Looking for Me: ...in This Great Big Family

Looking for Me: ...in This Great Big Family

by Betsy R. Rosenthal
     
 

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One of twelve siblings growing up in Depression-era Baltimore, Edith isn’t quite sure of who she is. Between working at her father’s diner, taking care of her younger siblings, and living in the shadow of her more mature sisters, she feels lost in a sea of siblings. When a kind teacher encourages Edith to be a teacher herself one day, Edith sees

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Overview

One of twelve siblings growing up in Depression-era Baltimore, Edith isn’t quite sure of who she is. Between working at her father’s diner, taking care of her younger siblings, and living in the shadow of her more mature sisters, she feels lost in a sea of siblings. When a kind teacher encourages Edith to be a teacher herself one day, Edith sees prospects for a future all her own. Full of joy, pain, humor, and sadness, this novel in verse is an enduring portrait of one family’s pursuit of the American dream.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Rosenthal's spare writing superbly captures the emotional growth of a girl on the cusp of adolescence, despite its specific historical context."—School Library Journal "The overall tone is one of solidarity in spite of difficulties."—Booklist
Children's Literature - Marcie Flinchum Atkins
Edith is a middle child in a family of a dozen kids. In this middle grade novel in verse, Edith recounts the emotions of living in a large Jewish family where money is scarce and hand-me-downs are plentiful. Edith thinks her family is too big until tragedy strikes and she realizes that when even one is gone, there is a hole in the family. The author based this story on true events of her mother's past. She gathered her own family stories and wove them into a poignant story of a Jewish-American family through the viewpoint of her mother as a child. It includes an author's note, a glossary of Jewish words, and old family photographs. This book would especially appeal to children who know the feeling of being lost amidst a big family, but because of its universalities, many middle grade readers will get wrapped up in this moving family story. Reviewer: Marcie Flinchum Atkins
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—A luminous free-verse novel, based on Rosenthal's mother's Depression-era childhood in Baltimore. The fourth of 12 children, Edith Paul wrestles with figuring out her place in the family. The author's apt Russian-nesting-dolls' metaphor—"and there's always/one more inside,/sort of like/my family"—gives readers a vivid picture of Edith's struggle to maintain her individuality. Mature beyond her years, the 12-year-old describes herself for a school assignment as "the good little mother," dutifully watching over her younger siblings. Still, she longs simply to be a kid, playing stickball or double Dutch. Frustrated that her family is never invited to Seders, bar mitzvahs, and weddings, Edith is lovingly reminded by Bubby (Grandmother) Etta that with so many children, the Pauls have their own party. When heartrending loss threatens to extinguish the family's happiness, Edith finds inspiration in school and, with her teacher's encouragement, contemplates a promising future. At first, familial obligations and rigid gender roles—"'We don't have money for college,/and girls don't need to go anyways,'" says her father-threaten to derail Edith's plans. However, buoyed by her mother's and grandmother's support, Edith forges ahead. A heartening epilogue states that she was the only girl in her family to earn a college degree. Touching photos of the Paul family and a glossary clarifying Yiddish terms and Jewish traditions nicely round out the book. Rosenthal's spare writing superbly captures the emotional growth of a girl on the cusp of adolescence, despite its specific historical context.—Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA
Kirkus Reviews
Rosenthal debuts with a slim, easily readable free-verse novel from the perspective of a girl who feels enveloped but lost in her enormous family. Eleven-year-old Edith, fourth among her parents' 12 children, feels that "[i]n my overcrowded family / I'm just another face. / I'm just plain Edith / of no special place." Old enough to care for siblings and work her parents' diner until almost two in the morning, young enough to care about a Shirley Temple doll, Edith needs a teacher's nudge to find an identity. "[T]he Depression + lots of kids = never enough money," so leaky shoes need cardboard, clothes are "hand-me-down / down / down / down / downs" and the family almost loses their house (but doesn't). Contemporary, recession-aware readers will relate to Edith's financial woes and also her realization that other people are even poorer. The author uses her mother's history of growing up Jewish in Depression-era Baltimore as a basis, describing a certain kind of American Judaism (cheating on kosher rules with crab cakes; celebrating Christmas as Jews "because here in America / we can celebrate / anything we want") and family tragedy in bare-bones verse so simple that the occasional rhyme is startling. Less flavorful than its ancestors, Barbara Cohen's The Carp in the Bathtub (1972) and Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family series, this is still a good companion for them. (author's note, family photos, glossary) (Free verse/historical fiction. 8-12)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780544022713
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
09/10/2013
Pages:
176
Sales rank:
479,621
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Edith of No Special Place

I’m just plain Edith.
I’m number four,
and should anyone care,
I’m eleven years old,
with curly black hair.

Squeezed / between /two / brothers,
Daniel and Ray,
lost in a crowd,
will I ever be more
than just plain Edith,
who’s number four?

In my overcrowded family
I’m just another face.
I’m just plain Edith
of no special place.

Always One More

I saw these wooden nesting dolls in a store,
the kind where you don’t know how many dolls
there are altogether until you start
opening them up,
and there’s always
one more inside,
sort of like
my family.

Family Portrait, Baltimore, 1936

We’re lined up:
girl boy, girl boy, girl boy, girl boy, girl boy,

and in the middle of us all, Dad,
who ordered us to smile
right before the Brownie clicked,
standing stiff as a soldier,
no smile on his face,

and Mom’s beside him,
a baby in her arms
and in her rounded belly
another one,

just a trace.

Inspector Bubby

When Mom goes to the hospital to have this new baby,
us older kids
watch the younger ones
and keep the house clean.

We think we’re doing okay

until Dad’s mother, Bubby Anne,
comes over
and runs her finger across the top
of the china cabinet
that we couldn’t even reach,

just to show us the dust
we’ve left behind.

There Goes That Theory

Nobody asked my opinion
about having another sister or brother.
But if someone had,

I would have asked
for another little sister,
even though I was sure

this new baby
in Mom’s belly
had to be a boy.

How could I be so sure?
Because the last girl she had
was my sister Annette.

Sometime after Annette came along,
Mom collapsed
and Dad rushed her to the hospital,

where they took out one of her ovaries
(part of her baby-making equipment,
Bubby Anne told us).

So my sisters and I thought
it must have been
the girl-making one

because since the surgery
Mom has had nothing but boys —
my brothers Lenny, Melvin, Sol, and Jack.

But now this baby in Mom’s belly
turned out to be Sherry.
And that’s the end

of our ovary theory.

Now We’re Even

Maybe Mom and Dad
wanted one last one
to even things up.
With six boys
and now six girls,
maybe they’re done.

I guess there’s really
no way of knowing,
but I sure hope
our family’s
all done growing.

Some People Don’t Understand
About a Big Family

My friends Connie and Eunice
love coming to my house.
To them it seems like
we’re always having a party.

But I’d rather go to their houses,
where there’s room to move around
without bumping into anybody

and you never
have to stand in line
to use the bathroom.

I Wonder What It Would Be Like

To sleep by myself
in this bed
that holds three
with all of the covers
to cover
just me.

To spread my arms wide
and lie
at a slant
with no other bodies
to say
that I can’t.

To lie
on a pillow,
no feet in my face;
I’d lie awake nights
just feeling the space.

Keeping the Days Straight

Since it’s summertime
and we aren’t back in school yet,
I keep forgetting what day it is.

So my brother Raymond
teaches me the trick
of checking what Mom’s making for dinner.

Mondays are milkhik, Tuesdays, liver;
Wednesdays are macaroni casserole days,
Thursdays are meat,
and Fridays we eat a Shabbos feast
of chicken, chopped liver, and soup.
Saturdays we have what’s left,
and Sundays Dad brings home deli.

So the day of the week
all depends
on what’s inside my belly.

Why Can’t Summer Last
Forever?

Summer means
we’re outside,
trying to cool off.
So my little brother Melvin
grabs my hand
and we run by the garden hose
that Mom’s waving around.
We scream with glee
as she hoots and sprays us
with its misty breath.

Summer means
trips to the shore with Dad,
where we all play tag
with the waves
and build castles in the sand
and then, on the way home,
stop for kosher dogs,
lathered with mustard,
like shaving cream on a man’s face.

Summer means
matinees at the Roxy Theatre
on weekdays,
not just weekends,
and taking my brothers and sisters
to the park
to play dodge ball
and horseshoes
and hum in the kazoo band.

Why can’t summer last forever?

Lucky Lenny

Last Sunday
when Dad took us to swim in the bay
at Workmen’s Circle Lodge,
my little brother Lenny slipped
on a plum pit in the pavilion
and broke both his legs.

He’s in the hospital now,
getting loads of comic books,
marbles, and card games
and more candy buttons and chocolate licorice
than he could ever eat,
and the nurses are fluffing up his pillows
and bringing him grape soda all the time.
He’s even making new friends,
playing war and go fish
with the man in the next bed.

Today when we went to swim,
I looked as hard as I could
for my own
plum pit.

One Summer Night

My little sister Marian is missing again,
so Dad packs some of us into his Hudson
(we can’t all fit)
and we drive around until we finally find Marian
in the park,
bouncing her little paddle board and ball,
not even noticing the dark
at all.

When we get home,
Dad uses Marian’s paddle,
but not on the ball,
and she doesn’t act like she’s sorry
at all.

Goodbye to Summer

When Dad’s mother, Bubby Anne,
gives us all pairs of new socks
to wear to school,
it’s time to say goodbye to summer.

When Mom’s mom, Bubby Etta,
reaches into her shopping bag
full of crayons, jacks, and candy
and hands each of us
"a little something special
to start off the new school year,"
it’s time to say goodbye to summer. But I wish it wasn’t.
Now I’ll have to go to school all day
instead of swimming
at the Patterson Park pool
and playing stickball
with Daniel and his friends
and taking Melvin to the Roxy
to see the Popeye cartoons. I’ll have to get up early,
even before the sun rubs the sleep
out of its eyes.
I’ll have to face math tests
and spelling bees and homework
and the weather will turn dreary
and stormy like in a scary movie. I know it’s time to say goodbye to summer,
but I’d much rather be saying hello.

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What People are saying about this

"Rosenthal's spare writing superbly captures the emotional growth of a girl on the cusp of adolescence, despite its specific historical context."—School Library Journal "The overall tone is one of solidarity in spite of difficulties."—Booklist

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