My Grand­fa­ther’s Coat

Jim Aylesworth; Bar­bara McClin­tock, illus.
  • Review
By – March 30, 2015

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. 

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