When I was nine, there was nothing I wanted more than to belong to the All-of-a-Kind Family.
I loved the idea of having four sisters, all of us wearing our white pinafores as we traipsed to the library Friday afternoons and spent our pennies for treats on Rivington Street. Would I get a warm sweet potato like Ella, hot chick peas like Sarah, or candied fruit on sticks like Charlotte and Gertie? I don’t think I’d opt for a fat, juicy sour pickle like Henny did. 🙂
I’m guessing most of us who loved Sydney Taylor’s classic AOAKF books imagined ourselves as one of these girls, perhaps the one closest to our own age. But since we got to know them all so well, we were probably able to find parts of ourselves in each of them.
Months ago, when I first learned that Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky were publishing a new picture book based on Taylor’s series, I reread all five books and fell in love with them all over again. So wonderful to feel the comforting embrace of this close-knit family and immerse myself in their turn-of-the-century world. I was once again charmed and captivated by Taylor’s writing, appreciating anew her ability to speak of and to a child’s heart with such candor and truth.
But I did wonder how Emily and Paul would be able to create the same kind of magic in a 40-page picture book. I needn’t have worried. I love All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah. In fact, it’s my favorite food-related picture book of 2018!
In this heartwarming story, four-year-old Gertie takes center stage. It’s the first night of Hanukkah, and the family is busy making latkes together. Each of the sisters has a job –Charlotte peels the potatoes, Sarah grates them, Henny chops the onions, and Ella, the oldest at age twelve, will be frying them. Mama has cracked the eggs and mixed them with salt and matzo meal.
But what about Gertie? All she wants to do is help, but she’s told she’s too little. The potato peeler and grater are too sharp, the knife, far too dangerous, and of course Gertie must keep a safe distance from the big frying pans on the stove, since “the grease could spit and burn her.” No, no, no, is all she hears, until she can’t stand it anymore. “I want to help!” she shouts, stomping her boots on the kitchen floor.
Everyone stares at tantrum-throwing Gertie. Then Mama quietly takes Gertie to the bedroom and tells her to stay there until it’s time to say the blessings. Miserable, Gertie crawls under the bed.
It is cold on the floor.
They will miss her when they can’t find her.
Mama will be sorry she didn’t let Gertie help. She will wish she’d been nicer to her Mäusele.
Poor Gertie. She can hear her sisters having so much fun working together in the kitchen. They’re laughing as they set the table. And the heavenly smell of latkes is definitely making her hungry. Potatoes and onions frying in schmaltz! Mmmmm! Will Mama ever call for her?
Finally, “Papa’s feet appear by the bed.” He gently coaxes Gertie out from under the bed with funny talk and a gingersnap. As she throws her arms around Papa’s neck, he tells her how glad he is to see her, sorry that she’s had a hard day. He asks her if she’s old enough to help light the menorah. Of course she is!
And Gertie, together with Papa, takes the shamash and lights the first candle, just one candle, for the first night of Hanukkah, for the first time.
Then, when they’re all at the table, Mama gives the first latke to Gertie! They have roast chicken, carrots and applesauce with their latkes, “which taste of history and freedom, of love and crispy potato.”
Jenkins’s deftly crafted narrative captures the essence of the family dynamic we’ve come to cherish, spotlighting Gertie’s passionate nature while acquainting us with the other characters in just a few lines of dialogue and telling action.
Love how she effortlessly weaves in facts about Hanukkah, reinforcing the sequence of the latkes recipe without distracting from the inherent drama of key moments. My favorite part of the story is when Papa appears in the bedroom and talks to Gertie. We learn so much about his sense of humor, playfulness, and adoration for his little girl in a very short exchange. So endearing!
And a Papa with a gingersnap in his palm is a Papa to love. 🙂
As a big fan of Zelinsky’s work, I remain in awe of his ability to masterfully evoke time, setting, character, mood, and every nuance of emotion via his chosen style. For this book, he used bold strokes and looser lines with a warm, earthy palette of browns, rusts, magenta and dark blues. Textural elements, from big, fat snowflakes, to rough hewn floorboards, to hot vapors rising from frying pans, to curly potato peelings, to the crackly surface of a gingersnap, all add richness, immediacy and sensory realism.
From the opening spreads showing Sarah and Gertie walking in the snow amid the bustle of Henry Street in the Lower East Side, we are so there, and absolutely want to be. Of course I love all the kitchen scenes with the cast iron stove and girls busy around the table making latkes. We’re right in the middle of the action.
All the characters are beautifully drawn, the sisters portrayed as distinct individuals, and Zelinsky uses close-ups to great effect: Ella hugging Gertie, Gertie laughing at Papa’s hand reaching under the bed, Gertie in Papa’s arms lighting the menorah. Pure joy and love, palpable and reassuring.
All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah is the perfect introduction for a new generation of younger readers, sure to make them want to read the chapter books. It’s also a treasure for AOAKF diehard fans of any age. The Author’s Note discusses Sydney Taylor’s background and how she came to write the AOAKF stories, as well as information about Hanukkah and New York’s Lower East Side. In his Illustrator’s Note, Zelinsky explains why he chose this particular style of art for this book.
It is good to be reminded of the enduring appeal of family stories written from a well of authenticity. Taylor’s books were the first with Jewish characters to appeal to a mainstream audience. Non-Jewish readers were able to learn about Jewish traditions, while Jewish readers could see themselves mirrored in these books. This broke through prevailing barriers, ultimately paving the way for more children’s books celebrating other ethnicities and religions.
I remember first seeing All-of-a-Kind Family in the public library. Since I didn’t have any Jewish friends, I knew nothing about Jewish culture or the huge immigrant population in the Lower East Side. But I saw those five girls on the cover of the book and knew I had to read it.
Here was a family who lived in a crowded tenement neighborhood. They were poor, but thrived on simple pleasures and doing everything together. How fascinating to learn about Hanukkah and Passover, and to read all the wonderful descriptions of food!
Nothing was ever taken for granted; penny candy was a treasure, and how I longed to eat chocolate babies in the middle of the night, or Mama’s bread and butter sandwiches or chicken soup! And the luxury of store-bought cake! Reading these books made me appreciate the food I ate even more because I wanted to be just like those girls. New York became a faraway dream place I wanted to visit, and to this day it’s never lost its magic.
I do think we gravitate to books that satisfy deep needs. Having grown up with one older brother, I envied my mother, who had four sisters. The All-of-a-Kind Family girls were the closest I would ever come.
LATKES LATKES LATKES!
Now, in case you’re thinking I’d forgotten about the delicious latkes so lovingly prepared in this new picture book, rest assured that Mr Cornelius (who wants to remind everyone that Hanukkah begins on Sunday, December 2), insisted we make some.
We made “Emily’s Favorite Latke Recipe” from the publisher’s All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah webpage (available as a free download). Paul has added comments about how he and his family make latkes too. There are a few differences as to whether to peel the potatoes or not before grating them, how to drain the liquid from the grated potatoes, what kind of oil to fry the latkes in, etc.
Bottom line is that this is a standard but flexible recipe; as long as you adequately drain the liquid from the grated potatoes before frying you really can’t go wrong. What’s not to love about fried potatoes with salt, egg, onion, and matzo meal (or flour)?
We opted to peel our potatoes, then drained the grated potatoes and onion in a colander for about 20 minutes before combining with the rest of the ingredients and frying in canola oil.
They were yummy with applesauce and sour cream — really, a meal in itself.
I have adapted Emily’s and Paul’s recipes here for convenience, but do click through to read the instructions in their own words. Emily’s recipe includes a few safety tips for kid cooks.
Emily's Favorite Latke Recipe
- 1 pound russet potatoes, shredded
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper (optional)
- 1/4 cup matzoh meal or flour
- 1/3 cup (or more) canola oil (or a combination of olive oil and peanut oil)
- Wash the potatoes and peel them. Shred them using a food processor or box grater.
- Peel and chop the onion.
- Mix the potato and onion together, then place in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes. Press down on the mixture to squeeze as much liquid out as possible. When fully drained, transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
- Stir the egg and 1/2 teaspoon salt (+ pepper) into the potato-onion mixture. When it’s all coated with the egg, stir in the matzoh meal or flour.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan with deep sides. When it’s nice and hot, spoon a large amount of the latke mixture carefully into the pan. Press it down gently to flatten the pancake. You can probably fry about 4 pancakes at a time (I used a 1/3 cup measure to keep the pancakes about the same size).
- When they’re nice and golden on the bottom, flip the pancakes over very gently. Cook until golden on the other side, then transfer them to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain off excess oil. Sprinkle a little more salt on both sides. You may keep the fried latkes warm in a 250 degree oven if you wish (transfer to a casserole dish). Add more oil as needed to fry subsequent batches.
- Serve the latkes with sour cream and applesauce.
~ Adapted from Emily’s Favorite Latke Recipe, with notes from Paul O. Zelinsky, copyright © 2018, as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY HANUKKAH
written by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
published by Schwartz & Wade/Random House, September 2018
Picture Book for ages 4+, 40 pp.
**Starred Reviews** from School Library Journal, Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Horn Book
♥️ Visit the All-of-a-Kind Family webpage for coloring pages, educator resources, and Emily’s and Paul’s Latke recipes
♥️ Emily and Paul make latkes with Rocco Staino at Kidlit TV:
♥️ Check out the All-of-a-Kind Family Companion Guide published by the Association of Jewish Libraries (2004)
♥️ Click here for the New York Times FB Live Video with Emily and Paul. There’s interesting backstory and Paul demonstrates how he made the pictures in Photoshop. I was surprised to discover the illustrations were all digital — he brilliantly made them look like paintings.
♥️ And here’s a tasty recipe for Sweet Potato Apple Latkes we previously featured from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook!
💙💙 HAPPY HANUKKAH! 💙💙
This post is being shared with Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking. Put on your best aprons and bibs and come join the fun!
* Interior spreads text copyright © 2018 Allenby & Co., illustrations © 2018 Paul O. Zelinsky, published by Schwartz & Wade. All rights reserved.
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*** Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup.. All rights reserved.