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

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