Author Spotlight: Simms Taback

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Simms Taback has an illustration style all his own. His children’s picture book illustrations are often a blend of watercolor, gouache (an opaque watercolor painting), pencil, ink, collage, and I even observed some crayon illustrations. His colors are bright and his books have subtle jokes in the illustrations (for the parents to find). So far, he has won the Caldecott Medal once (in 2000 for Joseph Had a Little Overcoat) and he was a Caldecott Honor once (for There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly).

I received There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback at a baby shower, and I really enjoy the illustrations. They are bright and amusing. My son likes to put his hands through the die-cuts and look at his fingers on the other side (a practice I’m not keen on encouraging because that could lead to book damage!). All the same, I sing him the silly song as we read it.

In Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, Taback has again retold a folkloric song (this time a Yiddish song) with his blend-of-many-styles illustrations. Using die-cuts, he shows how Joseph’s little overcoat, when it is worn, becomes a vest, scarf, handkerchief, and a button. In the end, Joseph learns that even when he has nothing, he can still make something (in this case, a book!). Taback’s subtle commentary in the illustrations corners are incredibly amusing, and they play on the Yiddish tradition (for example, a newspaper headline says “Fiddler on Roof Falls Off Roof”). It’s definitely another winner.

The illustrations in This is the House that Jack Built also provide amusing sub-stories as we proceed through the cheese, rat, cat, dog, etc. that all, somehow, relate to the house that Jack built. The illustrations are in Simms Taback’s familiar mixed media. While the illustrations are just as engaging as his other books, this book is not a favorite of mine – simply because it’s no fun to read aloud! (too many “that”s).

I Miss You Every Day is illustrated with child-like crayon, colored pencils, markers, and all types of kid-like charm. A lonely child mails herself to her grandparents, who live far away, because she misses them every day. (The loved ones are never named as grandparents in the story, only in the illustrations.) I feel a connection with this book simply because I think of how much my son will miss his grandparents who live far away. (Right now, of course, he’s still a bit clueless, which is all the sadder for me when I think of it.) I love the last page, when the little narrator says “Tuck me in and read a story.” The illustration shows her bed littered with some of my favorite children’s stories: The Snowy Day, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Goodnight Moon, and of course, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat.

Simms Taback’s Big Book of Words is a large-sized almost board book. By that, I mean that it’s not a board book, but the pages are a little thicker and it almost acts like a board book. There are one or two words on a page with Taback’s classic illustrations, taking us through a child’s world of playthings, clothes, food, and animals. My son likes finding pictures of things he knows how to sign (he’s still not talking very much, but he is finally communicating through baby signs, sometimes).

Simms Taback also has a number of other board books and picture books with his classic artwork. I like the style: it’s unique, it’s recognizable, and it’s fun. Taback certainly has a humor of his own in his children’s books! Other books that Simms Taback has illustrated are listed here. (It appears that his official website,, is not working.)

Do you and your children have a favorite Taback picture book?

Reviewed on April 26, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I don’t think I have any picture books at all. But I saw “Caldecott” in the post title and swung by to say that I just met a new neighbor last night (I’m new to the neighborhood, she’s been here several years), and she is the head of the Caldecott judges panel this year.

    I always think of the judges for literary prizes as either being famous authors off in writer’s cabins working on their next masterpiece, or publishing execs in Manhattan skyscrapers. Here she is, hanging out in her English-style cottage in Portland, totally undercover.

  • Rose City Reader, Well, I have a little one, so that’s why I look at picture books every few weeks. That is fascinating about your neighbor: I always wondered if the Caldecott committee was composed librarians (since it’s run by the ALA) or art experts, because it seems the Caldecott is supposed to be about the art. I’ve always wondered how librarians know enough to compare art styles. I sure don’t! How do you compare one style to the other for judging? I guess I would assume your neighbor is a librarian: pretty easy to stay undercover then!

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