Simms Taback (1932–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1932, in New York, NY; Education: Cooper Union, B.F.A., 1953.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Viking, Penguin Putnam, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
Illustrator. CBS Records, New York, NY, graphic designer, 1956–57; New York Times, New York, NY, designer, 1957–58; William Douglas McAdams, New York, NY, art director, 1958–60; freelance illustrator, 1960–63, 1970–; Ruffins/Taback Design Studio, New York, NY, partner, 1963–70. Teacher of illustration and design at Syracuse University and School of Visual Arts. Member of board, Graphic Artists Guild, for twenty years. Military service: U.S. Army, private first class, 1953–55.
Illustrators Guild (president, 1975–77), New York Graphics Artists Guild (president, 1978–83), Society of Illustrators, Art Directors Club.
Best Illustrated Books designation, New York Times, 1965, for Please Share That Peanut! A Preposterous Pageant in Fourteen Acts; Children's Book of the Year selection, American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1970, for There's Motion Everywhere, 1979, for Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, and 1980, for Laughing Together; Notable Book designation, American Library Association (ALA), 1998, and Caldecott Honor Book, ALA, 1998, both for There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly; Caldecott Medal, 2000, for newly illustrated edition of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat.
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, Random House (New York, NY), 1978, published with new illustrations, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.
(Adaptor) There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
This Is the House That Jack Built, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Simms Taback's Big Book of Words, Chronicle Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Kibitzers and Fools: Tales My Zayda Told Me, Viking (New York, NY), 2005.
Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky and Other Frabjous Nonsense, Harlan Quist, 1964.
Sesyle Joslin, Please Share That Peanut! A Preposterous Pageant in Fourteen Acts, Harcourt (Boston, MA), 1965.
Ann McGovern, Too Much Noise, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1967.
John Travers Moore, There's Motion Everywhere, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1970.
(With Reynold Ruffins) Harry Hartwick, The Amazing Maze, Dutton (New York, NY), 1970.
Janet Barkas, Meatless Cooking, Celebrity Style, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1975.
Barbara K. Walker, compiler, Laughing Together: Giggles and Grins from around the World, Four Winds Press (New York, NY), 1977, published as Laughing Together: Giggles and Grins from around the Globe, Free Spirit, 1982.
Harriet Ziefert, Where Is My House?, Grosset, 1982.
Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg, Fishy Riddles, Dial (New York, NY), 1983.
Harriet Ziefert, Where Is My Dinner?, Grosset, 1984.
Harriet Ziefert, Where Is My Friend?, Grosset, 1984.
Harriet Ziefert, On Our Way, four volumes (includes On Our Way To the Forest, On Our Way to the Water, On Our Way to the Zoo, and On Our Way to the Barn), Harper (New York, NY), 1985.
Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg, Buggy Riddles, Dial (New York, NY), 1985.
Harriet Ziefert, Jason's Bus Ride, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.
Science Activity Book, Galison, 1987.
Harriet Ziefert, Zoo Parade, Harper (New York, NY), 1990.
Harriet Ziefert, Noisy Barn!, Harper (New York, NY), 1990.
Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg, Snakey Riddles, Dial (New York, NY), 1990.
Michele Urvater, The Monday to Friday Cookbook, Workman (New York, NY), 1991.
Gail MacColl, The Book of Cards for Kids, Workman (New York, NY), 1992.
Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg, Spacey Riddles, Dial (New York, NY), 1992.
B.G. Hennessy, Road Builders, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
Harriet Ziefert, Where Is My Baby?, Harper (New York, NY), 1994.
Nancy Antle, Sam's Wild West Show, Dial (New York, NY), 1995.
Michele Urvater, Monday to Friday Pasta, Workman (New York, NY), 1995.
Mary Calhoun, Euphonia and the Flood, Parents Magazine Press, 1996.
Harriet Ziefert, Who Said Moo?, Harper (New York, NY), 1996.
Harriet Ziefert, Two Little Witches: A Halloween Counting Story, Candlewick Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Harriet Ziefert, reteller, When I First Came to This Land, Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.
Harriet Ziefert, Noisy Forest!, Chronicle Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Harriet Ziefert, Beach Party!, Chronicle Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Taback's works are included in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota.
Taback's books adapted for video include There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, Weston Woods, 2002; Joseph Had a Little Overcoat was adapted for audiocassette, with musical accompaniment, Live Oak Media, 2001.
A prolific and highly lauded illustrator of books for young children, Simms Taback is best known for his Caldecott Medal-winning picture book Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, as well as for his many collaborations with popular children's author Harriet Ziefert. Experienced in many media, Taback uses pen and ink and watercolor for most of his illustrations. In addition to works by Ziefert, he has created artwork for authors such as Barbara Walker, Mary Calhoun, Katy Hall, Lisa Eisenberg, and B.G. Hennessy, and has also illustrated his original adaptations of traditional rhymes and stories. Praising Taback's contribution to Hennessy's picture book Road Builders, Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman maintained that "kids will pore over the detailed, brightly colored pen-and-ink drawings … [that] show the precision and the power of these marvelous machines." Reviewing the same work, a Publishers Weekly reviewer commended Taback's use of "bold, attention-grabbing colors" in his "oversized, up-close-and-personal illustrations."
Born in a working-class neighborhood in the Bronx, New York, in 1932, Taback originally planned to follow in the footsteps of his father, a painting contractor who had immigrated from Eastern Europe in the wake of anti-Jewish sentiment. However, his creative instincts won out, and he attended the Cooper Union, where he studied under Ray Baxter Dowden and Sid Delevanty before receiving his bachelor of fine arts degree in 1953. Beginning his career as a graphic artist with CBS Records, Taback worked as a designer for the New York Times as well as for other Manhattan-based businesses before opening his own design studio in 1963. His first illustration project, an adaptation of the nonsense verses of Lewis Carroll titled Jabberwocky and Other Frabjous Nonsense, was published in 1964.
Taback's second illustration project, Sesyle Joslin's Please Share That Peanut! A Preposterous Pageant in Fourteen Acts, was named one of the New York Times' best illustrated books of 1965. Paired with several other authors to produce a variety of picture books—and, in one instance, a cookbook—Taback linked up with author Ziefert on the beginning reader Where Is My House?, the first of many Ziefert texts featuring illustrations by Taback. In On Our Way to the Forest, part of a series of four beginning readers, Taback includes stickers of his animal characters and encourages readers to make their own pictures. Two Little Witches: A Halloween Counting Story finds a growing group of trick-or-treaters winding up at a house so scary that most turn and run for home … while one runs to fetch her broomstick. Praising Taback's introduction of humorous illustrated embellishments to Zeifert's story, Booklist contributor Susan Dove Lempke noted that "he keeps the design simple and clear to make the counting easy." In School Library Journal, Claudia Cooper commented that the illustrator's "large, primitive, watercolor-and-ink cartoons are especially delightful, both spooky … and reassuringly familiar."
Riddle books are popular with children new to reading on their own, and Taback has illustrated several such works for authors Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg. Snakey Riddles offers scads of jokes and other wordplay featuring the slithery, scaly creatures, as well as Taback's "cleverly drawn, lively cartoon illustrations," which School Library Journal contributor Sharon McElmeel considered "the best thing about the book." Fishy Riddles, Buggy Riddles, and Spacey Riddles continue the fun, bringing "groans of enjoyment to primary-grade children and even bigger groans from adults who share them," according to the critic.
In addition to illustrating the works of others, Taback has adapted traditional tales as picture-book texts, gracing each with his whimsical drawings. First published in 1978 and cited as a notable children's book by the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat earned its creator the prestigious Caldecott Medal when it was reissued with new illustrations in 1999. In its simple text based on a Yiddish folk song, the book tells the story of a Polish tailor who salvages the increasingly worn fabric left from a cherished plaid overcoat into, a jacket, and then as each garment wears out in succession, a vest, scarf, tie, handkerchief, and ultimately a button. Designed as an interactive, die-cut book in which readers can watch the amount of plaid fabric gradually whittle away in size, Taback's tale ends with the tailor's decision to weave the remaining threads of his fabric into a story: the story the reader is now reading. "With its effective repetition and an abundance of visual humor, this is tailor-made for reading aloud," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, while in Horn Book Martha V. Parravano deemed the tale "clever, visually engrossing, [and] poignant."
As Parravano noted, to create Joseph Had a Little Overcoat Taback draws on his Eastern European cultural heritage to "create a veritable pageant of pre-[World War II] … Jewish-Polish life," adding "broad com-
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edy" as well as a wealth of historical references; Indeed, the book "is a story set in a world I heard so much about as a child, filled with memories of my family and of a thriving culture that no longer exists," the author/illustrator recalled in an essay for the Children's Book Council Web site. "It embodies the values and struggles of life in the shtetl, the small villages where Jews lived in Eastern Europe. These were not big-city Jews, but families of farmers and tradesmen of mixed economic class." In creating his illustrations, Taback explained, "I decided to take some artistic license and mix it up with more traditional Polish and Ukrainian designs, This made it more like the shtetl of my imagination." Noting that the book depicts a way of life that has now disappeared, the author added: "What I find special about making picture books is that this old world can be reimagined and presented to children in an appealing way" so that they can "learn … something special about the world as it once was."
Taback opens other windows onto the past with the books There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and This Is the House That Jack Built, both based on folk tales. Teaching the valuable moral "never swallow a horse," the award-winning There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly entertains with a wealth of "details and humorous asides, from the names of different types of birds, to a recipe for spider soup," according to School Library Journal contributor Martha Topol. Taback's illustrations prove equally entertaining; Topol maintained that the old lady of the title, whose incredible appetite gets her into all sorts of trouble, "looks wacky enough to go so far as to swallow a horse" in this "eye-catching, energy-filled" work. Praising the book's collage-like format—Taback patchworks everything from the pages of nature guides to clips from the Wall Street Journal in his humorous drawings—a Publishers Weekly contributor maintained that "children of all ages will joyfully swallow this book whole." Gahan Wilson enthusiastic praise for the book in his New York Times Book Review assessment, lauding the "widely varied gallery of flies" that appears on the book's back cover and applauding the concept for punching a hole through the page that allows the reader to see inside the gluttonous old lady, "a neat little gross-out in itself…. [that] converts the book into a marvelous toy and gives [readers] many wonderful chances to get inventive."
This Is the House That Jack Built follows a similar plan, featuring what a Kirkus Reviews writer called "deeply colorful, intricately detailed and witty mixed-media illustrations" of each of the creatures that call Jack's house "home." Dubbing Taback's adaptation "downright hilarious," Barbara Buckley added in School Library Journal that the illustrator's use of strong, saturated colors, imaginative endpapers, and a humorous text make the work "a natural for storyhour." "Taback puts a new house on the market and hits the nail on the head with this boisterous, rollicking version," concluded Julie Cummins in Booklist.
With Kibitzers and Fools: Tales My Zayda Told Me Taback immerses young readers in Yiddish wit and wisdom, using Yiddish expressions—a glossary is included—and cadence in this collection of stories told by his zayda (grandfather) to a boy named Yankel. Praising the stories as "short but very wise," a Kirkus Reviews writer added that the tales are drawn from "a world of poverty imbued with spiritual richness and a strong dose of practicality." The "warmhearted silliness" of these thirteen tales, "combined with Taback's characteristically irrepressible drawing style easily transcends the boundaries of time and ethnicities," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, while in Booklist Hazel Rochman called Kibitzers and Fools an "uproarious book [that] celebrates the shtetl scene" in "bright, folk-art style."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, February 1, 1992, p. 1042; May 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Road Builders, p. 1603; July, 1995, p. 1885; September 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Two Little Witches: A Halloween Counting Story, p. 138; January 1, 2000, Tim Arnold, review of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, p. 936; March 1, 2002, Nancy McCray, review of Joseph Had a Little
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Overcoat, p. 1151; October 1, 2002, Julie Cummins, review of This Is the House That Jack Built, p. 323; October 15, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of Kibitzers and Fools: Tales My Zayda Told Me, p. 60.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 2000, review of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, p. 257.
Horn Book, January, 2000, Martha V. Parravano, review of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, p. 68; July, 2000, Reynold Ruffins, "Across the Drawing Board from Simms Taback," p. 409; November-December, 2002, Martha V. Parravano, review of This Is the House That Jack Built, p. 769; September-October, 2005, Susan P. Bloom, review of Kibitzers and Fools, p. 595.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of This Is the House That Jack Built, p. 1045; August 15, 2005, review of Kibitzers and Fools, p. 923.
New York Times Book Review, November 16, 1997, Gahan Wilson, review of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, p. 56.
Publishers Weekly, June 21, 1993, p. 103; June 20, 1994, review of Road Builders, p. 104; September 30, 1996, p. 85; August 18, 1997, review of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, p. 91; May 4, 1998, p. 212; November 1, 1999, review of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, p. 82; July 22, 2002, review of This Is the House That Jack Built, p. 176; August 8, 2005, review of Kibitzers and Fools, p. 233.
School Library Journal, December, 1987, p. 96; May, 1988, p. 90; April, 1990, Sharon McElmeel, review of Snakey Riddles, p. 108; June, 1992, Sharon McElmeel, review of Spacey Riddles, p. 108; September, 1994, p. 208; August, 1995, p. 114; December, 1996, Claudia Cooper, review of Two Little Witches, p. 110; December, 1997, Martha Topol, review of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, p. 101; January, 2000, Linda Ludke, review of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, p. 112; September, 2002, Barbara Buckley, review of This Is the House That Jack Built, p. 218; December, 2004, Wanda Meyers-Hines, review of Simms Taback's Big Book of Words, p. 122; October, 2005, Susan Scheps, review of Kibitzers and Fools, p. 130.
Children's Book Council Web site, http://www.cbcbooks.org/cbcmagazine/ (May 18, 2006), "Simms Taback."