Esty Schachter is a social worker for the Franziska Racker Centers, and lives in Ithaca with her family.
One night quite a long time ago, my cousin and I stretched out on our beds, pulled our blankets up around our shoulders and talked about our favorite moments from our favorite book, Sydney Taylor's "All-of-a-Kind Family." We adored the five sisters in that book. We loved that they all slept in the same room and that they all wore matching homemade dresses with itchy woolen stockings. They were girls who loved to play, who cherished their books, their holidays, and their family.
"Remember the part when Sarah lost her library book?" my cousin whispered. "I felt so bad for her." I agreed, thinking back on poor long-ago Sarah, saving her penny allowance to pay for the book she'd lost.
"I really liked the way Mama hid buttons for the girls to find when they were dusting, so it got to be a game."
And then, of course, there was the bedroom scene.
"Remember," my cousin said wistfully, "how Charlotte and Gertie saved their pennies to buy broken crackers and cookies and bits of candy? And then they would hide the paper bag until bedtime and eat the treats together in the bed they shared. They played a game to make everything last as long as possible."
"That was the best part," I said, and then around that time my parents yelled at us from the next room to be quiet and go to sleep, so we stopped whispering, or maybe we just whispered a little more quietly.
That conversation didn't happen when I was eight, or ten, or even fourteen. It happened around the time my cousin and I turned twenty-six, several months before her wedding and a few years before mine. It certainly was not the only thing we whispered about on that last sleepover, but it's the one topic that, ten years later, I remember most clearly.
That magical book had held us in its spell for almost twenty years. I'm guessing everyone remembers books like that. They're the ones you wanted to borrow from the library over and over again, and the titles that first come to mind when someone asks you to name your favorite children's books. They're the ones you can't wait to read to your own children.
My cousin has two daughters now and I have two sons. And since a little thing like "All-of-a-kind Family" being about five girls shouldn't stand in the way of sharing it with a boy, it didn't. I read the book to my five-year-old, savoring each chapter all over again. The garlic necklaces, mushroom bracelets, hot chickpeas served in paper cones and fat sour pickles – all the sights and smells of the old Lower East Side – were suddenly alive in my living room.
As it turns out, my son liked the book. His favorite character was Sarah (mine too). He loved all the trouble Henny gets herself into (me too). And, not surprisingly, he wants to know when he and his brother can have their first sleepover, with broken cookies and crackers and candy to eat in the dark. Very soon, I tell him, and it's a promise.