Saturday, 14 January 2012


Simms Taback also died!

Again a few weeks ago...It's amazing what you glean from looking at more up to date people's blogs.
Simms Taback is, I think, relatively unknown here in the UK sadly. We were fortunate to receive a copy of his biggest Caldecott medal winning hit in a baby book gift basket from the States (great idea) when Bill was born. Seven years later 'Joseph Had a  Little Overcoat' is still one of everyone in the house's  favourite books; receiving the Official Eddie Bed Book Tower mark of approval too.

It's a simple idea, executed to perfection. Based on an old Yiddish song it's the story of an Eastern European Jewish man's coat that gets 'old and worn' and gradually gets recycled into a jacket, waistcoat, scarf, handkerchief and button. When the button is finally lost, Joseph 'made a book about it' demonstrating the moral 'you can always make something out of nothing.' Very contemporary in these times of fashionable thrift for reasons ecological and financial.

Simms Taback was really an illustrator rather than writer and it's the pictures that make this book a treasure trove. Gorgeous, jewel-like colours and plenty of quirky detail ensure there's always something new to draw you in. The shrinking of the coat is accomplished visually in a series of clever cut outs. It's also full of Yiddish in-jokes; 'mix a shlemiel and shlimazel and you'll get a shmegegge' passes me by but I like finding them- a newspaper headline reads 'fiddler on roof falls off roof'... Just as 'Peepo' faithfully recreates wartime Croyden so this offers a glimpse into an exuberant, joyful, pre-Holocaust world of European Jewish community. That's not part of my ancestry to the best of my knowledge but if it is part of yours than this is a book your children  should own.

Quirky fact of the day; Simms Taback was also the designer and illustrator of the first Mcdonald's Happy Meal box. Now there's a claim to fame.

'Joseph had a Little Overcoat', Simms Taback, pub. (in US) Viking isbn 0670878553

to the best of my knowledge there is no British edition of this book (I used to anglicise the text as I read it, as a waistcoat is referred to as a 'vest' and braces as 'suspenders'- but acknowlege this as unecessarily fernickerty of me) and you may therefore have trouble purchasing it in a Proper Bookshop here. It is, however, available from the dread but useful Amazon.

Edited on Sunday to add that Bill, learning of the sad news of Simm's death staged his own mini tribute in the form of choosing to eat his gingerbread man down 'Joseph's overcoat style' through the different garments and down to a button.

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