“Joseph Had a Little Overcoat”, originally written by childrens books author Simms Taback in 1977, is a delightful story that is based on a Yiddish song called “I Had a Little Overcoat”. In 2000, Taback won the coveted Caldecott Medal for his work in recreating the story in book form. In it, the main character Joseph – a resourceful Jewish farmer in his mid life – owned a striped overcoat. In time the coat began to wear thin to the point that he turned it into a jacket. As time progressed, what was once a little overcoat would eventually become a small button. When Joseph lost the button, he created a story about it.
It is wonderful to have such lushly illustrated picture books that also have a moral. The moral behind “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat” is that you can always make something out of nothing and it is put forth is an entertaining way in Taback’s award winning book. The die cut illustrations in this book are made up of a combination of watercolor and collage, and it has been extensively rumored that the visual inspiration for the character of Joseph was based on Simms Taback himself.
The images in “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat” are not simply visual representations of the story. They are packed full of things to look at and explore, even down to the headlines on the newspapers! Taback is also well known for his Caldecott Honor Book “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly”.