One of a Kind: The Life of Sydney Taylor

Astra/Calkins Creek. Feb. 2024. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781635925319.
K-Gr 4–Sarah Brenner grew up in a large Jewish family in a poor neighborhood. Taught to be helpful and obedient, she finds freedom in creative arts such as dance, theater, and writing. As she grows older, she no longer wants to be quiet: she changes her first name to Sydney, becomes the first female class representative at her high school, and calls out injustices and prejudices when she sees them. When her daughter Jo complains at the lack of Jewish families in children’s literature, the woman who would publish books as Sydney Taylor begins to tell Jo stories of her own childhood. Her writing is eventually published as All-of-a-Kind Family, the first Jewish children’s book to gain widespread popularity. This nonfiction picture book shares Taylor’s life from childhood and ends abruptly with the publishing of her first book. It is only the afterword that explores the significance of her literary contributions: “Her books both showed and helped shape American Jewish identity in the twentieth century.” It does seem like a missed opportunity not to explore this significance within the body of the text. Bright and friendly illustrations depict changing fashions and mores throughout Taylor’s life. Transitions between pages are sometimes choppy, and may lead some readers to confusion. The back matter is full of interesting details, photographs, and research for the book. While this is a powerful story of a pioneer author sharing a cultural identity, Taylor’s books are likely not familiar to many modern readers, which will curb this title’s appeal.
VERDICT This story of a groundbreaking Jewish American author is recommended for biography shelves.

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