I had chosen my books, narrowed them down to those I thought looked most promising, and begun to wait for my mother and sister to wrap up their purchases. The library sale was practically over. But while I was waiting, I figured that I might as well glance through the children’s books one last time before we left….. and that’s when I found All-of-a-Kind Family.
Because All-of-a-Kind Family doesn’t exactly have a plot-line, it is difficult to describe what ‘the story’ is. Each chapter is its own story, and relates a different escapade from the life of the ‘Steps-and-Stairs’ family.
But why all of these nick-names? All-of-a-kind? Steps-and-Stairs? What can it possibly mean?
Well, the main reason I use these names is that Mrs. Taylor never gives us the last name of the family. They are simply the family; a happy-jolly, rollicking bundle of fun. But the nicknames do have significance; the Steps-and-Stairs family consists of Papa and Mama, then Ella, Henrietta, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertrude – ages twelve, ten, eight, six, and four, respectively. Together they share a tiny apartment in New York City where they scrimp their pennies and indulge in occasional merry-making.
The stories are accounts of their familial interaction with each other and the hospitality and love that they extend to non-family members.
What I loved most was the sweetness and innocence of the story. This is not to say that the children are perfect; on the contrary they are sometimes cross and disagreeable. But they love each other dearly and apologize when they hurt or vex each other. They treat each other with kindness and consideration.
For example, when Sarah loses her library book, she must pay back the library out of her meager pocket money. When her sisters hear of this, they insist upon giving a portion of their allowance to help her.
Later, when Mama and the girls go shopping for the Sabbath, each of the girls receives a penny to spend however they choose. Each girl picks her own treat but allows her sisters to have a little taste.
I also appreciated the kind, firm guidance of Mama and Papa. On one occasion, Sarah refuses to eat her rice soup. Mama does not force her to eat it, but tells her that she can have no other food until she eats her soup. Sarah is hungry, but her pride refuses to give in quickly, so she returns to school without eating. When she returns later in the day, she finally obeys and agrees to eat the soup. I appreciated that instead of allowing Sarah to undermine their authority, Mama and Papa insisted on Sarah on obeying them. They clearly take no pleasure in the ordeal, but they know that Sarah’s rebellion must be subdued. And it is.
In one chapter, Henny expresses irritation that she must once again dust the front room. Mother requires her to execute her chore, but the next day makes it seem more lively. By hiding buttons in strategic parts of the room, Mama challenges her girls to dust in all of the hidden corners and dark crannies searching for the buttons. I thought this showed a great deal of cleverness, not because Mama outsmarted the girls or tricked them into doing something they disliked, but because she found a way to make a dull activity more interesting for her lively children.
As was natural in a story about five little girls, there are a few disagreements between them, but these are all resolved. Also, on a few different occasions, one of the girls is disobedient or disrespectful to her parents, but this is dealt with as well. On only one occasion is there disobedience without correction; the girls eat crackers in bed without asking their mother (knowing she would say no). They think that they did it without her knowing, but the end of the chapter makes it clear that she knew but didn’t choose to punish them.
In what I would call a mini sub-plot, Ella forms a tiny crush on Charlie. This pops up every three chapters or so, and did not obtrude into the story. Charlie never encourages her, and in the end he has fixed his affection upon another young lady.
The All-of-a-Kind family is Jewish and celebrates several different Jewish holidays in the story. These celebrations were presented in a matter-of-fact, ‘this is how it happened’ sort of way, rather than a ‘this is what’s morally right and you should do it too’.
‘Gee’, ‘heck’, and ‘gosh’ are each used once.
Conclusion. A sweet, fresh story that demonstrates the beauty of a closely-knit family living life together. While most modern stories emphasize fragmentation of the family, All-of-a-Kind Family breathed security and safety, affection and protection. It is a pleasure to read and I fully recommend it.
Note: This is a review of All-of-a-Kind Family, not the entire All-of-a-Kind Family Series.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret