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Classics and timeless books

As a child, I frequented libraries that had rather old books. I remember my elementary school library had timeworn copies of the Madeline books and that one of my neighborhood libraries had old books by Lois Lenski, older versions of the Amelia Bedelia books, and the All-of-a-Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor. New books did trickle in, but the mainstays of these libraries were aged. There is a lot that could be said about the lack of library funding, but as I got older I didn’t feel deprived; I thought that I had the advantage of reading some great classic books. When I had access to newer books, I read them with a sense of appreciation for how children’s books had changed over time.

allofakindfamily

I subscribe to Lizzie Skurnick books (a boutique children’s/YA imprint of Ig Publishing) and was excited when I opened a package last October to find reissued editions of the All-of-a-Kind Family books. I had looked at the calendar a few weeks earlier and saw that Sukkot would take place in October this year. It was the All-of-a-Kind Family books that introduced me to this holiday. I was fascinated by the adventures of this Jewish immigrant family with six children living in the Bronx in the early twentieth century. I admit my understanding of Jewish history was not great in scope but reading about the All-of-a-Kind Family helped me see the continuity of this group of people. For me, those books bridged the time from the biblical stories I learned in Sunday School to my Jewish classmates.

I plan to re-read the reissues soon and I imagine I will see so much more than I did as a child. While I enjoyed reading stories about people who led lives that were different from mine, I will say that once I while I came across stereotypes or things that did not seem quite right as I read the old books that populated the libraries of my childhood. I don’t remember anything jarring in the All-of-a-Kind Family books, but when I did read something jarring in an old book, I registered my confusion yet said nothing to the adults around me.

So, I ask the educators and readers of children’s literature out there: Do you remember what classic literature exposed you to different cultures? Do those books still resonate with you today? Would you feel comfortable presenting those books to your children and students—why or why not?

Also: How do you encourage the children you know who read independently to talk to you about what they are reading?


Additional Resource: The All-of-a-Kind Family Companion from JewishLibraries.org.

 

Jada Bradley About Jada Bradley

Jada Bradley applies her book publishing background to her work as a freelance writer/ editor and ELL teacher in the Washington, D.C. area.

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  1. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Shoshana did a post at Out of the Box recently asking which All-of-a-Kind Family sibling you are. Here it is:http://www.hbook.com/2015/01/blogs/out-of-the-box/kind-family-sibling-you/

  2. Felicia Ballard says:

    I loved those books growing up as well; loved the characters and also, like Jade, enjoyed learning about a culture which felt very different from mine. Even so, the kids felt familiar to me. I felt this way about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as well; I can still remember sentences from the book, including one where Johnny Nolan brings home oysters and other leftover wedding food, which Francie and Neeley didn’t like, but ate anyway: “they could have digested nails had they been able to chew them.” The poverty and hunger were palpable, and a new experience for me, a kid who luckily never went hungry; much more meaningful than my mom saying “eat your food, there are starving children.” This felt real, and true (which is, of course, a hallmark of a great book!) And Francie was me; we shared the same initials, loved both reading and the library (oh that brown bowl with the flowers on the librarian’s desk) and were keen observers of life. I recently reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and was amazed at it’s historical perspective; not just poverty, but immigration, politics and class differences in New York in the early 20th century.

    I certainly would recommend these books to the appropriate reader, and it is quite wonderful to be able to discuss it with a child by sharing my own experience: “I remember I always thought Ella was too bossy; I really liked Henny the best, even though she got into trouble a lot. Who’s your favorite character in the book?”

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