Joseph had a Little Overcoat

I am in California for a month of summer, visiting with family and friends.  My base is at my parents’ ranch near Yosemite, a place where I didn’t grow up, but where I love to call “home.” In this abode, my parents have dedicated a wall to historic black and white photos of previous generations of family.  A favorite diversion of my own is time travel, especially to the past. I stare into the youthful eyes of great-grandparents  from Austria, Belarus, and Poland, most who immigrated to the the United States of America between 1910-1920 in search of new hope and opportunity.  I am reminded that there was a life before the US, for my ancestors and subsequently for me . More poignantly, I recognize that I am the great-granddaughter of a web of immigrants, just like many people who cross our boarders today.  

And I think about the power of memory and stories, which provide us with the tools to go back in time, to lands and people who are infinitely connected to us, yet endlessly unfamiliar.  When I read “Joseph had a Little Overcoat,” I was transported to Eastern Europe and, as if looking through a telescope to a foreign land and time, I caught a glimpse of what life may have looked like for Great Grandpa Szmul and Great Grandma Dyna.  

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Regional focus:  Eastern Europe

Author:  Simms Taback

Illustrator: Simms Taback

Genre:  children’s literature

In “Joseph had a Little Overcoat,” we meet  Joseph who lives in the shtetl–the small villages that Jews inhabited in Eastern Europe.  He lives a modest and humble life, but his day to day is full of simple joys like harvesting in the fields, savoring a cup of warm tea and singing with the choir.  When his overcoat becomes old and worn, he uses his creativity and wit to convert the tattered fabric into new items of clothing.  Readers delight in guessing what Joseph’s overcoat will be repurposed for next.

What I love:

  • Taback’s story was converted into an animated song with authentic klezmer music.
  • In “Joseph had a Little Overcoat” we are reminded of the importance of reuse and repurpose.
  • Taback’s collage illustrations are bold and colorful.
  • Toback’s use of repetition combined with his sense of humor, lend for “Joseph had a Little Overcoat” to be an ideal story to read aloud to young audiences.

Themes: reuse, resourcefulness, optimism

Discussion:

  • Have you ever had an item of clothing like Joseph that after much use was tattered with holes or torn?  What did you do with the old fabric?
  • What does the word “recycle” mean?  What does the word reuse” mean?  How do you recycle or reuse in your home?
  • What brings Joseph joy in his daily life?  What brings you joy?

Connections:

  • Repurpose  scraps of clothing and with the help of an adult, sew a small blanket, or napkin using a basic over-under stitch.
  • Make a self portrait of yourself using scraps from magazines and recycled paper.
  • Write a new story following the same sequence as “Joseph had a Little OverCoat” where you are the main character,  “Name” had a Little “object of clothing.”  Imagine what your clothing could be reused for when  it has become old and warn.  Illustrate your story.

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