Monday, June 13, 2011

Two of a Kind

Recently we read two books which told the same story. But differently. It was a great way to let my almost six year old know that the same story can be made more or less interesting, based on how you narrate/ read / dress it up.

The two books were -
Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman and
Simms Taback's Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

They are based on a Jewish song/ tale about a resourceful and thrifty ( possibly poor) tailor, Joseph, who 'resurrects' his old coat into a jacket, a vest...... and finally a button. Even this gets lost and what Joseph does is turn the expericne into a song for all to enjoy. Thus creating something from nothing.

The story has been adapted in distinct but equally engaging ways by the author/ illustrators.

Simm’s version is lively, colourful, collage like and quirky. The main character remains a tailor by name Joseph. The art is rather patch-work like in style- photos mixed with paintings, funny one liners ( more for the adult reader) and astonished animals observing Joseph. The book won the Caldecott Medal.

Gilman’s book is historical looking, wood framed, warmly shaded in rusts and browns, full of detail, recreating an era long gone. It captures a lot of what possibly was Eastern European life in a Jewish community and then there is an endearing parallel story in pictures- a mice family which lives beneath the floor, and benefits from the rags that get discarded each time the cloth transforms. The protagonist here is a little boy who treasures his Grandpa’s gift, a blue blanket. The Grandpa is a resourceful tailor who 'fixes it' each time for him.

Across both versions, the message remains the same - one of recycling, yes, but also that of letting a cherished possession go when it is time.

There is repetition and rhythm in the stories- children will find that absorbing, making it easy for them to relate to the tale.

While we are on similar themes, different executions, the other pair of books we encountered are:
A Squash and a Squeeze by Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler and
It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale by Margot Zemach
Ages 4-8

A wise man/ rabbi churns out surprising advice to a man/ woman complaining of lack of space in his/ her home. The wise man asks for more animals to be added into the home, to ridiculous effect. When it really gets crowded he suggests for all of them to be removed one by one. Thus the relative feeling of spaciousness makes for joy and the complaints cease.

While the Caldecott honour went to the Zemach version, filled as it is with energetic glory, it is the Julia version, which came later, which is a favourite in our household. With its lilting rhythm and characteristic and hilarious illustrations by Sheffler, it is a winner, like most books by the duo.


sandhya said...

Isn't that just what folktales are all about- the telling and retelling- often differently.

The books sound lovely. Would love to have a look at them sometime.

Choxbox said...


And hey you donated the first book (Something from Nothing) to the library right?! It is a lovely book - thanks a ton!

Artnavy said...

Absolutely so- I recall when Anush was younger and found different versions of the Goldilocks story and my very diff version she thought only mine was correct!

yes gave that one I think. am still awaiting your Julia D- Axel S cluster

Nithya said...



Anonymous said...

Sweeet!!! :)

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