Joseph Had a Little Overcoat
By Simms Taback
book talk

author/illustrator study

classroom connections

list of related books

web activity




Web Page Compiled By:
Angie West
Jodi Stevens
Cheryl Delia
Valerie Bradshaw

Mike Kahn

Book Talk
    The picturebook Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback uses a creative approach to capture the reader's attention.  By observing the book the reader can anticipate that Joseph has an old overcoat.  This is obvious because the picture on the front cover shows Joseph wearing an overcoat that has holes in it.  The age group for this book would be kindergarten to second grade.

    The book starts with Joseph, the main character, who has an overcoat that he really likes.  Soon the overcoat becomes old and worn, but instead of throwing the coat away, he makes it into a jacket.  The jacket becomes old and worn also, so he makes a vest out of it.  The story continues on the same way, each time making a new article of clothing.  The vest becomes a scarf, the scarf becomes a necktie, the necktie becomes a handkerchief, and finally the piece of overcoat becomes so small that the only thing that can be made of it is a button.  He places the button on his outfit and it soon falls off and is lost.  Joseph is now left with nothing.  The moral of the story was that you could always make something out of nothing, which is what happened.  This is a good theme to pass along to children.

    Joseph never speaks in the book, it was told through narration.  This book was published twice, since Simms Taback was unhappy with the first one that he had printed.  He felt that the book could have been better.  The second time that the book was released it won a Caldecott Award for the illustrations.  The style and techniques he used for the illustrations were watercolor, gouache, pencil, ink, and collage.  The characters were drawn in a cartoon image, but with a realistic look.  One odd thing about the illustration is that there are pictures on the walls that are real people, not cartoons like the rest of the characters in the book.  Also, throughout the story there are some newspaper articles that are written in Yiddish.  Some of the illustrations show these articles in tact, while others show the newspapers ripped up.  Some of the pages have holes in them of certain types of clothing so that when the page is turned it shows the new article of clothing that Joseph had made from the old, worn piece he had previously.  This is a great way to hold the attention of the reader. It takes the story to new levels by making it a fun story to read.

    Many people have noticed that Joseph looks a lot like Simms Taback. This could be because the story that Taback wrote might be based on how he at some time in his life made something out of nothing.  The colors used are bright and exciting. The inside of the book is covered with many different buttons, perhaps one of them is the one that Joseph had in the end of the book.  This book would be highly recommended to read to children in the lower grade levels because it has a moral, and is also very interesting.  The illustrations make it very captivating for younger readers also.  There are many classroom activities that can be incorporated into this book.

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Author/Illustrator Study

Simms Taback

    Simms Taback was born and raised in the Bronx of New York, NY. He grew up loving art and design and eventually graduated from Cooper Union in New York City with a degree in art. Before getting involved with children's literature illustration and writing, Taback worked as a art directorand graphic designer. He also taught in the School of Visual Aids at Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY. He recently just won his first Caldecott Award for Joseph Had A Little Overcoat. The Caldecott is presented yearly to the best art in a children's book. Taback has also written and illustrated I KnowAn Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly, which won a Caldecott Honor Medal. Both books used a unique artistic technique of cutting holes in someof the pages. The holes were filled in by the picture behind it. He also used the same illustration technique in I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed AFly. Today, Taback lives in Willow, New York with his wife. They have three children and three grand children.

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Classroom connections
These ideas are general and would have to be refined to suit the grade level and the particular students:

Art --Design your own vest- Using a brown paper bag cut it into the shape of a vest.  Using marker, crayons, or other art supplies design the vest.

Collect things around the house, buttons, paper clips, etc., and make something from these things.  Use your imagination!

Make a collage using old magazines that tells something about yourself.  These things might include your favorite color, pets that you have, siblings, or favorite activities.

Make a quilt- students bring in old pieces of fabric from home and have the teacher sew it together.  If you do not want to use fabric have the students draw a picture on a piece of paper and glue all of the pieces together.

Writing --Write about a time that you made something out of nothing.  If you cannot think of a time, then write  a story that has a moral to it.

Creative Dramatics --Make plays from the stories that you wrote

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List of related books

Books Written and Illustrated by Simms Taback

     There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly, published by The Penquin Group, copyright 1997

Other Books Illustrated by Simms Taback

     Road Builders, written by B.G. Hennessy, published by Penquin USA, copyright 1996
     Too Much Noise, written by Ann McGovern, published by Houghton Mifflin, copyright 1992
     Two Little Witches, written by Harriet Ziefert, published by Candlewick Press, copyright 1998
     Where Is My Baby?, written by Harriet Ziefert, published by Harper Collins Childrens Books, copyright 1997
     Who Said Moo?, written by Harriet Ziefert, published by Harper Collins Childrens Books, copyright 1997

Other Caldecott Winners

     1998 Winner: Rapunzel, written and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, published by Dutton, copyright 1997
     1997 Winner: Golem, written and illustrated by David Wisniewski, published by Clarion, copyright 1996
     1996 Winner: Officer Buckle and Gloria, written and illustrated by Peggy Rathmann, published by Putnam, copyright 1995
     1995 Winner: Smoky Night, illustrated by David Diaz, written by Eve Bunting, published by Harcourt, copyright 1994
     1994 Winner: Grandfather's Journey, illustrated by Allen Say, written by Walter Lorraine, published by Houghton Mifflin, copyright 1993

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Web activity

Using the following websites find information about recycling. You are not limited to these specific websites, but the material needed is found here. (click on either metal, paper, glass, or plastic)

After reviewing these websites make a list of 7-10 facts about recycling in general. Next, choose a specific material from the following; metal, glass, paper, aluminum, or plastic. Research that material and find 2-3 specific facts, including the process for recycling this material. Lastly, using the same specific material, make something from it (Proving the moral of the story,"You can always make something out of nothing"). The objects that you make can be simple and should serve a purpose if possible.

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