This warm and engaging story, inspired by the author's own family, offers a glimpse into a life rich with tradition, celebration and love.
Anna Ciddor has made her name as a versatile writer and illustrator of fiction, travel and historical books for primary school children and older readers. Her Viking Magic historical fantasy series has earned her fans throughout the world.
Delightful in detail and warmth, Ciddor’s book of the Rabinovitch family opens a door into a family living in Poland in the 1920’s. It is easy to be drawn into this large family which brims with life and every day rhythms and activities. With engaging characters, readers will chuckle to draw similarities in sibling and familial relations within their own circle of loved ones. Younger brothers and sisters needing to be cared for, helping with chores and errands, engaging with the community, and parental roles all feature in this colourful account of a happy and vibrant childhood.
Suitable for upper primary students, readers will observe rituals that will be unfamiliar to many. Ciddor offers a lot of detail, such that you are drawn in and intrigued, and this gives teachers and students an opportunity to explore a range of group activities. Salivating while reading the description of the dishes being prepared, and particularly the sections on making challah, entices students to share their experiences of special meals and celebrations. It also invites an examination of family and cultural traditions and enjoyment of the richness of language (thanks to the Yiddish and Hebrew glossary included). Readers will be drawn to contrast the everyday tasks so richly described with those of their own current day childhood and family cultures. The book also offers a discussion point of a child’s view on discrimination. While this appears only briefly, the engaging tone makes it a good inclusion for students looking at difference and experiences of discrimination. It would also be an excellent choice for students preparing to examine the complexities of World War II and the Holocaust to appreciate, in a personal setting, the threat that families like this one would face.
Jo Lloyd, Home Educator, NSW
Based on the true story of the author’s Polish grandmother, and a very accessible read, The Family with Two Front Doors by Anna Ciddor is a heart-warming story. For me, from an English/Irish background, it is a story of a very different culture, and of very different times: yet it also spoke to me of love between members of a large family, and the accompanying closeness and busyness of home life, which is my own experience. Written with love and care, the narrative is enriched with cultural and historic detail which makes for an ‘authentic’ reading experience. Ciddor is able to achieve engagement with characters. The focus on the Jewish culture of the times has moments of poignancy, as we realise that the horrors of war are yet to come. The setting is rich in cultural detail which brings to life a time when parents managed their children’s lives in the minutest detail, from when, where and what they would eat, what they would wear, how their hair would be arranged, how their days would pass, what education they would receive, and who and when they would marry. Even where they would live after marriage is decided by the parents. Alongside this are religious observances and religious laws protecting the weak and vulnerable, as a cultural responsibility for the poor accompanies every occasion, including celebratory meals.
The explanation for the title is given on the first page. As this family is so large, with eight of the nine children still living at home, and because they could afford it with Papa being a Rabbi, they actually lived across two apartments, on the second floor of an apartment building. In passing, we also learn that the eldest child, a boy named Aaron, is seventeen years old and already married, no longer living at home.
Ciddor succeeds in presenting a picture of a very happy time, with the usual little frustrations of growing up and learning to accept the rules. There is a useful addition of a glossary of Yiddish and of Hebrew terms used in the text, with notes on pronunciation, for those who are unfamiliar with them. There are also some notes by the author which assist with context.
Probably useful for mid to late Primary, possibly lower Secondary. A small book of around 185 pages, it could probably also work if read aloud, possibly making it suitable for class study. It could lead to discussion about family, religious law, social justice, and historical aspects, such as taking a steam train ride to go on a picnic! It could fit into Curriculum studies in Social Studies, or History, as well as just being an example of biography in English. There is opportunity for intertextual study in English through comparison with more well-known works. It could be a trigger for researching and writing biographical material about a family member from their past, like a grandmother.
Helen Wilde, SA
The Family with Two Front Doors is a stunning novel that gives a deep and thorough look into the lives of the Rabinovitch family. Set against the backdrop of 1920’s Poland, the story revolves around the eldest Rabinovitch daughter, 15-year-old Adina and her arranged marriage to a man she has never met, as seen mostly through the eyes of two of her siblings, 10-year-old Nomi and 8-year-old Yakov. Adina, Nomi, Yakov and the other members of the Rabinovitch family, their father a Rabbi, mother and six other siblings are brought to life by Ciddor’s talent to write such a detailed and insightful novel that encapsulates every aspect of what it was to be an Orthodox Jewish family in the 1920’s. From Nomi painstakingly preparing gefilte fish to the whole family preparing for Beggars Day, Ciddor never missed a detailed.
As I read this novel, I found myself increasingly becoming emotionally invested in all of the characters of this close-knit family. I felt that I was a member of the Rabinovitch family and therefore went through the motions of their joy, worry, uncertainty and unconditional love for each other. The Family with Two Front Doors is an intriguingly apt title because there are so many children. An insight into a Jewish family's world of 1920's Poland, which would make a great film. Attractively toned cover where the 'two front doors' refer to the adjoining apartments with the public and home life of the Rabbi , who is the father, and the family domesticity of the mother caring for nine children as she delegates and skills them. Exhausting. And the kosher food requires so much preparation. This book is a joy to read.
Set in Lublin in the 1920s, the story revolves around the arranged marriage of 15-year-old Adina Rabinovitch to someone she has never met, as seen mostly through the eyes of 10-year-old Nomi and 8-year-old Yakov. The Rabinovitch family - the rabbi, his wife, and their nine children are all brought vividly to life with warmth and humour. Based on the author's own family and the stories her Nana Nomi told her, the tale is steeped in authentic Jewish ritual and tradition, and the characters, re-imagined by the author, are both highly relatable and uniquely drawn. The prose is delightful, and the illustrations charming. I found myself going back to look at them again and again. As this story is based on real characters and real events, I naturally felt a stab in my chest when I read Ciddor’s author notes at the conclusion of this novel.
As a teacher I see the copious potential for this novel in an upper primary classroom. This is a novel that marries perfectly with aspects of the English and History curriculum and contains every feature a teacher would want for a class novel. An abundance of literary devices, a glossary with a wealth of vocabulary, emotional connections to characters, detailed descriptions of Jewish religion and culture, a showcase of family values and connections and an all-round beautifully written and enjoyable novel.
This is a novel that has touched my heart and I know will touch the hearts of my students and will stay with them long after the conclusion of this book.
Bethany Harvey, Northlakes Public School, NSW
The Rabinovitch family — Papa, the respected local Jewish Rabbi, Mama and their nine children — who live in Lublin, Poland in the 1920s are introduced in a business-like way by the author Anna Ciddor at the very start of her story. It’s not easy to individualise the personalities of such a large family quickly, but Ciddor does it well. It helps to have her first illustration to refer to if confusion threatens as she captures well their salient quirks and foibles in her drawing. Yakov’s cheeky grin, Miriam’s wryness, Shlomo’s pedantry, Esther’s patient coping with the two youngest siblings and the cheerfulness of Nomi, Ciddor’s own beloved Nana, are easy to read on their faces. It’s a pity that the cover illustration doesn’t reflect the detail that one door of their twin-apartment home (extra space needed for the big family) is brown and the other blue, given the book’s title.
This is an easy book to read. The characters and their conversations are engaging and realistic and although the full-blown anti-Semitism of the Second World War era is yet some decades in the future, there are hints of it when the family ventures beyond the Krakow Gate and outside of the Jewish quarter on a picnic. The author’s note explains that only three of the family survived the Holocaust and Nomi emigrated to safety in Australia. She, Anna Ciddor, has been able to visit Lublin and see the apartment block where her ancestors lived, no doubt enabling her to “see” and “hear” her characters with greater clarity.
This book will suit well the need for children to develop an informed awareness of Jewish culture. While Australia’s Jewish community makes up around 0.5% of the total national population, outside of their community there are few accessible resources from which students — and their teachers — may learn of orthodox Jewish culture and practice in a non-didactic way. With The Family with Two Front Doors, Anna Ciddor has provided just such a resource and it would make a fine addition to any library catering for students of primary and junior secondary stages. Recommended.
Anna Ciddor’s tale of the Rabinovitch family paints a vivid picture of life in 1920s Poland. The day to day running of the household is described in great detail, as are the rituals associated with their faith. Everyone in the family has a role to play, and all the children relish their jobs and take them very seriously indeed. The upcoming arranged marriage of big sister Adina is cause for great excitement and a little trepidation. The family is so large that they have two apartments - hence the two front doors in the title.
The book is based on the life of the author’s grandmother, which gives the story its authentic feel. There is a wealth of period detail and it provides a window into the life of a bustling Orthodox Jewish family.
The warm atmosphere of the story takes an uncomfortable turn when the children venture out of their neighbourhood into the wider Polish-speaking world, where they are treated as different and lesser than others, laughed at, called “Yid” and have things thrown at them. This is a poignant reminder of the terrible times to come.
I would read this to a class of grade 3/4 or 5/6 children and use it as a starting point to compare their daily lives to those of the Rabinovitches; to discuss the role of faith and ritual in family life and in the society at that time, and how this has changed for young people today.
Anthea Barrett, Primary Teacher, DECV, VIC
The Family with Two Front Doors is a detailed look at Jewish culture in 1920s Poland. It follows the Rabinovitch family’s daily life and some of their bigger celebrations. The detail put into ritual, tradition and culture give the audience a terrific insight into Judaism in the 1920s but this means that little happens in terms of plot. The description of food preparation was interesting but after excessive words were given to the matter it became a little drab. Using a traditionally large family (and based on the author’s grandmother) also means that characterisation is minimal. The audience forms some attachment with two of the characters, Nomi and Yakov, but they barely rise above two dimensional representations. There was much more scope here for the author to build characters that the audience could relate to and provide more aspects of their life.
This novel’s plot would ideally be suited to students around the ages of 10-13 but the language is quite difficult. The glossary provided is comprehensive but this still limits the audience to a fairly proactive and able class group. It would be difficult to use as a standalone novel study in high school years but it would be a great novel to study for a cultural unit or as a precursor for the study of any holocaust texts. It may also be suitable for primary school story time where the telling can be a more interactive experience.
Kerrie-Lee Guest, St Paul’s High School, NSW