The Sabbath begins Friday evening at dusk and for two days Mama was busy with her preparations. On Fridays she cleaned, cooked, and baked. On Thursdays she shopped. Sabbath meals had to be the best of the whole week so it was most important that she shop carefully. Every Thursday afternoon, Mama went to Rivington Street market where prices were lower than in her neighborhood stores…
Heaped high with merchandise, [pushcarts] stretched in endless lines up and down the main street and in and out the side streets. They were edged up close to the curb and wedged together so tightly that one could not cross anywhere except at the corners. The pushcart peddlers, usually bearded men in long overcoats or old women in heavy sweaters and shawls, out did each other in their loud cries to the passers-by. All promised bargains — bargains in everything — in fruits and vegetables, crockery, shoelaces, buttons and other notions, in aprons and housedresses, in soap and soap powders, and hundreds of other things.
There were stores in which you could buy fish and stores that carried only dairy products. There were bakeries and meat shops, shoe stores and clothing establishments…
There were pickle stands where the delicious odor of sour pickles mingled with the smell of sauerkraut and pickled tomatoes and watermelon rind…At other stands, sugar and salt were scooped out of large barrels and weighed to order. Here coffee was bought in the bean, for every household had its own wooden coffee grinder.
And wherever there was a bit of space too small for a regular stand, one could be sure to find the old pretzel woman. Her wrinkled face was almost hidden inside of the woolen kerchief bound round her head. Her old hands trembled as they wrapped up the thick, chewy pretzels.
Papa and Mama, along with their daughters Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie, are a loving, Jewish family, living on the lower East Side of New York City at the turn of the century. Reading their fantastic story is like nabbing a 3-for-1 bargain: you get the charming story of this close-knit family, with their assorted outings and sicknesses, birthdays and friendships; plus, you get a fascinating look at a year’s worth of Jewish traditions, from Purim to Passover to Succos, the annual thanksgiving for the harvest; on top of which, you get an engrossing glimpse of turn-of-the-century New York City, its rag vendors and Coney Island festivities, delicatessens and scarlet fever quarantines.
Woven in and out of this family’s story, are the stories of several family friends, including Charlie, a young man with a mysterious past, and Miss Allen, the lovely library lady. A bit of intrigue, a dash of romance, and a beautiful surprise ending, are all part of the happiness of this well-loved book.
Helen John’s quaint black-line illustrations portray five little girls in matching black leggings and white pinafores, bustling NYC markets, and tenement dwellers celebrating the Fourth of July. Published in 1951, this is a favorite of many, and has a number of sequels. Thanksgiving is a great time of year to celebrate family. You might try this as a read-aloud for a wide age-range, ages 5 or 6 and up.
Here’s an Amazon link: All-of-a-Kind Family