2000 Caldecott Medal: Joseph Had a Little Overcoat


Written and illustrated by Simms Taback, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat tells the tale of Joseph and his overcoat, which, as it wears out is turned into a progression of smaller and smaller items – the overcoat becomes a jacket which becomes a vest which becomes a scarf and on and on. It is, as my mother described it, “the ultimate tale of reuse”, which is a pretty great message to share. The book is based on a Yiddish song from Taback’s youth.

The illustrations in the book are full of saturated color. There is lots of detail (you could even call the pages busy) and some pages include collage elements. The main visual conceit of the book is the ever shrinking overcoat. Each time a transformation is made, it is done through a cut out – so that the new object is quite literally using the illustration of the old object for it’s substance. (You can see the outline cut-outs if you look closely at the scans at the end of the post). His illustration style is engaging and humorous. Perfect for kids!

Simms Taback started out at as a commercial illustrator and, in another claim to fame, he illustrated the first Happy Meal box (one of which resides in the Smithsonian). He wrote and/or illustrated over 40 children’s books. In addition to winning the medal in 2000, his version of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly was a Caldecott Honor book in 1998.

Frances LOVED this book. Really appealing, colorful illustrations – and cut outs, which are a current favorite. What’s not to like?



One of my Life List goals is to read all of the Caldecott winners. This is my sixth post about a Caldecott book. You can read the other Caldecott posts here.

2000 Caldecott Medal: Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

What I Read: March

I spent most of March trying to read Personal History by Katherine Graham, which I had picked for my book club’s selection this month. (I made it through 400 of the 650 pages, but finishing it will have to be something I do this month. Maybe). Anyway, I forbid myself to read anything else while try to plow through Personal History (never a good move on my part), and ended up finishing just two books back in the beginning of the month. Those books were both fiction, and in hard copy:

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny. The third book in the Chief Inspection Gamache series. This is a quiet, more thoughtful mystery series, with a somewhat psychological focus. Not in the thriller sense, just in the focus of the way people think, feel, relate to one another. It’s honestly not my favorite series, but the most recent book got a lot of good press this year, so I thought I’d give it another try. In this book a woman dies, seemingly of fright, at a seance and Gamache is charged with solving the mystery.

Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood. This is the second book in the Phryne Fisher series and was mostly a fun, silly read, but about 3/4 of the way through the book, Greenwood used the phrase “picaninny sky” to describe the morning light, and it’s pretty well soured me on the whole thing. I went so far as too look up the phrase in the OED, in the vague hopes that this had a more benign meaning in Australia (where Greenwood is from and the books are set), but nope, it pretty much refers to what you are thinking it refers too. I think this especially bothered me because the use of the phrase was gratuitous. People use racist language in real life, so of course it appears in books, but there was no need for this particular phrase to be used then. There are lots of other ways to describe the morning sky and I don’t think that Greenwood was trying to paint her heroine as racist. I think the phrase was used carelessly, without realizing that it was a hurtful thing to say. Anyway, a lot of thoughts about two words in a cheesy mystery, but it’s left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

What I Read: March