Joseph Had a Little Overcoat


Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

by Simms Taback

Viking, 1999

34 pp.

Age: 3+

Interests: folksongs, Jewish folktales/folksongs, sewing, recycling/repurposing

Also by this author: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, This is the House that Jack Built

An old Jewish song is adapted here into the ultimate tale of recycling thrift. Joseph’s overcoat is old and worn, so he makes it into a jacket, then a vest, then a scarf, then a tie… When it’s finally all gone he has nothing, but proceeds to make a book about his overcoat,

Which shows… you can always make something out of nothing.

I like the message of this story, but the illustrations are what make this a really terrific book. Simms Taback paints lively scenes from Joseph’s daily life with amusing details and a quirky use of collage. As well, the pages in this edition have been die-cut so that you can peek through to the next page, and what his overcoat will turn into next.

On the last page is the song which originally inspired the author, “I Had a Little Overcoat (Hob Ich Mir a Mantl)”, with full lyrics and music and chords for guitar accompaniment.

(This book by Taback was originally published in 1977, but he redid all the illustrations for the 1999 publication, and that’s the one that was awarded the Caldecott Medal. I’ve just read the 1999 book – I’m not sure how different it is from the previous version.)

(This title at


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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