With two joyful and remarkably illustrated adaptations of the Yiddish folksong “I Had a Little Overcoat” by Gilman and Taback still in print, is there room and reason for one more picture book version of this story? Yes! Aylesworth’s warm retelling for younger children adds a more graspable finish to the story of the tailor who recycles his beloved but worn coat into new favorite articles with ever-smaller pieces of cloth. He moves the action to America from Eastern Europe, where the tailor is the narrator’s grandfather, a young immigrant who fashions a blue coat for his own wedding. As the tailor snips and clips and stitches and sews through time, McClintock fills in details from his changing family life in three-to-a-page spots and full watercolor-and-ink pages that show the grandfather’s work and play activities. Eventually, the coat becomes a blue tie the grandfather wears to the narrator’s mother’s wedding. And when the tie wears out, he makes a toy from it for the narrator’s child, “you.” (The shift to the last generation goes by subtly, in pictures only, but observant readers will notice a change in the new mother’s hair color.) Child and kitten play with the toy until it is frayed. And then, as if the mouse mother from the family in the borders of Gilman’s picture book enters Aylesworth’s, the story becomes hers. The mouse mother makes a nest from the frayed fabric until nothing is left of nest, toy, tie, vest, jacket or coat but for the story, which is shown as a picture book being read to the great-grandchild. There’s less humor without the presence of a critical character urging the tailor again and again at each juncture to throw out the worn item, but children ages 4 – 8 will find plenty in the pictures to connect with. Rhythmic language and repetition carry Aylesworth’s gentle story through to a full, satisfying end.
Sharon Elswit, author of The Jewish Story Finder, now resides in San Francisco, where she has been helping students visiting 826 Valencia locations around the city to write stories and poems and getting adults up and retelling Jewish folktales to share with their own spin.