Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Staff Pick: Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (ages 4 & up, 1999)

Joseph Had  Little OvercoatAre your kids a tad materialistic? Do they want every toy they see? Do they just assume anything they break will be replaced by you? Call me a sucker, but I drove to two stores last night looking for a Lego Indiana Jones set so that my son could take one of the 2" tall figures to school and play with a classmate. Go ahead, call me a sucker; my husband did.

Thinking on last night reminded me of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, a 2000 Caldecott Medal winner by Simms Taback that teaches the virtues of thrift and being happy with what you have. Or as Simms sums it up: "You can always make something out of nothing." He adapted the story from a Yiddish folk song he sang as a child.

In what appears to be a turn-of-the-century Jewish village, Joseph is wearing a worn overcoat with patches holding it together. Did he throw it in the trash bin and head to town to buy a new one? No! He made a jacket out of it and went to the fair, where he had a blast. Before long "Joseph had a little jacket. It got old and worn./So he made a vest out of it and danced at his nephew's wedding." And so the frugality begins. I won't give away any more of the story. It's fun to see what Joseph turns the increasingly more worn and shrinking item into.

What's unique about this book is that every few pages is die-cut, which means that there is a space cut out of the page large enough to fit whatever new piece of clothing Joseph makes. The die-cuts get smaller as the pages are turned. There is lots going on in every scene to keep your child on his toes: friends peaking into a window; an old man asleep while singing in the choir; funny newspaper headlines like "Fiddler on the Roof Falls Off the Roof"; hanging platitudes on the walls of Joseph's humble home.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat is a simple but fun book that teaches a moral without being preachy.

Here's a video sampling of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, with lyrics taken from the folk song. It's not the entire story, and the video is missing the charm of the book, so don't forget to check out the book and take it home!


The Official Web Site of Simms Taback

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