Old Favorites: Two Holiday Reads

Now that December is almost here, it’s difficult not to think of the holidays. So this almost-December post is about my favorite Hanukkah story and my favorite Christmas story.  More All-Of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor and The Worst Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.

Both books are based on the authors’ memories of their childhoods, Sydney Taylor’s in the early 1900s, and Barbara Robinson’s in the 1950s/1960s.  Both books are about real people and real situations, remembered decades later. A little tidbit to keep in mind while reading.

I re-read these books pretty frequently at this time of year, because they are just that awesome.

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More All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor is the sequel to All-of-a-Kind Family (there are three other books as well) but it stands quite well on it’s own. Set at the turn of the 20th century, these stories are about a Jewish family growing up on the East Side of New York City. The family consists of Mama and Papa, and sisters Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie. (All girls, which is why they were called all-of-kind.) In the last chapter of the first book, their brother Charlie is born.

The books portray a wonderful slice of life for that time period. The girls are close, and since the family doesn’t have much money, they have to rely on each other for almost everything.  Many of the chapters are centered on the rich traditions celebrated by the family during holidays and family gatherings. Chapter six in the second book is called Festival of Lights, and is all about celebrating Hanukkah. From making the (eye-watering) latkes to polishing and lighting the Menorah, to listening to Papa relate the story behind Hanukkah are memories that are warm and inviting.

When the girls walk across town to join their cousins  for dreidle games is my favorite part. Mischevious Henny asks her Aunt Rivka for some of the nuts to take home. Upon being told to take “as many as you can carry”, she opens her umbrella and takes the whole bowlful. Walking home with a bulging umbrella, her sisters figure out what she did. The dilemma of what Mama will say is solved quite handily by the sisters.

I adored the All-of-a-Kind series when I was young.  Not every chapter is about a holiday…my favorite chapter in the first book was about dusting, and my second favorite about (of course) visiting the library.  But if you want a gentle story about what life was like “in the olden days”, with a loving family and adventures in daily life, try these books.

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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson is about a very different kind of family. The Horrible Herdmans are six siblings–Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie and Gladys Herdman. They are absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. “They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and burned down houses.” Well, toolsheds, anyway. They also wash their cat at the laundromat and  manage to give the entire school chicken pox. The kids at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School try to stay away from them as much as possible, but that isn’t easy when there’s a Herdman in every class.

When Beth and Charlie’s mother gets put in charge of the Christmas pageant, none of them expected the Herdmans to get involved. After all, rehearsals are at Sunday school, on Sunday, the Herdman’s day off. And it was at church. On stage! Why would they bother?  But then Charlie makes the mistake of telling Leroy that there are refreshments at church, and suddenly, all six Herdmans show up for rehearsals.

When the Herdmans do something, they do it all the way, so that’s how the Christmas pageant ends up with Imogene as Mary, Ralph as Joseph, Leroy, Claude and Ollie as the Three Wise Men, and Gladys as the Angel of the Lord.

It turns out that the Herdmans don’t know the first thing about Christmas, and their take on the story of Bethlehem is both funny and heartwarming.  They certainly put the story of Christmas in perspective. To say too much would give it away, but you’ll laugh out loud as you’re reading and maybe get a little teary too, at the end of the story.

The Herdmans go back to their old selves in The Best School Year Ever and The Best Halloween Ever…but the kids at the Woodrow Wilson School aren’t as surprised to discover that as much as the Herdmans scheme and fight and swear, their hearts are in the right places.

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So pick up More All-of-a-Kind Family or The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and enjoy the holidays. They’re both great read-alouds too, so if you’re a parent, looking for some way to share your holidays (and maybe find a way to sharing your own favorite memories of childhood holidays) this would be a wonderful way to start.  It’s just the beginning of the month–you have plenty of time.

Happy December!



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