For this new picture book about Sydney Taylor’s beloved characters, I was honored to work again with my long-time collaborator, Caldecott and Carle-winning illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky. He is amazing and did huge amounts of historical research so that the book really takes you back to New York’s Lower East side in 1912, bringing to life a neighborhood that housed 500 synagogues (at that time).
Paul and I wanted to bring to life the warmth and connection that is such a big part of Hanukkah, but we also wanted to make something honest and emotional. We hoped to create a book worth reading not only for the festivity and for connection to Jewish tradition, but for character and story.
Our picture-book story is about Gertie — the youngest of the five sisters in Taylor’s books. It’s her perspective on her family’s latke-making tradition — mostly joyous but also fraught with frustration at being the youngest, left out of the important preparations for the big night.
Because I was an only child, Sydney Taylor’s wonderful All-of-a-Kind Family chapter books gave me a window onto holidays celebrated in the hustle and bustle of five girls sharing a bedroom. For the joy of rituals celebrated year after year, the traditional foods and above all, the feeling of togetherness — I returned to the books again and again.
Readers who grew up with Taylor’s books have told me they weren’t sure they wanted to see another author take on her world and her wonderful family, but that once they opened the book, they felt an emotional sense of coming home to people they loved.
They have used the picture book as an introduction to Taylor’s chapter books for the young children in their lives. The chapter books are great read-alouds for anyone young enough to sit and listen: I should know, as I read them aloud to my daughter every night from ages 4-6 (at her request)!
Children new to the All-of-a-Kind Family like the latkes. And the feeling of family togetherness. And the tantrum! (There is a tantrum.) And they like the end — the moment at when Papa rescues Gertie from her frustration by asking for her help kindling the lights on the menorah. The light shines up on them both.
Additional Hanukkah titles can be found HERE.