Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Happy Birthday Simms Taback - February 13

Happy Birthday Simms Taback - February 13, 1932

I found Simms Taback's birthdate about a week ago. I wasn't going to celebrate it since it was so close to Jane Yolen's birthday. However, I couldn't pass up the chance to learn more about Simms Taback. His books and illustrations have always stood out as favorites for our family.

I went to the library with a purpose yesterday by myself because I didn't have much time to write this article. I needed to find books written and illustrated by Simms Taback. The more books the better! After a successful trip to the library I came home and set the pile of books that I found on the living room floor. It didn't take long for the kids to start looking through the stack. They remembered books like, This is the House that Jack Built, from an earlier reading. They were excited to see some new books, like I Miss You Every Day. The illustrations in the books are extremely attractive and memorable. I was not shocked at the positive response to the books. It was this response that reaffirmed my commitment to getting this article completed in time for Taback's birthday.

I think I found the perfect way to start off the birthday celebration. Well, at least the kids will think so. Simms Taback designed and illustrated the first McDonald's Happy Meal box in 1977. If you choose to head off to the Golden Arches for a birthday meal at least be thankful that the meal is a little healthier than when it was first introduced. The first Happy Meal included a hamburger, french fries, 12 oz. soft drink, and cookies. I feel a little better that the meal includes the apples that never seem to turn brown. I wish I could have found a picture online that showed the illustrations from that first box, but I was unsuccessful (Since writing this article I found a pic!). One website I ran across mentioned that a box resides at the Smithsonian Institute. Additionally, I did find out that Taback signed up for the low-budget assignment only because it was only a small job that was only a test-run, but McDonald's ended up printing over 7 million boxes.

Simms Taback has been awarded a Caldecott Medal and a Caldecott Honor Medal. He received the Caldcott Medal for the book Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. The Caldecott Honor Medal was for the book There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly. I thought I would discuss this book because it was the first Simms Taback book that I ever read. Additionally, in one of the video links below, Taback himself mentions that he is quite proud of this book. Since this story is so well known Taback added quite a few things that make this book stand out from the other versions. The most noticeable is the die cuts that illustrate that the Old Lady actually has eaten the animals and they now reside in her belly. There are many crafts can bring the story to life, like the die cuts in the book. There is a paper bag craft that is very simple. The little ones can draw their own old lady on the outside of the paper bag or you can use a printable (here is a link to the animals to print and another template page). If the template pages do not have animals you could always use clip art or Google Image search. Once you find images, print them and have your "paper bag lady" swallow them whole - don't forget to cut a slit in the bag.

The second thing that Taback did to make his version of There was an Old Lady unique was he expanded upon the rhyme. For example, he writes, "I don't know why she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she'll die. But its only a fly. I think I'll cry. She gulped it out of the sky. Oh my!" The expansion of the rhyme is spoken from the point of view of the animals about to be eaten. This is very clever and makes a rhyme already enjoyable to read even more amusing. There is a video of this book available on YouTube that allows you to see how the book can be read. (The links are below).

Thirdly, Taback believes in providing a enjoyable experience for adults too. He knows that often, we are the ones reading the books to our children. Therefore, within his illustrations he adds subtle humor and provides lots of additional things to look at. Many of these elements have been added through collage. My kids and I have always enjoyed illustrators that incorporate collage into their books. Allowing kids to cut up old magazine and newspapers is always fun. I ran across the idea of making place mats that I thought would be fun.

My son, who is 2 years old, loved the books City Animals and Safari Animals. The cool thing about these two books is that each page folds out three times. Before each fold there is a clue to help the reader figure out which animal will be revealed once the page is completely open. After a few reads, my son was attempting to read the books himself. While I was watching him unfold the book I thought of a lesson I taught when I was in college. We constructed mini-books using only one piece of paper. Kids could illustrate a book about anything they desire or make a City Animals II or Safari Animals II.

Well, I did it. I completed this post before Taback's birthday. I hope you liked the article, but please don't eat too much McDonald's! Email this article or the web address to this blog to others that you think might enjoy it. I am hoping that some day there will be enough of us celebrating that we can share our experiences.


2. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly - YouTube, Shorter Version
3. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat - Youtube
4. This is the House that Jack Built - YouTube
5. Simms Taback Dies at 79 - School Library Journal

1 comment:

  1. Another great post, Eric! I love Taback's bright books. I've featured that beautiful illustrator Ashley Bryan in my latest post, at


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