Monday, May 07, 2007

Reader's Diary #262: Simms Taback: This Is The House That Jack Built, Joseph Had A Little Overcoat, and There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly

While none of these books were originally written by Taback, his illustrative touch makes them the quintessential copies for me. A blend of collage and drawings, the genius goes beyond the blend of mediums. Besides the stories themselves, there are tonnes of interesting and funny asides to keep you busy for multiple reads (especially good for us adults who may not be so keen on rereading a book a gazillion times). In This Is The The House That Jack Built one could pause to check out the real estate ads for instance, or the ranking of various cheeses based on smelliness. (Though while researching Taback's version, I have to admit that I felt a little like Scully or Mulder, or perhaps Eric Schlosser. I stumbled upon a very interesting bit of trivia; Simms Taback designed the very first Happy Meal Box. Now being the conspiracy nut that I am, I remembered a certain page in This Is The House That Jack Built which labels the parts of a cow with such whimsical variety as "hoof", "udder", "meatballs"-not pointed where you're thinking- and um, "Big Mac". The first time I had seen that last one I thought little of it, just a cute way of showing kids which part of the cow their beef products come from- assuming they're not vegetarians, of course. Now, with the Happy Meal revelation, I'm thinking, "damn you Capitalist pigs, stay out of my kid's storytime!" Okay, so I'm not that upset, but still, it put my guard up.)

Joseph Had A Little Overcoat won a Caldecott Medal in 2000. Like most book awards, I don't take the Caldecott to mean it's necessarily a great book. The early Caldecott winners certainly show their age and what most people don't realize is that it's an award based primarily on illustration, so the story could still be lacking. In this case, the story is just fine. Based on a Yiddish folk song (parents might also be familiar with it from the also excellent Phoebe Gilman version, Something From Nothing), it tells of a character who doesn't want to give up on his coat despite it getting tattered and torn. He ends up constantly tailoring the salvageable pieces into a jacket, a vest, a necktie and so on until it vanishes. Then he makes a story about it, creating, you guessed it, something from nothing. What makes Taback's version so special is again the interesting asides (lots of funny and educational Jewish references), and the die-cut pages that reveal the shape of the garment to come.

Finally, There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly. Again Taback does his die-cut magic, allowing the old lady to swell as each animal drops into her gluttonous belly. Once again there's a load of funny asides and colourful, whimsical illustrations. Plus, like The House That Jack Built, there's a lot of great repetition and rhyme (and hey, you can even sing if the mood strikes you). It is worth noting that Taback doesn't censor the original version as I've seen done by some authors. "Perhaps she'll die" thankfully remains in tact. I sometimes think my wife and I might shelter our children a little too much. Then I read these reviews on and I'm encouraged that maybe I'm not that uptight afterall. You know what? Perhaps telling your kids that eating every creature that crosses their path could kill them is a good idea. While you're at it, tell them Big Macs will make them fat, too!


Allison said...

Those Capitalist pigs will get you everytime. Great label!

I really don't think I paid too much attention to the illustrations as a kid, I'm sure my parents did though, having to re read the same books every night. Although I do remember certain Robert Munsch pages that stick out in my memory, but I think a lot of that had to do with the repetition in the storyline.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I kind of miss some of the kid's book that I used to have and that I used to read to Eva, and a big part of their charm was the illustrations. You should see me around shiny things.

John Mutford said...

Allison, I definitely did. I especially loved "busy" pages, pages loaded up on detail. I had a thing for garbage dumps especially and loved to try and copy them. It was pretty much guaranteed that there'd be a old tire, a rubber boot, a broken lamp and a couple banana peels.

I don't remember being read any Munsch as a kid (then again, there weren't nearly as many published at that point!). Maybe that's a part of the reason why I'm not a huge fan. Though, my daughter loves Get Out Of Bed! and Alligator Baby so needless to say, I have a soft spot for those. It's just that when you read a lot of him, his writing becomes so formulaic.

Barbara, I know I'm going to miss it as well. My wife read Tomie de Paola's Strega Nona to the kids tonight. I hadn't heard it since I was a boy and just had to listen in.

Gentle Reader said...

We have Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, and I've always enjoyed reading it with the kids, too, because of all the little extras in the pictures. As you say, so nice for adults when reading books a gazillion times. I also enjoy all the cultural references in the book, a little "Fiddler on the Roof" feel!

I also like Tomie de Paola!

Fearless said...

I've never seen this guys books before. I grew up on the very hungry caterpillar and Dr. Suess and stuff like that.

John Mutford said...

Gentle Reader, Actually there was a "Fiddler on the Roof" newspaper heading in Joseph Had A Little Overcoat, I think.

Fearless, The earliest of these three was published in 97, so I'm glad you didn't see them as a kid. I'm only familiar with them now as a parent and teacher. Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar might be my all time favourite kid's book.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

John, you've been tagged. The world needs to hear about your favourite places to eat in Iqaluit.

John Mutford said...

Okay Barb, I'll bite- just don't make this a habit ;)

Nicole (Sydney, Australia)
velverse (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
LB (San Giovanni in Marignano, Italy)
Selba (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Olivia (London, England)
ML (Utah, USA)
Lotus (Toronto, Canada)
tanabata (Saitama, Japan)
Andi (Dallas [ish], Texas, United States)
Lulu (Chicago, Illinois, United States)
Chris (Boyne City, Michigan, United States)
AB (Cave Creek, Arizona, United States)
Johnny Yen (Chicago, Illinois, USA)
Bubs (Mt Prospect, Illinois, USA)
Barbara (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
John (Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada)

- Top 5 places to eat in Iqaluit (which only excludes about 3 places):

1. The Frobisher Inn- Very expensive, but the lamb almost makes it worth it.

2. Wizard's Cafe- Get the chicken curry wrap.

3. The Navigator Inn- We love the Chinese take-out.

4. The Snack- This might present a problem seeing as it just burned down. But they plan to rebuild. If they do, their chicken poutine and corned beef sandwiches are awesome.

5. The hospital cafeteria- No kidding. There are more actual restaurants that I left out, but I seriously want to recommend this place. The food's great and it's one of the few places in town where you actually get your money's worth.

(Since I'm only supposed to do 5, I won't mention how fantastic the calamari at the Storehouse is.)

I'll tag:
1. Robert- Perhaps the most important Newfoundland culture blog, he should be able to come up with some great eats from that province. While you're their check out his 7 Wonders of Newfoundland and Labrador page for some other interesting places to visit.

2. Allison- Being a little reluctant to go home for the summer, I'm thinking that maybe listing the five best local eats might make her appreciate the place more (or not, we'll have to see).

3. Christina- The last time I was in Ottawa, my cousin Steve and his wife Christina showed me a lot of great spots in Ottawa, I'm hoping some of those show up on the list!

4. Fearless- Usually about music (with the occasional cat picture), I'm not really expecting a response, but should it be a slow post day, who knows?

5. Sam- Sam's is also usually about books, but again perhaps for a slow post day? (and hey, I did it!)

Tag 5 more, add your name (and link) to the list above, and voila. If you don't, bad luck will befall you and all that jazz.

John Mutford said...

Ooops, "their" should read "there".

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I am willing to wager that you are the only person who will list a hospital cafeteria. That's priceless! If I ever find myself in Iqaluit, I am definitely eating there.

Thanks for playing along, John.

Nicole said...

thanks for doing the tag!! had fun reading your recomendation!

ps if you know of anyone doing this tag please feel free to message me..I'm keeping a list of the tag doers

Anonymous said...

Calamari... *jumping up and down*
I love em.. hehehee... woo.. where is that Storehouse located?

Okay I shall visit the Wizard cafe too since I kinda like Spicy Food.

Okay.. wait.. the Hospital Cafeteria is a name? or is it the cafeteria in the hospital?

Hehe... still too excited over the calamari :)

Thanks for doing the tag :) Love your recommendations.