Saturday, June 12, 2010

Book Review 1 - Genre 1 - Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback

Bibliography -
Taback, Simms. 1999. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. New York: Penguin. ISBN 9780670878850.

Plot Summary -
In this cleverly designed picture book, Taback demonstrates recycling something (in this case a piece of clothing) until it is all used up and even then shows how something can be made out of nothing. This story was adapted from a Yiddish song which it closely follows.

Critical Analysis -
Taback mimics the lightheartedness of the Yiddish folk song, "I Had a Little Overcoat" in this picture book adaptation. He points out at the very beginning that this story is meant to have a moral, and the moral is "You can always make something out of nothing." As the reader moves from page to page curiosity is aroused in the anticipation of each transformation of the coat. This is a great read aloud selection which can allow for children to participate by predicting what article of clothing the item will become next. This humorous tale unfolds not only in the words, but also in the accompanying illustrations.

Besides writing the story, Taback also illustrates it. The illustrations are unique and captivating. He uses a combination of watercolor, gouache, pencil, ink and collage. He masterfully uses die-cut holes to show the next item Joseph makes from the piece of clothing. When the reader begins to turn the page, the shape of the die-cut gives a hint as to the next transformation of the item. Taback's use of color is very interesting. He uses mostly dark shades of primary colors with the edges of each page framed in black. The framing draws the reader directly into the pictures themselves wit all their vividness.

All of the illustrations reflect his cultural experiences for the most part. Each page is abundantly filled with extras to explore. For example on the page where Joseph visits his sister in the city, a wonderful collage of faces appears with each face in a different window representing wide cultural diversity - just as one might expect to find in a large city. Also on several pages, there are framed tapestries that are not only decorative but give a proverb. One reads, "Better to have an ugly patch than a beautiful hole," and my personal favorite, "If a pauper eats a chicken, one of them is sick." Each page is loaded with treasures to find.

Review Excerpts -
Publishers Weekly: "this is tailor-made for reading aloud. All ages."
Caldecott Medal Book
Parents Choice Gold Award
School Library Journal:
"Pre-Gr 3 - A book bursting at the seams with ingenuity and creative spirit."

Connections -
*Before reading the book, ask the children if they have ever made a piece of clothing into something else like pants cut off to make shorts.
*Share other books written and/or illustrated by Simms Taback like:
-There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
-This is the House That Jack Built
-Too Much Noise
-Road Builders
Since the book deals with recycling a piece of clothing, have the children find out more about recycling and ways they can recycle in their community.
*Additional children's books on recycling:
-Roca, Nuria. The Three R's: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle (What Do You Know About?). ISBN 0764135813.
-Inches, Alison. The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story About Recycling. ISBN 1416967885.
-Inches, Alison. I Can Save the Earth: One Little Monster Learns to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. ISBN 1416967893.

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