• Happy birthday William Sleator (Interstellar Pig), Ouida Sebestyen (The Girl in the Box), and Janet Taylor Lisle (The Art of Keeping Cool).
  • It’s the birth date of Eleanor Farjeon (1881–1965) Martin Pippin in the Apple-Orchard.
  • In 1542, Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, was executed. Read The King’s Rose by Alisa M. Libby.
  • It’s Secondhand Wardrobe Week. Read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and Second Hand Charm by Julie Berry.
  • It’s Valentines Eve. Get ready for the big day by reading The Valentine Bears by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett.

Today marks the birthday of one of our most innovative illustrators and Caldecott winners, Simms Taback. When Simms won the award in 2000 for Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, so many members of the illustration community delighted in this news not only because they had long admired his work but also because he had worked on behalf of all artists for decades.

Born in New York, Simms Taback grew up in the Bronx. A graduate of Cooper Union, he served in the Army, and then worked at CBS Records, the New York Times, and as an advertising art director. In 1963 Simms and Reynolds Ruffin formed Ruffins/Taback Inc., a design and illustration studio. In 1986 they created a diecut greeting card company, Cardtricks.  A tireless advocate of the rights of artists, Simms founded The Illustrators Guild, which became the New York Graphic Artists Guild. During this period, he designed the first McDonald’s Happy Meal Box!

These accomplishments don’t even include his more than forty children’s books. Even in winning awards, Simms broke new ground. Both his Caldecott Honor Book, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, and Joseph Had a Little Overcoat were the first books using die-cut holes to be so honored. This technique had begun with Peter Newell’s The Hole Book at the beginning of the twentieth century, but such books had always been considered “toy books,” not worthy of awards. In Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, based on a Yiddish folk song, Simms relied on a child-like folk art style that incorporates watercolor, gouache, collage, and die cuts. With one of the best color senses in the industry, Simms creates vibrant and saturated hues that immediately please the eye of a child.

His books for babies and toddlers have frequently won Parents’ Choice Awards, and they have become a beloved part of story hours everywhere. Simms Taback’s City Animals and Simms Taback’s Safari Animals use a guessing game format, made perfect by Taback’s bright colors and strong line. Parents or preschool providers can pick up any Taback title—I Miss You Every Day, Where Is My Friend? Simms Taback’s Big Book of Words, or Peek-a-Boo, Who?—and know they are exposing young children to some of the best artwork available.

Regina Hayes, publisher of Viking Children’s Books, worked with Simms for over twenty years. In talking about their relationship Regina said “we laugh all the time. Simms has a warmth and humor that draws people to him. He has so many interests; he can talk about everything—books, movies, photography. Although Simms does not take himself too seriously, he takes his work very seriously. The ultimate professional, he cares about every single detail, down to creating a special typeface for each book.”

Simms Taback died on December 25, 2011. But his books continue to give joy to children and adults.

Here’s a page from Joseph Had a Little Overcoat:


Originally posted February 13, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Art, Award Winning, Caldecott, Humor, Jewish, Multicultural, Music


  1. Tess W. says:

    I read this one shortly after reading “A New Coat for Anna” by Harriet Ziefert. After this, I went through a period of obsession with all things patchwork and sewing-related.

  2. I did not know about Secondhand Wardrobe Week but it is a good chance to tout Dress for Success (http://www.dressforsuccess.org/) which does a super job of providing gently used clothing to women entering or re-entering the workforce who need professional clothing. I also note today on their website that Dress Barns will have an S.O.S. Weekend soon, Send One Suit – drop off a gently used suit or career separates, great cause!

    And I find children to whom I am reading in groups large and small…they always love Taback books!

  3. G. Perry says:

    And here is yet another great artist I have missed.

    How wondrous and fortunate it must be to share in a life of someone who lights up the world the way Simms Taback does. When you combine art, kindness and wisdom, you are carrying a powerful tool for constructing a better planet.

    Our need for such people today, is urgent and profound.

    A child’s mind is not only extraordinary, but fragile, and children’s literature can offer the finest building materials for producing a strong and resilient person. Simms Taback offers a fine lumber yard with only the most exquisite hardwoods.

    And sometimes, for certain children, it only takes one book to keep a child going. A book she can hold onto, until she reaches safety.

  4. Jill Casey says:

    Nice illustrations – it’s always interesting to learn about successful people who write and illustrate their books.

  5. G. Perry says:

    I just got hands on this book and I love the story. Continuing to make something from the same thing, until there is nothing left, and then making something from nothing. How inspiring.

    I was surprised at the publishing quality of the book. The paper, cover and binding are superb and worth every cent of its price.

    Excellent craft in word, art, and publishing.

  6. Diane Croft says:

    I remember reading an older version of “I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” (not by Taback) that terrified my son. Cumulative tales with a “swallow motif” – like Little Red Riding Hood or The Clay Pot Boy – have, unfortunately, fallen out of favor as “too scary.” Bravo to Taback for finding a way to keep this important symbolism alive through his art form.

  7. Karen Smith says:

    This very week, I read this wonderful book and paired it with Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman with my kindergartners! It is another version of the story but Joseph is a boy. The illustrations are particularly fun as all of the scraps fall through the floorboards and the mice furnish their place and make clothes and eventually, there is more of the blue material below floors than above.

  8. Star says:

    My kids love Taback’s version of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. So witty and we particularly love the side comments on each page!

  9. Anita says:

    Thanks to everyone for their wonderful comments and for joining in this birthday celebration for Simms Taback.

  10. suzi w. says:

    how fun to know that Taback designed the first Happy Meal box. I have loved this book since it came out, my last year as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. The illustrations are phenomenal. I have always been fascinated by shetl stories, and the world that Taback creates in this book is one of warmth and economy. (Two words that make sense together, though aren’t often seen side by side.)


    (and happy St. Valentine’s Eve.)

  11. Susan says:

    So great to learn more about one of our favorite artists here at the New Rochelle Public Library. Your Almanac is a treasure – thank you so much for it!

  12. Jim Aylesworth will soon have a book out, titled /My Grandfather’s Coat/ with illustrations by Barbara McClintock (Scholastic). Ayleworth’s versions are always very rhythmic and lyrical. Many have allusions to teachers or librarians – and I’m anxious to see how that might work into this tale. I’m sure it will be a third title to enjoy along with Taback’s tale and /Something from Nothing/ by Phoebe Gilman. Should be great fun to use as mentor texts to write our own versions of the tale.

  13. chauntelle says:

    Looks like a really great read! I’ll have to check it out soon :)

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