In 2000, Simms Taback won the Caldecott Medal for Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. Unhappy with his original illustrations, this was a do-over of a book originally published in 1977.
Taback imaginatively adapts the words of his favorite childhood song,“I Had a Little Overcoat,” into a fun filled book, with a moral too, that will be enjoyed by both children and adults. Combining simple, minimal and repetitive text with incredible illustrations, the reader is drawn into the folksy story of Joseph and his overcoat. As his overcoat becomes “old and worn” Joseph ingeniously transforms it into a jacket, and then a vest and then…and then…and then…. Readers will excitedly turn each page to discover what happens next and discover at the very end that “you can always make something from nothing”–an important lesson in itself.
Although the storyline is straightforward, it is the perfect foil to the charming and incredibly detailed illustrations. Within each illustration there are countless other stories waiting to be discovered and shared. Strategically positioned cut outs add to the excitement of the illustrations, revealing Josephs skills of transforming his overcoat time and time again.
Taback uses a variety of mediums including watercolor, gouache, pencil, ink and collage to capture the details. Each image stretches across two pages and is framed in a black border which draws the reader’s eyes to the characters, animals, places, objects and many little details.
Despite the plot and moral of the story always remaining the same, there is so much to see that every reading will be a different experience. This book is a great resource in any classroom and can be used in a variety of ways: introducing folktales, discussing morals, showing resourcefulness, talking about recycling and providing a colorful exposure to different mediums of art. Not sure why my teachers did not read this to me when I was younger!
– Michelle Sandler