All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor, illustrated by Helen John (Juvenile fiction)
“It’s the turn of the century in New York’s Lower East Side and a sense of adventure and excitement abounds for five young sisters—Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie. Follow along as they search for hidden buttons while dusting Mama’s front parlor, or explore the basement warehouse of Papa’s peddler’s shop on rainy days. The five girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises. But no one could have prepared them for the biggest surprise of all!”
Twenty and Ten, a.k.a. The Secret Cave, by Claire Huchet Bishop, illustrated by William Pene du Bois (Juvenile fiction)
“During the Nazi occupation of France, twenty ordinary French kids in a boarding school agree to hide ten Jewish children. Then German soldiers arrive. Will the children be able to withstand the interrogation and harassment?”
One of the women in my book group read all kinds of wonderful children’s literature when she was a girl and often recommends books the rest of us have never heard of. One of those books was All-of-a-Kind Family. Whenever I read a particularly delightful children’s book like this one as an adult, I often wonder how I would have liked it had I read it as a child. This time around, I began thinking fondly about the books I did read as a girl, and one of my most beloved books was a short novel entitled The Secret Cave, which was originally published with the title Twenty and Ten. I still have my little scholastic edition of The Secret Cave, with its torn cover and taped up, yellowed pages, and I have enjoyed reading it to my children.
These two books are similar in a few ways. They were both originally published in the early 1950s, and they both introduce cultures that would have been foreign to many American children in those days. In particular, they revolve around Jewish children, although unlike the characters in All-of-a-Kind Family, which are Jewish through and through, the ten Jewish children in The Secret Cave don’t in any way talk about or practice Judaism during the course of the story and, in fact, participate in playacting stories from the New Testament. For safety reasons, and perhaps because some of them were not from observant Jewish families to begin with, these ten children seem to be without spiritual distinctiveness and are a group only because of their biological identity. Re-reading The Secret Cave after reading All-of-a-Kind Family was an interesting—even stark—experience, because I was more conscious with this reading of the beautiful religious tradition and identity that had been stripped away from these children by the Nazis.
The twenty children in The Secret Cave who already live at Beauvallon feel Catholic through and through, their religious faith permeating their lives and informing their choices in the same way Judaism permeates the lives of the children in All-of-a-Kind Family. This is particularly apparent in the very first chapter, when their teacher and guardian, Sister Gabriel, invites them to hide the ten Jewish children. The children are playacting the “Flight into Egypt” from the book of Matthew in the New Testament, when Sister Gabriel calls them into the classroom and introduces them to a tired and dirty young man. The children understand, of course, that Germany occupies their country France.
This young man asks them if they know about the refugees and displaced persons. They do. He goes on to say:
“Boys and girls, do you know what happened when Jesus’ family was hunted by Herod’s soldiers?”
We all sang out at once, “They fled into Egypt.”
“Yes,” said the young man, “and they remained hidden there, did they not? Now, once more, Jesus’ family is hunted and will be killed if we do not hide them. Will you help, boys and girls? Will you take these ten—ten Jewish boys and girls whose fathers and mothers are dead, and hide them here with you?”
Of course we all cried, “Yes! Yes!” We were absolutely thrilled. This was not make-believe any more. It was the real thing.
What All-of-a-Kind Family and The Secret Cave demonstrate so well is the power that religious faith—with its accompanying teachings and traditions—has to help individuals, families, and communities rise to the best that is within themselves. As we, like the adults in these two children’s books, provide opportunities for our children to experience religion in enjoyable and meaningful ways and invite them to practice qualities of holiness such as sharing and sacrifice, we will increase their desire and ability to achieve Zion, along with our own.
The featured image came from Pixabay.