This story begins on the first night of Hanukkah in 1912 in the Lower East Side of New York City. Gertie, who at age 4 is the youngest of five children, is excited because her family will have latkes for dinner, though she can’t even remember what they taste like, since they only have the potato pancakes on Hanukkah.
All the other children are helping Mama prepare the latkes, but Mama won’t let Gertie be involved: the kitchen tools are too sharp, and Mama is afraid she will be hurt. Gertie throws a tantrum, and Mama banishes her to the bedroom.
Mama doesn’t come and doesn’t come, but finally the door opens and Papa appears. He tells Gertie he needs her help to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.
Gertie gets to do the best job of all, and Mama gives the first latke to Gertie:
“Gertie gives a kiss to Mama. The chicken is salty and the applesauce sweet. The latkes taste of history and freedom, of love and crispy potato. The all-of-a-kind family eats together.”
The book ends with a glossary and an explanation of the origins of Hanukkah. There is also a note from the author explaining that her story was inspired by the book All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor (1904-1978), who was the first writer to publish books disseminated to readers of all religions about Jewish children. Her book was so successful, Jenkins writes, that Taylor wrote four sequels as well as other books. The All-of-A-Kind Family series was, like this book, about five sisters growing up in turn-of-the-century New York City. Many of the books included stories about the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.
Illustrator Paul Zelinsky is a Caldecott medal winner and the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Illustrators. His artwork in this book is marvelous. The time period is rendered with accuracy and affection. The members of the family bear a resemblance to one other, yet individuals are so ably differentiated and rendered with emotion and personality that it is a joy to “get to know” each of them, as well as their crowded but cozy apartment. In an interview Zelinksky said that he chose to use a heavy black outline and rough coloring to help convey the strong emotions in the story.
Random House has a website for All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah extras: coloring pages; Emily’s latke recipe with Paul’s comments; and notes from the back of the book.
Evaluation: The intended audience is ages 3-7, but readers of all ages will delight in this story that will seem familiar to anyone who is, or has been a part of, a large family preparing for the holidays. And Zelinsky’s evocative pictures will have you flipping through the pages again and again.
Published by Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, 2018