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From Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family

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The untold life story of All-of-a-Kind Family author Sydney Taylor, highlighting her dramatic influence on American children’s literature This is the first and only biography of Sydney Taylor (1904–1978), author of the award-winning All-of-a-Kind Family series of books, the first juvenile novels published by a mainstream publisher to feature Jewish children. The family—bas The untold life story of All-of-a-Kind Family author Sydney Taylor, highlighting her dramatic influence on American children’s literature This is the first and only biography of Sydney Taylor (1904–1978), author of the award-winning All-of-a-Kind Family series of books, the first juvenile novels published by a mainstream publisher to feature Jewish children. The family—based on Taylor’s own as a child—includes five sisters, each two years apart, dressed alike by their fastidious immigrant mother so they all look the same: all-of-a-kind. The four other sisters' names were the same in the books as in their real lives; only the real-life Sarah changed hers to the boyish Sydney while she was in high school.   Cummins elucidates the deep connections between the progressive Taylor’s books and American Jewish experiences, arguing that Taylor was deeply influential in the development of national Jewish identity. This biography conveys the vital importance of children’s books in the transmission of Jewish culture and the preservation of ethnic heritage.


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The untold life story of All-of-a-Kind Family author Sydney Taylor, highlighting her dramatic influence on American children’s literature This is the first and only biography of Sydney Taylor (1904–1978), author of the award-winning All-of-a-Kind Family series of books, the first juvenile novels published by a mainstream publisher to feature Jewish children. The family—bas The untold life story of All-of-a-Kind Family author Sydney Taylor, highlighting her dramatic influence on American children’s literature This is the first and only biography of Sydney Taylor (1904–1978), author of the award-winning All-of-a-Kind Family series of books, the first juvenile novels published by a mainstream publisher to feature Jewish children. The family—based on Taylor’s own as a child—includes five sisters, each two years apart, dressed alike by their fastidious immigrant mother so they all look the same: all-of-a-kind. The four other sisters' names were the same in the books as in their real lives; only the real-life Sarah changed hers to the boyish Sydney while she was in high school.   Cummins elucidates the deep connections between the progressive Taylor’s books and American Jewish experiences, arguing that Taylor was deeply influential in the development of national Jewish identity. This biography conveys the vital importance of children’s books in the transmission of Jewish culture and the preservation of ethnic heritage.

30 review for From Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family

  1. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    3.5 really, but rounded up because I'm glad the book exists; it's the first biography of Sydney Taylor ever published, and possibly even the first full length scholarly work of any kind devoted to her. This is surprising, because Taylor's such an important figure in American children's literature, her All-of-a-Kind Family series being the first works portraying Jewish life to reach a mainstream audience. The books are set in the early 1900s in New York City's Lower East Side (and later, the Bron 3.5 really, but rounded up because I'm glad the book exists; it's the first biography of Sydney Taylor ever published, and possibly even the first full length scholarly work of any kind devoted to her. This is surprising, because Taylor's such an important figure in American children's literature, her All-of-a-Kind Family series being the first works portraying Jewish life to reach a mainstream audience. The books are set in the early 1900s in New York City's Lower East Side (and later, the Bronx) and are semi-autobiographical. Originally published in the 1950s, they were, and remain, immensely popular, being still in print to this day. They were perennial rereads of my childhood, and on learning this biography was forthcoming, I was immensely eager to read it, as the fascination of learning which parts of beloved books are "true" has a strong hold on me. Sydney Taylor (born Sarah Brenner) was the child of German-Jewish immigrants (a distinction that set her family somewhat apart from the largely Eastern European immigrants of her childhood neighborhood). She grew up in poverty with a tight knit family of five sisters and two younger brothers (who in fiction, and, seemingly in life, remained rather peripheral characters in the family). She didn't graduate from high school, but, along with her sisters, she made the most of the educational and cultural opportunities the city had to offer, and aspired to an intellectual life. After several secretarial jobs, she became involved in dance and theater (and was a member of Martha Graham's dance company), interests she maintained throughout her life. After her marriage, thanks to the success of her husband's business, she settled into a comfortable and secure respectability, but remained culturally active, devoting most of the summers of her adult life to organizing dramatics at a Jewish camp where most of her sisters also worked. And of course, penning her award winning children's books, which, long before the term "multi-cultural" was coined, gave young Jewish readers the chance to see themselves in fiction, and also engagingly introduced the traditions of Jewish culture and holidays to many more kids who knew nothing of them at all. While I was quite interested in the book from start to finish, unfortunately I didn't find the reading experience to be quite as delightful as I'd anticipated. A lot of this isn't author June Cummins' fault, as she couldn't help that the documentation of Taylor's childhood and youth is spotty, still less that Taylor's family was seldom as happy as was portrayed in the fictionalized account. Taylor herself I sometimes found irritating (especially in her overly earnest socialist youth, and in her reactionary, rather fussy old age). I did find though, that the organization of the book gave it a rather choppy quality. The biography is chronological up until the point of Taylor's marriage, but thereafter, chapters are organized thematically (one about the youth of her daughter, Jo; one on her work with Camp Cejwin; one on the publication of her first books, etc.), and as each chapter can encompass decades, this gives the book a disjointed feeling, as it sometimes results in details about earlier parts of her adult life being filled in later. For example, in a chapter on personal losses Taylor experienced in the 196os, we're told that Taylor and her husband didn't take their annual Spring trip to Europe while her mother was gravely ill. This is the first we've heard of Taylor ever going to Europe; only in a later chapter do we learn more about the nature of these trips, when they began, and what they meant to Taylor and her husband Ralph. I also found myself wishing that the biography had encompassed more of the "All-of-a-kind" family. Readers like myself who grew up loving the books are just as interested in what became of Sarah's real-life sisters, who are equally as important as characters in the books as Sarah herself. We hear in passing about marriages, jobs, and children, but their lives feel only partially sketched in. Sadly, From Sarah to Sydney was published posthumously due to June Cummins' untimely death from cancer. I'm so glad this valuable biography was able to see the light of day, which I'm sure is greatly to the credit of Cummins' assistant and collaborator Alexandra Dunietz, but I wonder in what ways (if any) it might have been different had Cummins herself been well enough to see it through to publication.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Anton

    I was so excited to see a New York Times article about the new Sydney Taylor biography, From Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family As many of my friends and fans know, I grew up in a secular home in a Los Angeles Jewish suburb. My family weren't shul goers so we didn't observe Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, only Hanukah and Pesach [the latter at a more religious friend's house]. I attribute my early knowledge of the first 3 holidays, and other Jewish traditions, to having I was so excited to see a New York Times article about the new Sydney Taylor biography, From Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family As many of my friends and fans know, I grew up in a secular home in a Los Angeles Jewish suburb. My family weren't shul goers so we didn't observe Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, only Hanukah and Pesach [the latter at a more religious friend's house]. I attribute my early knowledge of the first 3 holidays, and other Jewish traditions, to having read the All of a Kind Family series. All five of Sydney Taylor's novels are in my home library and I still reread them. In 1995, I joined a women's Talmud class and learned that the great medieval commentator Rashi had no sons, only three daughters who were reputed to be learned. Curious about them, I started researching his family and community, and discovered so many astonishing things about the women that I decided to write about them. It would be a book I wanted to read—which meant a novel. I immediately decided my template would be All of a Kind Family, where the reader could be immersed in Rashi's family's daily life in 11th-century France as the story unfolded. Except my novel would be for adults; the characters would have explicit sex, menstruate, use the privy and experience painful childbirth as women in real life do. My Rashi's Daughters trilogy has sold over 100,000 copies. And now there is an entire genre of Jewish women's historical fiction.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ann Epstein

    A Testament to the Power of Children’s Literature – From Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family by June Cummins with Alexandra Dunietz, is a thoroughly researched and insightful biography about children’s book author Sydney Taylor, née Sarah Brenner. Taylor, best known for her All-of-a-Kind Family series, was a pioneer, the first to present a Jewish American family — religious yet assimilated — as the main characters. Like Taylor’s books, which drew on her experiences growing up, A Testament to the Power of Children’s Literature – From Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family by June Cummins with Alexandra Dunietz, is a thoroughly researched and insightful biography about children’s book author Sydney Taylor, née Sarah Brenner. Taylor, best known for her All-of-a-Kind Family series, was a pioneer, the first to present a Jewish American family — religious yet assimilated — as the main characters. Like Taylor’s books, which drew on her experiences growing up, Cummins’s biography is also a historical recap of immigrant life on the Lower East Side in the early decades of the twentieth century, of particular interest to me because it portrays the place and time of my parents’ childhoods too. Further, the book reflects on how the evolution of children’s literature, and the publishing world in general, dictate what is acceptable (i.e., marketable) for authors to write. As a fiction writer myself (see my Goodreads author page https://www.goodreads.com/author/show...), I share Taylor’s wariness and resistance to such constraints. Her defense of her work’s authenticity and enduring values, which Cummins forcefully presents, is admirable and inspirational. Perhaps most appealing is the story of the lifelong closeness and entanglement of the five real-life Brenner sisters, and the support of Taylor’s husband, as uncommon in its era as her books. This comprehensive biography is a testament to the power of children’s literature to confirm identity, educate the young about diversity through engaging storytelling, and create new generations of enthusiastic readers.

  4. 4 out of 5

    University of Chicago Magazine

    Alexandra Dunietz, PhD'90 Coauthor From the coauthor: "Written by June Cummins, with Alexandra Dunietz, this is the first and only biography of Sydney Taylor (1904–1978), author of the award-winning All-of-a-Kind Family series of books, the first juvenile novels published by a mainstream publisher to feature Jewish children characters. The family—based on Taylor’s own as a child—includes five sisters, each two years apart, dressed alike by their fastidious immigrant mother so they all look the sam Alexandra Dunietz, PhD'90 Coauthor From the coauthor: "Written by June Cummins, with Alexandra Dunietz, this is the first and only biography of Sydney Taylor (1904–1978), author of the award-winning All-of-a-Kind Family series of books, the first juvenile novels published by a mainstream publisher to feature Jewish children characters. The family—based on Taylor’s own as a child—includes five sisters, each two years apart, dressed alike by their fastidious immigrant mother so they all look the same: all-of-a-kind. The four other sisters’ names were the same in the books as in their real lives; only the real-life Sarah changed hers to the boyish Sydney while she was in high school. Sydney went on to dance with Martha Graham, work for decades at Cejwin Camps, and have a career as a writer of books for children. Cummins elucidates the deep connections between the progressive Taylor’s books and American Jewish experiences, arguing that Taylor was deeply influential in the development of national Jewish identity. This biography conveys the vital importance of children’s books in the transmission of Jewish culture and the preservation of ethnic heritage."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

    A biography of the woman who wrote the All-of-a-Kind Family books. As a child, I loved "All-of-a-Kind Family" and "More All-of-a-Kind Family," but I didn't read any of the other books. In my view, the first book is always the best. "Little Women" is a classic, but "Little Men" not so much, and fuhgeddaboud "Jo's Boys." I was interested in the story of the author, but this book is only intermittently interesting. Taylor was the first person to write a children's book about Jewish families in Amer A biography of the woman who wrote the All-of-a-Kind Family books. As a child, I loved "All-of-a-Kind Family" and "More All-of-a-Kind Family," but I didn't read any of the other books. In my view, the first book is always the best. "Little Women" is a classic, but "Little Men" not so much, and fuhgeddaboud "Jo's Boys." I was interested in the story of the author, but this book is only intermittently interesting. Taylor was the first person to write a children's book about Jewish families in America and it is telling that it appealed as much to Gentile children (little girls, let's face it) as to Jewish ones. It doesn't deal with anti-Semitism, perhaps because Taylor didn't personally experience it. The stories about Cejwin, the summer camp Taylor and her sisters went to and worked at for decades, are also interesting. I was not interested in Taylor's adolescent romances, or the details of her extended family. Cummins often repeats herself. It would have been a better book if it had been more tightly edited, as is so often the case.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    So many people called this dry, but I was riveted--I finished it in two days because I couldn't put it down. Syd (formerly Sarah) Taylor's life is nothing like I expected. In the books, she wrote herself as quiet (yet stubborn) and a little dreamy, which is how we see here that here is how her sisters saw her, too. But she was also a radical, one of Martha Graham's modern dancers, and constantly pushing forward. She also liked to create her own narratives (such as the fiction that her husband su So many people called this dry, but I was riveted--I finished it in two days because I couldn't put it down. Syd (formerly Sarah) Taylor's life is nothing like I expected. In the books, she wrote herself as quiet (yet stubborn) and a little dreamy, which is how we see here that here is how her sisters saw her, too. But she was also a radical, one of Martha Graham's modern dancers, and constantly pushing forward. She also liked to create her own narratives (such as the fiction that her husband submitted her manuscript as a surprise) and had very strong opinions on just about everything. (Yet she also considered herself a bit meek and a follower. It made me wonder about the differences between her journals/letters and how she presented herself in person. I know well that they don't have to match.) My favorite parts were about the family as a whole--learning about mama and papa's lives before America, seeing the sisters interacting as children and as adults. I missed them in the part about her late teens and twenties. Everyone was very complicated, and I had such empathy for Mama and her sister known only as Tante. They each had such heartbreaking lives, and I hope took some solace in their fictional counterparts. (The end result of Tante and her brother is in the footnotes--I wish it had been part of the narrative.) I love this series so much and have all my life; this has given me a deeper appreciation for the books, Syd's talent, and Syd herself. I am so glad I bought this one to keep!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    I have too many thoughts about this book to distill into a few words. This book was A Lot. I am eager for other people I know like my sisters to read it so we can discuss. Not recommended if you want to continue regarding All of a Kind Family blissfully. Not at all. But very well worth reading if you are open to learning about the Brenner family, definitely warts and all.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ayelet

    I liked the parts about her early life but the rest of it dragged. It is more of an academic book, with long chapters about the role of women, historical movements, etc. I skimmed a lot of the chapters. I also didn't need a list of every stage production she was ever in. Thankfully the notes started 80% of the way in. I did like the pictures. I liked the parts about her early life but the rest of it dragged. It is more of an academic book, with long chapters about the role of women, historical movements, etc. I skimmed a lot of the chapters. I also didn't need a list of every stage production she was ever in. Thankfully the notes started 80% of the way in. I did like the pictures.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    Closer to 3 1/2 stars. Book wasn’t bad but I wasn’t riveted. I enjoyed the books Sydney Taylor wrote much more than I enjoyed this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ann

  11. 4 out of 5

    Max

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joan Mckee kossack

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  14. 5 out of 5

    Halina

  15. 5 out of 5

    June Sobel

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Barden

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

  20. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

  23. 5 out of 5

    Fay Kline

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Gibbons

  25. 4 out of 5

    Liz Scheier

  26. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Boegli

  27. 5 out of 5

    Fatma Ouerghemmi

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stacy Rushton

  29. 4 out of 5

    Janet

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joan

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