Sydney Taylor – author of All-of-a-Kind Family – was born Sarah Brenner in 1904 to Jewish immigrant parents who had come to New York City in 1900. Like many other Jewish families at the time, they settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan – which just happens to be the setting of this novel about a Jewish family.
Taylor graduated from New York University with a degree in drama, and was an actor with the Lenox Hill Players in NYC from 1925 to 1929, then moved on to become a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company from 1930 to 1935. She married businessman Ralph Taylor in 1925 and became a full-time wife and mom in 1935 after her daughter Joanne (Jo) was born, though she continued exercising her skill and interest in the arts by serving as a dance and dramatics counselor at the nonprofit Cejwin (Central Jewish Institute) summer camps.
Taylor wrote several children’s stories as well as plays, but she is easily best known for the All-of-a-Kind stories, which were stimulated by recollections of her own childhood. She was the middle child in a large family that was rich in love, learning and tradition. The stories began as a way to comfort her daughter – an only child – who sometimes got lonely at bedtime. I’m sure young Jo was glad to keep company with the five sisters who shared their storytime bedroom with her.
Taylor wrote the stories down for her own satisfaction, as a way to record the history of her parents and her childhood at the beginning of the 20th century. She tucked the manuscript away, but her husband submitted it – unknown to her – for the Charles W. Follett Award for writing. It won the award and launched her career as a writer in the early 1950s. The book also won the 1952 Jewish Book Council Award. The All-of-a-Kind Family story continues through five books, giving a look not only at a large, loving family, but also at the day-to-day routines and holiday traditions of a religious Jewish family.
Sydney Taylor died of cancer on February 12, 1978. Her husband Ralph established the Sydney Taylor Book Award in her honor. The award is presented annually for outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.
I couldn’t find much about Helen John, the illustrator of this book (other than the fact that she was the illustrator for this book – duh). So we will just have to be satisfied with knowing that she did a fine job of portraying this happy family with her nicely-detailed drawings, which also show us a bit of the Jewish community on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the early 1900s.
(biographical info from Jewish Women’s Archive)