I’d somehow never come across this lovely book before. It’s rather like a Lower East Side equivalent of Little House on the Prairie, with the same simplistic language and a sense of a family home which is full of love and happiness despite poverty, but with a greater sense of community and a blessed absence of politics.
Like Laura, Sydney Taylor’s telling the story of a quintessential American experience, an essential part of the making of the United States of America, but it’s a very different one – the lives of first and second generation immigrants in New York City in the early 20th century. We’ve got five young Jewish American sisters, and they’re American-born but their parents seem to have emigrated to New York from … we’re not told where, but somewhere in Eastern Europe, probably somewhere in the Russian Empire. Quite possibly what’s now Ukraine.
In addition to what we see of the family’s home life in general, there’s a sub-plot about a family friend whose long lost love turns out to be the librarian at their beloved local library, and there’s an interesting storyline about the children having scarlet fever and how they have to put a notice on the door and then have the house fumigated once everyone’s recovered. There’s also a wonderful description of the local market: I could read that over and over again.
And much of the book’s about festivals. These are mostly Jewish religious festivals, but there’s also a chapter about the Fourth of July, and I loved that. I know that some people take issue with the Fourth of July chapter in Little Town on the Prairie, and there’s now a rather unpleasant school of thought that celebrating any sort of national holiday makes you some sort of bigot. It does absolutely nothing of the sort, and the All-of-a-Kind Family celebrating the Fourth of July is the way I grew up thinking about the USA, of (with apologies to Neil Diamond) freedom’s light burning warm, of people with a dream they’ve come to share … even if most of the people with that dream did find poverty on the Lower East Side rather than streets paved with gold.
I loved this. I’m only sorry that I didn’t come across this series 40 years ago, when I was the right age for it!