“Simms Taback puts himself out there in his 1999 do-over of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. Literally. He not only draws himself as the main character, Joseph, but he draws on his personal history and memories of yiddishkayt, or Jewish world-view, to bring this Caldecott Award-winning adaptation of his favorite childhood song to life. Taback’s stylized watercolor and collage illustrations, clever cutouts, and tongue-in-cheek asides make this book a delight.
Ever-watchful animal companions, odd family portraits, and boisterous villagers bear witness to the adaptive skills of Joseph, who begins the story with an overcoat, clearly tattered, but who repeatedly loses ground with his wardrobe. Through the garment-shaped cutouts in the page, we get a peek into each subsequent sartorial permutation as overcoat dwindles to jacket and jacket dwindles to vest, and so on. Joseph, thrifty and handy with a needle and thread, makes do with what material is left of his disappearing overcoat until he is left finally with only enough fabric for a button to keep his suspenders attached to his trousers (which, oddly, never wear out). Losing the button, he writes a story about his worn overcoat, the one we have just read, proving the moral that one can always make something from nothing!
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat is a complete and satisfying book for children. The story is easy to follow, but allows plenty of opportunity for making predictions about what garment Joseph will sew next and where he will go to wear it. The typography is colorful and fun and pairs well with the style of illustration and the animated manner of the characters. Each page seems to have a little secret hidden in plain sight within the illustration. On one page there is an actual fiddler on his roof, and on another page, the portrait of a wild-eyed Sigmund Freud has fallen from the wall! The moral is sound and timeless, the journey to that moral is a joy and a slice of yiddishkayt that any child would enjoy.”
Cathrine T wrote this review Monday, September 13, 2010.