you might like the next book, which is All of a Kind Family Downtown. The last in the series, Ella of All of a Kind Family sees Ella and Henny into their teenage years.

As to the mother not going to synagogue, a woman is exempt from prayer services because she'd be busy at home taking care of her little kids, which this mother was. Also, synagogue isn't the primary institution of Jewish life; the home is. The Passover seder is held at home, for example. So are the Sabbath meals every week. These things aren't just dinners; they're religious rituals, and women are very much part of them. (Hey, most of us MAKE the ritual meals.)

message 9: by Sas (new)

Sas One rabbinical scholar's response to "why are women exempt from prayer services?" was that women are more naturally devoted/connected to G-d, more aware of their commitments and obligations, whereas men need to be reminded several times a day of their commitment to G-d. I totally buy that. LOL

Skylar Burris Actually, Sas, all joking aside, I totally buy that too. I know in Christian circles that women are the backbone of the church, and it's much harder to get men to do / go to things than women. This could be why, looking at it from a purely practical non-sexist angle, many conservative denominations of all religions give more spiritual obligations or privileges (however you want to see that) to men and deny them to women or excuse women from them (however you want to see that) - so that men will be more active in the religious community. Women are going to be active in some capacity no matter what. It's why, even though it irks the feminist in me to deny women the pastorate in certain Christian denominations, I do understand the long-term communal benefits of doing so.

message 11: by Sas (last edited Apr 08, 2010 02:43PM) (new)

Sas Skylar, you are indeed right, "exempt" and "excluded" are interchangeable here depending on how you choose to see it. I'm quite sure the question was "why are women excluded?" And the very wise Rabbinic Scholar answered in a way to appease. "Women are exempt because they are spiritually superior", if you will. It leaves one scratching one's head. Is it a good "spin" or is it the truth? It's so logical that I'm going with truth.
And I'm off topic again, as usual. I will check out this book.

message 12: by Miriam (new) - added it

Miriam I'm inclined to agree with Abigail, in part because that explanation seems similar to excuses used in other times and cultures to restrict women from the public sphere. For instance, when the Victorians argued that they were preventing women from having jobs, involvement in politics and law, etc it was to preserve the women's virtues, which were greater but hence more delicate than those of men. I'm sure many people believed this was true and thought they were doing the right thing.

message 13: by Miriam (new) - added it

Miriam Oh, sure. And I know in many church communities women are the backbone. But I don't think this is because they are spiritually superior. I think women have traditionally been more involved in church life because it has always been a permissible, socially-accepted activity for women, whereas many other outlets are denied them. My point wasn't really about men vs women but about how exclusions get rationalized later.

message 14: by Sas (last edited Apr 08, 2010 08:05PM) (new)

Sas Oh wait, sorry ladies, did not mean to ruffle anyone's feathers. I did not mean to say the Rabbinical scholar literally meant that women were spiritually superior. That was my sort of funny extension of what he stated, which was that women are more steadfast in their committment to G-d and do not need to be reminded of their obligations in the same way that men do. I would say, in general, women are more committed to things that nurture the soul- whether that be their marriages or their children or their religion. Broad generalization here, I know but with some truth, I think.

Skylar Burris I didn't take what you said to mean literal spiritual superiority myself, which is why I could say I could buy into it when I replied.

message 16: by Sas (last edited Apr 08, 2010 08:21PM) (new)

Sas Abigail wrote: "My apologies if I overreacted - I can be a little tone-deaf, when it comes to humor."

My comments were meant to be tinged with humor, but it's hard to discern tone in written text and so I understand your response. I've been known to respond strongly to a few posts myself.

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