Sydney Taylor

The world of Jewish literature has changed enormously since I was a child. If there were any shiny, beautifully illustrated picture books, the kind that the PJ LIbrary sends out by the thousands each month, I never saw them. I did, however, have a small shelf of chapter books with Jewish themes. There were, of course, Bible stories. Then there were the K’tonton books, the Alef-Bet Story, and a series about two little girls (sisters, maybe?) celebrating the Jewish holidays whose title I can’t remember. (Anyone?) But my very favorites were the All of a Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor. I read each book in the series over and over – I loved them almost as much as my daughters love the Ramona books (which I think they know by heart. All eight of them.)
It happened that my next door neighbor at that time worked at a summer camp each year with Sydney Taylor, and agreed to deliver a fan letter for me. This began a correspondence that began when I was just about my daughter Ella’s age, and continued for several years. I have a small stack of typed letters from Sydney Taylor, on personalized stationary with matching envelopes in my dresser drawer.  While she never wrote more than a few sentences, her willingness to pay attention to a 6 year old girl in Baltimore was a treasured gift. I can’t say for sure that I became a writer because of Sydney Taylor, but I know for sure that if I ever am so lucky as to get a fan letter from a child, I will reply. Maybe I’ll even get personalized stationary made up for the occasion.
After Sydney Taylor died, her husband established the Sydney Taylor book awards, which are given each year to outstanding Jewish children’s books. This year’s winners were announced a few weeks ago, and a blog tour is beginning tomorrow. Here’s a link to a list of “stops”, where you’ll find interviews with the winning authors and illustrators, as well as a list of all the winners.
My own relationship with Sydney Taylor has continued into my adulthood. Not only do I read her books to my students, and will soon to my own daughters (I now have my own Ella, one of the characters in the series), but A Mezuzah on the Door was named a Sydney Taylor notable book in 2008. Best of all, no matter when I check on the sales ratings of my book on Amazon, All of a Kind Family is always, always listed as #1 in “Books > Children’s Books > Religions > Fiction > Jewish” and I feel as if she is smiling down on me from the top of the list.

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posted January 31, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Delightful post! Thanks.

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Heidi Estrin

posted January 31, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Amy, what a great post and a great memory! Thanks for sharing the actual letter on letterhead, what a treat to see that!

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Stacy Mozer

posted January 31, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this. I love her comment “If you believe it, it’s true.” Priceless.

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posted January 31, 2010 at 7:49 pm

I got a letter with a family recipe back from Mrs. Isaac Bashevis Singer when I was in rd or 4th grade. I wonder where that went? Very cool story, though!

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Barbara Bietz

posted January 31, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I am breathless! What a lovely letter – I’m sure a cherished posession.
Thank you for sharing!
Barbara Bietz

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posted January 31, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I loved that series of books! How inspiring to have had Sydney Taylor as a penpal. A wonderful post!

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Cindy Levee

posted January 31, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Absolutely precious. Thank you Amy. Made my day. Cindy

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Amy from VA

posted January 31, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Wonderful. Tweeted your post to all my librarian friends.

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Sarah Buttenwieser

posted January 31, 2010 at 10:19 pm

absolutely lovely. i also grew up reading/rereading those books (& had some correspondences that really touched me) — great elements to be reminded of. will pass this on.

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posted January 31, 2010 at 11:16 pm

I just remembered the name of the book about the sisters. What the Moon Brought.

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Meg Wiviott

posted February 1, 2010 at 7:11 am

What a lovely post, and a priceless letter. Thanks for sharing.

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Geri Kolesar

posted February 1, 2010 at 7:30 am

What a treasure on so many levels.
As we think about social networking and the many current ways of “connecting” with our readers, it is this — the old fashion letter — that really speaks to us most personally. I have no doubt that this series of correspondence influenced you and your choices.
Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It’s so inspirational.

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Barbara Krasner

posted February 1, 2010 at 7:56 am

Thank you so much for sharing this. I loved the All of a Kind Family series and this brings back such fond memories. What I also like about this is how meaningful an author’s letter or continuing correspondence can be – a little goes a long way.

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Brenda Ferber

posted February 1, 2010 at 8:23 am


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Eve Tal

posted February 1, 2010 at 9:16 am

Thank you so much for posting the letter. I, too, loved the All of a Kind sisters. As a child it would never have occurred to me to contact a writer. They were so…mysterious!

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Justine Rowden

posted February 1, 2010 at 9:46 am

Sydney Taylor’s books astounded me as a girl; the first books where Jewish girls were portrayed as a part of the American scene, not as young women observing the American experience from the constraints of being ‘apart’.

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Sarah Darer Littman

posted February 1, 2010 at 9:56 am

Thank you so much for sharing your memories and that wonderful letter!

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posted February 1, 2010 at 11:28 am

as a child, a friend of mine wrote a letter to sydney taylor. this was in 1978 — my friend hadn’t known that taylor had died just a couple of months earlier. she received a response from ms taylor’s husband ralph, saying that his wife had cherished letters from her readers and that he hoped my friend would go on reading.
such menschy people.

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posted February 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm

amy, how wonderful! i adored those books too and i’m so in love with this letter from her. i can just imagine her typing it out to a little girl….
i love that you saved those letters, knowing even at that age how special they were and would continue to be!!

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posted February 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm

p.s. i never realzied there was a best-seller list for jewish kids books. thanks for pointing that out! mazel tov for being on that!!!

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Frume Sarah

posted February 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm

OMG — even though you had told me about the letters, it was nothing like actually seeing one. What cherished exchanges those are and how fortunate we are that you have shared them with us!
PS — I loved “What the Moon Brought” too!!!

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posted February 1, 2010 at 4:21 pm
What a beautiful, special post. This link is to an article I wrote years ago about what those books meant to me…

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posted February 1, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Esty, I loved that piece. I am ashamed that I don’t even own these books anymore (who knows what happened to my childhood copies?) I am off to get them and start reading them to my girls this week.
Thanks to everyone for your lovely comments. I am happy to be able to share, and will scan the rest soon.

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Kathy Bloomfield

posted February 1, 2010 at 9:35 pm

What an incredible post. Thank you so much for sharing the letter along with your memories. This is simply charming.

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posted February 2, 2010 at 1:20 am

beautiful Amy. thank you for this post. inspiring.

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Ann Manheimer

posted February 2, 2010 at 10:41 am

Beautiful. Thank you.

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Ruby Grossblatt

posted February 2, 2010 at 10:48 am

Thank you Amy. I don’t know why, but I cried when I read this letter from Sydney Taylor to you. As a child I wasn’t a reader. When I moved South, someone told me I should read “Gone With the Wind.” It took me all summer to finish, and then I was hooked. But I had missed many children’s books, so I read”The All of a Kind Family” books and got really hooked.
How precious is it when an author cares enough to write such a letter to a young fan. It’s something to treasure.
All the bes,
Ruby Grossblatt

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Esther Heller

posted February 2, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Dear Amy,
I can picture you writing a book about this. A fictional juxtaposition of a young girl’s life with Sydney Taylor and/or her characters. With the actual letters included in the book.
Thanks for sharing it.
Esther Heller

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Frume Sarah

posted February 2, 2010 at 6:20 pm

What a great article. I think I’ll start reading these as soon as we finish the book we are currently reading for the 9 year old’s book report!!
I too wrote about AOAKF this past week:
My sister and I STILL reminisce about these stories…

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Frume Sarah

posted February 2, 2010 at 6:22 pm

The current releases have new cover art :( But the illustrations inside are the same!!!
Can’t wait to read more…
Sounds like the basis for a really cool book.

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Tovah @ Gluten-Free Bay

posted February 2, 2010 at 6:26 pm

This post made me so happy! I am in my late 20s and grew up reading my mom’s battered old copies of All-of-A-Kind Family (and sequels). They were some of my favorites, and a huge part of my childhood imagination. I look forward to having children to introduce to these books – But I’m not gonna wait, I think I’m going to go buy these books online so I can re-read them and introduce my partner to them!

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Minnesota Mamaleh

posted February 2, 2010 at 11:01 pm

wow! amazing post, amy! there is something so magical about author letters! i saw it in my classroom all the time and absolutely can’t wait until my kids “fall for” an author! have you read the book “LOVE THAT DOG?” magic, magic! :)

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Debra Markovic

posted February 3, 2010 at 2:58 pm

What the Moon Brought by Sadie Rose Weilerstein was my and my sister’s FAVORITE book. We especially loved the Yom Kippur story when the sisters in the book, Debbie and Ruth, get in a fight. Just checked and it’s available on Amazon.. unbelievable! (My kids, ages 20, 17 and 12, all loved these stories, too.)

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Laurel Snyder

posted February 5, 2010 at 9:04 am

Oh, man…

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posted February 7, 2010 at 2:58 am

Wow, Amy… you just brought back so many childhood memories. I went to Cejwin, where Sydney Taylor worked — and I didn’t even know that she was a famous author! She directed me in one of my first shows, and also wrote back when I wrote to her. I still have one of her letters.
I cried so much when my mother told me that Sydney Taylor had died.
I treasure my memories of her, and the only letter from her that I managed to save, to this very day.

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Rose Landowne

posted February 14, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I hadn’t known about Sydney Taylor’s book A Papa Like Everyone Else and looked for it. A couple of copies were available at Amazon, but very expensive, but I found it on EBay for $3.00 !
Lovely book, first I’ve seen for children about Jewish life in Hungarian villages in the old days.

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