April 23, 2024
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All-of-a-Kind Family Novels Reissued to Inspire a New Generation

Many of the avid fiction readers among us were inspired by great books we read as young adults. Novels we read as older children and teenagers can often deeply affect one’s future understanding of life, history and relationships. One such example of a beloved book that stayed with young American Jewish girls was All-of-a-Kind Family. Sydney Taylor’s series about five sisters who lived in turn of the century New York, was published in the 1950s, and taught many kids about the nature of their grandparents’ childhoods on the Lower East Side. For the second half of the 20th century, All-of-a-Kind Family was the most recognizable and widely-known series about American-Jewish children.

This past summer, Lizzie Skurnick, editor-in-chief of Lizzie Skurnick Books, an imprint of Ig Publishing, began reissuing the four out-of-print sequels of All-of-a-Kind Family. The first two, All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown, and All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown, were reissued in June and July, and More All-of-a-Kind Family and Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family will be available this fall. The original title has never gone out of print.

“Those books were very important to me,” said Skurnick, in an interview with JLBC. Skurnick explained that she first began resurrecting out-of-print Young Adult (YA) fiction for a column she wrote for the online magazine Jezebel, which discussed a lost YA title in each entry. “They were literary classics,” she said. “I turned 35 and I suddenly realized how important these books had been to me. I realize they had formed so much of my notions of history. For example, I learned so much about the Lower East Side from All-of-a-Kind family.”

Skurnick added that for her column, she combed library shelves for out-of-print books that inspired and informed her as a young adult. She also interacted with many readers. “Without social media, I never would have found my co-readers,” she said. With a very robust following, she was then approached by Ig Publishing, which mainly publishes literary fiction, to originate and build their YA imprint as their editor-in-chief.

Since starting a year ago, Lizzie Skurnick Books has reissued 60 titles. “Every single book I publish, it’s not like I read them for the valuable information [at the time]. But when you read them, you learn complicated things about history, families, and the world.” Skurnick has brought back titles including A Long Day in November, an out-of-print book by A Lesson Before Dying author Ernest J. Gains, about being a sharecropper in the South, and Lois Duncan’s Written in the Stars, a story collection. Other authors Skurnick has brought back into print are Ellen Conford, Lila Perl and Norma Klein. Examples of YA titles that Skurnick said resonated on her understanding of history and complex social issues include Holocaust narrative When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr and Don’t Hurt Laurie, a book about child abuse by Willo Davis Roberts.

Skurnick surmised that because YA fiction is so complex, it often gets shelved or categorized as romance, dystopias, or science fiction. “But they are really about family, about friendship, about power, about history. These are books that take on massive topics, and when we came of age, we realized how important they were, because they are relevant right now.

“These books were very helpful in seeing how many people straddle the word. They were talking about peer pressure alongside friendship, and violence along with family,” she said.

As she became a book publisher, readers and fans began to come out of the woodwork, contacting Skurnick through social media channels to discuss favorites and to try to find books that had been lost. “Almost every day, on Twitter I am asked, ‘Are you bringing this book back?’” A very important message came from someone unexpected. “A scholar of the books of Sydney Taylor, June Cummins, contacted me and let me know that the books were going out of print,” Skurnick said. Knowing how important the All-of-a-Kind Family books were to her own childhood, she began making calls right away to secure the rights.

How could such a beloved series go out of print? Skurnick explained that mainstream publishing houses (of which there are now only three) do not have the capability to keep many family favorites in print. “They do a lot of good work but they no longer have time to specialize in series for which they don’t already have a built-in audience. These things go out of print because they probably weren’t actively selling,” she said.

Skurnick, who now lives in Jersey City, was born in the Bronx and grew up in Englewood. “All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown was familiar to me because of my visits back to the Bronx.” A product of a bi-racial family, Skurnick went to the summer camp at the JCC, Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood and the Workmen’s Circle in Leonia for Yiddish lessons, studying under renowned Yiddish teacher Pesach Fiszman. Her Bat Mitzvah was held at the Teaneck Women’s Club. “I did my speech in Yiddish. I would not understand ONE WORD of it now,” she joked.

Having grown up in a mixed race family, Skurnick said she found solace in the books she read as a teen. “Most kids grow up in complicated circumstances. There is much of my life in those books,” she said.

The YA books being published today also have value, Skurnick said, but they might lack some of the universality that the books of the 1970s and 80s had in spades. “There is something to be said for books like [the runaway hit] “The Fault in Our Stars,” but a lot of kids are in difficult circumstances, that are not as ‘outright’ as having cancer. In general, the drama doesn’t need extreme circumstances to be read and understood,” she said.

Skurnick has been published extensively in the New York Times Book Review, Times Sunday Styles, the L.A. Times, NPR.org, and the Washington Post, among others. She is the author of ten teen books in the Sweet Valley High, Love Stories and Alias series. She wrote every column except two of the “That Should Be a Word,” column in the One Page Magazine section of the New York Times Magazine. Skurnick has published a volume of poetry, and is on the board of the National Book Critics Circle.

Learn more about Lizzie Skurnick Books at www.lizzieskurnickbooks.com. Subscribe or find individual titles at http://igpub.com/lizzie-skurnick-books-subscription/.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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