TAYLOR, SYDNEY (1904–1978), U.S. author of the All-of-a-Kind Family children's book series; a founder of American Jewish children's literature. Born Sarah Brenner, Taylor was the third child of Morris and Cecilia Marowitz Brenner, who immigrated to New York City in 1900. The Brenners raised their seven children in an Orthodox Jewish home. As a teenager, Sarah began to assimilate, and by the time she began writing in the 1940s, she was no longer an observant Jew. However, she always maintained her Jewish identity.
As a young woman, Taylor became involved with the performing arts, acting on stage with the Lenox Hill Players and dancing with Martha Graham's modern dance troupe. She married Ralph Taylor in 1925 and had a daughter, Joanne, in 1935. Taylor began to record stories of her childhood when Joanne asked her why the books she read had only gentile characters. All-of-a-Kind Family was published in 1951 after it won a contest sponsored by Follett Publishing.
Although children's books with Jewish themes and characters had been published since the early 20th century, Taylor's were the first to reach a large, mainstream audience comprised of both Jewish and non-Jewish readers. She was also the first American author to depict observant Jewish children in realistic situations. Published until 1978, Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family books were in wide circulation throughout the country.
The books presented Jews, the Lower East Side, and, in later books, the Bronx, in positive terms and a warm light. While at times Taylor elided the difficulties her family experienced or made writing decisions that romanticized actual incidents, she also depicted real pressures and conflicts that she and her family went through, such as poverty, inter-generational disagreement, and even the beginnings of assimilation. To millions of readers, she provided a bridge between the present and the past and supplied them with role models for a strong and proud American Jewish identity.
In addition to publishing the five novels that comprised the All-of-a-Kind Family series (All-of-a-Kind Family (1951); More All-of-a-Kind Family (1954); All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown (1958); All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown (1972), and Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family (1978)), Taylor also wrote several other children's books and short stories. She was the dance and drama director at Camp Cejwin in Port Jervis, New York, for over 30 years and wrote dozens of plays for the Cejwin campers, who performed them every summer from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. Today, the Association of Jewish Libraries gives out two awards for outstanding Jewish children's literature in Sydney Taylor's name.
S.P. Bloom. "Sydney Taylor," in: P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America, vol. 2 (1997), 1381–82.
[June Cummins (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.