Friday, November 22, 2013

30 Days of Picture Books - Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback

Welcome to Day 15 of our 30 Days of Picture Books! If you need to catch up, click the link to check out the whole list on Pinterest - and while you're there, you may find one or two other boards that seem timely, help you build a booklist or just make you smile!

Tonight's pick is one that I first read a couple of years ago when I was taking a children's literature class for my degree. I was ridiculously excited to take that class, for lots of reasons, but one of the big things that tickled my fancy was a HUGE assignment I'd heard about. My prof had us gather the Caldecott winners from each year the award was given (or Honor titles, if need be) and then analyze the developments in art and style from the first to the last. Holy cooooow, was that ever a lot of work! And you should have seen the stacks of books on our kitchen table! But it was also very informative and made me examine not only picture book art but the relationship between art and text in a more synergistic fashion. (Hmmm, I think I might have ripped that sentence right out of my paper. . . )

Anyway, Simms Taback's Joseph Had a Little Overcoat was one of the titles that stood out to me for the way the creator married innovation and plot. The book uses a technique of die-cut holes that overlay a page - the view changes depending on if you're looking through the die-cut from the front or the back. I know that probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but trust me, it's pretty ingenious. Kids will be flipping the pages back and forth to see the trick (heck, that's what I do every time I read it!).

That little bit of inventiveness works just perfectly with the story Taback is telling. Joseph has an overcoat, but it's riddled with holes. So, rather than waste the fabric, Joseph uses his tailoring skills to turn it into a jacket. When the jacket wears out, it becomes a vest. On and on it goes, until at last, Joseph has nothing left - but our creative hero is even able to make something out of that. At the end, Taback explains in an author's note that the story is based on a Yiddish folk song he enjoyed as a child, which is a nice nod to culture and adds some depth to the work as a whole.

This is a great example of a cumulative tale, and it makes a great read-aloud, as listeners try to guess what it is Joseph's going to create next. The lessons are pretty terrific too -- do with what you have, celebrate life, enjoy your family -- all values we're interested in passing on to Sprout, wrapped up in an interesting, visually bountiful package. Taback knows how to work with the tools of his trade, mixing color, texture and perspective to present a world that's lively and inviting. I can see this used in a classroom or library as a springboard to a child's own creative adventure.

Head out to your library or bookstore and pick this one up as soon as possible. Taback's created a modern classic here, one that's sure to survive not just because of the gold seal on the cover, but because of the jewels wrapped within.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback, published by Viking

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