Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback
is a die cut gem about a man who kept recycling his overcoat by making new smaller apparel items from it. Its format, illustrations and humor made it a cut above the rest, earning it the 2000 Caldecott Medal.
When Josesph's favorite overcoat got too shabby and holey, he made it into a jacket. He continues to recycle his garment as it becomes worn, as a vest, a scarf, a tie, a handkerchief and finally a button, which becomes lost. He procedes to make a book out of his story, which proves that you can make something out of nothing.
Taback has created a book that recycles both an old song and a coat. It also revels in a look at Jewish culture, done with respect and humor. Amomg the many bits of Jewish culture: a reference to Chelm (The Fools of Chelm), a band and dancing at a Jewish wedding, singing in a men's chorus, a menorah, a dreidel, Fiddler on the Roof, and Hebrew writing and Yiddish sayings.
The text features rhythm and repetition, making it a strong read-aloud possibility. The Yiddish song "I Had a Little Overcoat" is printed at the end of the book, near the author's note.
The artwork is a combination of watercolor, gouache, pencil, ink and collage. Lots of details are included, making this perhaps best used for reading aloud to one or two listeners. The cartoon-like illustrations are humorous, with photographs of real people appearing frequently. Children will enjoy the animals, especially the cat and dog who are shown in the majority of pictures. The diecuts are excellent and allow for predictions to be made as what clothing will be next. The vast number of details in the illustrations which are on dark backgrounds may slow down reading while details are studied.
The messages include being frugal and the value of recycling. The moral that you can make something out of nothing is a very positive one. The book can be extended in many ways, including music, art and language.
For ages 5 to 8, multicultural, music, recycling, prediction, die-cuts, sequencing, humor themes, and fans of Simms Taback.