Taback, Simms. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. Illustrated by Simms Taback. Viking, 1999. ISBN 0-670-87855-3. $15.99. Not paginated. A- Pre-2 PB Reviewed by Marsha D. Broadway The first Caldecott Medal book of the new millennium is a retelling of a Yiddish folk tale and song. It is also a new edition, with new illustrations, of a Taback book first published by Random House in 1977. As the tale goes, Joseph, a tailor and, in this version, apparently a farmer, recycles his overcoat into smaller and smaller items as each becomes “old and worn.” Joseph loses the final item, a button, and then he writes a story about it, proving “you can always make something out of nothing.” The traditional cumulative tale, with its minimal plot and word repetitions, is often recommended to beginning storytellers as an easy story to learn. In order for young audiences to appreciate the illustrations, this version should be read and not told. Taback, using a folk art style, a vibrant palette, and himself as the model for Joseph, employs a mixed media approach with watercolor, gouache, ink, pencil, photographs, and collage. Photographic clips of vegetables grow in the garden. Photographic strips of fabric appear in clothes, curtains, and rugs. Photographic snips of faces hang on walls and stare from windows. The die-cuts on the front jacket hint at the strategically placed die-cuts in the text, which outline the smaller and smaller garments that Joseph makes. The button collection on the back dust jacket hints at the story’s ending. Scattered in the illustrations are headlines, a book title, and correspondence that will be humorous to adults but will not be meaningful to preschool and early-elementary-age children. The illustrations are clever, but a point of distraction is that Joseph, who does not seem to age, wears the same outfit with the same patches throughout the story as the overcoat, jacket, vest, scarf, etc., become old and worn. Should not Joseph and his clothes become a bit old and worn also? Every public and school library in the United States should make this title available to readers.
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