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.