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Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (1977)

by Simms Taback

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1,8421755,691 (4.28)22
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    Maya's Blanket/La Manta de Maya by Monica Brown (beelrami)
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    Bit by Bit by Steve Sanfield (raizel)
    raizel: Interesting to compare Joseph's activities, age, and clothing.

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In this cumulative tale, a Jewish farmer named Joseph has an overcoat which grows too old and worn, so he turns it into a jacket. When that becomes too worn, he makes it into a vest, then a scarf, and so on, until in the end, Joseph has nothing but a button. When he loses the button, he writes a story about the overcoat.

Based on a Yiddish song, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat is a type of folktale known as a "cumulative tale", where a repetitive action is completed, usually with a surprise ending. In this case, Joseph continues to make his overcoat into something new - and smaller - with each iteration, until finally all that is left is a button. At the end, he loses the button, but is able to write a story about it, which leads to the explicitly stated moral at the end: "Which shows... you can always make something out of nothing." The axiom is lampshaded and told tongue-in-cheek, as evident by the title page, which has the tag, "He wore the coat for a long time and then something happened to it. (and there's a moral, too!)".

The book itself is unusual through the artwork and style. Most noticeably, there are shapes cut out from the right-hand side of almost every page. Though what is shown of the page beneath matches the illustrations on the page above, when readers turn the page, the shapes outline the new article of clothing Joseph has made each time. The cut-out shapes gradually grow smaller and smaller, until all that is left is a tiny hole: the button.

The artwork is busy and bold. Done in a collage style, there is little perspective, the scale of objects are off (on the first page, a rooster is nearly as large as Joseph himself), and there is a riotous mash of disparate styles. Mismatched patterns are jumbled together, crude drawings are juxtaposed with real pictures of people hanging on the wall, and bright reds and deep greens clash on nearly every page. The effect is startling at first, though vaguely reminiscent of Russian folkart. The effect can be overwhelming, but does offer little gems to discover with each re-reading. For instance, a cat shows up on nearly every page in a new position, the realistic pictures on the wall offer allusions to famous Jewish philosophers and authors, and on nearly every page is a reference to what is happening in the story hidden in framed cross-stitches on the walls or in writing on a letter lying in the corner of the page.

The book also highlights and celebrates Jewish heritage. Newspapers in some of the frames are written in Yiddish and a fiddler on the roof sings snatches of the traditional song the story is based on. Some of the references may be there for parents or other adults enjoying the story more than children, like the newspaper headline that reads, "Fiddler on Roof Falls Off Roof" or a recipe card that says, "Mix a shlemiel and a shlimazel and you'll get a shmegegge".

For such a short book, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat offers much. From its tongue-in-cheek humor, its distinct, bold collage style, and the wealth of new things to find on every page, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat is a hit with children and adults. ( )
  kittyjay | Feb 28, 2019 |
This picture book by Simms Taback is an interactive narrative in which the author follows Joseph, a man who believes in making beautiful things out of nothing. In a consumer-obsessed society, this book is a breath of fresh air. It teaches children that the ugly or used items have function and value. This interactive book won a Caldecott Award in 2002, after his second attempt at publishing this book after being unsatisfied with the illustrations. The illustrations are festive, inviting, and the die cuts make this book fun and hands on. ( )
  agreenwald | Feb 7, 2019 |
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat is a fun Caldecott award winning picture book. The pictures are bright and beautiful and the pages have holes cut in them to show what Joseph makes next. The book teaches about ingenuity and the benefits of a positive attitude. In the beginning of the story, Joseph has an old worn out overcoat and decides to make a jacket out of it. Each new page, Joseph creates something new and useful out of the old worn overcoat. But the items get smaller and smaller until Joseph is left with nothing. In the end, he even makes something out of that! ( )
  chunter3 | Jan 31, 2019 |
Joesph had a little overcoat, he found that it was full of holes. He then made it into different items such as a vest, a scarf, handkerchief, a button, etc.
  etaborski | Nov 11, 2018 |
Summary:The book starts out with Joseph having an overcoat. As the overcoat got holes, Joseph turned it into a coat. As he gets holes in his things over and over, Joseph has to figure out what to turn it into next. The moral of this story is no matter what, you can always make something out of nothing.

Personal summary: I really enjoyed this book when I was younger, so I was excited to read it again. Great children's book.
  courtneytosto | Oct 15, 2018 |
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Awards and honors
Dedicated to Alex Cohen; Donated by the Starr - Weg Family in honor of Amir's Bar Mitzvah
First words
Joseph had a little overcoat. It was old and worn.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
1977 version has different illustrations; both versions illustrated by the author, Simms Taback.
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Canonical DDC/MDS

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Wikipedia in English (3)

Book description
When Joseph's favorite overcoat gets old and worn, he makes a jacket out of it. When the jacket is more patches than jacket, Joseph turns it into a vest. When the vest's number is up, Joseph makes a scarf. This thrifty industry continues until there's nothing left of the original garment. But clever Joseph manages to make something out of nothing! (And that's the foreshadowed moral of the story.)
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0670878553, Hardcover)

When Joseph's favorite overcoat gets old and worn, he makes a jacket out of it. When the jacket is more patches than jacket, Joseph turns it into a vest. When the vest's number is up, Joseph makes a scarf. This thrifty industry continues until there's nothing left of the original garment. But clever Joseph manages to make something out of nothing! (And that's the foreshadowed moral of the story.)

In today's throwaway world, Joseph's old-fashioned frugality is a welcome change. Based on a Yiddish song from Simms Taback's youth (lyrics and music reproduced on the last page), the book is filled with rhythms and arresting colors that will delight every reader. As more and more holes appear in Joseph's coat, die-cut holes appear on the pages, hinting at each next manifestation. The illustrations are striking, created with gouache, watercolor, collage, pencil, and ink. Every inch of space is crammed with fanciful, funny details, such as the headline on a discarded newspaper: "Fiddler on Roof Falls off Roof." Taback, esteemed creator of the Caldecott Honor-winning There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and the classic Too Much Noise, has produced a picture book that is as well turned out as its dapper hero. (Ages 4 to 8) --Emilie Coulter

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:21 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A very old overcoat is recycled numerous times into a variety of garments.

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