Review of From Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family

From Sarah to Sydney: The Woman Behind All-of-a-Kind Family
by June Cummins with Alexandra Dunietz
Yale University Press    383 pp.    g
6/21    978-0-300-24355-0    $35.00

This long-awaited — and much ­anticipated — biography is the first ever of Sydney Taylor (1904–1978), author of the beloved All-of-a-Kind Family books about five Jewish sisters and their family in early-twentieth-century New York City. The volume (by the late Cummins, completed by Dunietz) provides a comprehensive look at the author’s life and times, beginning with her parents’ and grandparents’ generations in Central and Eastern Europe and delving deeply into historical context, including Jewish immigrant experiences. With Cummins’s copious access to the familial archive, including highly personal letters, interviews, family photos (appearing throughout), and other primary-source materials, an uncommonly intimate portrait emerges. Fascinating details surround Taylor’s pre-publication career as a stage actor and a dancer with Martha Graham as well as the lore of her series’ history. Cummins also analyzes clues from the books themselves —­ nominally ­semiautobiographical — and she doesn’t shy away from the family’s complex, and at times very painful, interpersonal dynamics. For better or worse, this biography belies the romanticized view of the real-life All-of-a-Kind Family members, but in the most humanizing and deeply empathetic of ways. Extensive notes and an index are appended.

From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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