Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

joseph had a little overcoat book cover

Written by: Simms Taback


Illustrated by: Simms Taback


Age Range: 3 and up


Publisher: The Penguin Group


ISBN: 0-670-87855-3


Awards: Caldecott Medal


“Joseph Had a Little Overcoat” is about a creative protagonist named Joseph who wears a worn out overcoat. When the overcoat gets worn out, he turns it into a jacket. When the jacket gets worn out, Joseph turns it into a vest. Then a scarf, necktie, handkerchief, and finally a button.

One day, Joseph loses the button and has nothing at all. So, he writes a story about it. After all, you can always make something out of nothing.


The cutouts in the book kept me wondering what Joseph would create next. The story continued to show a grateful Joseph being able to make the most of each situation. It’s a beautiful message for kids to witness. 

The book is based on a yiddish folk song called, you guessed it, “I Had a Little Overcoat.” The lyrics and musical score is on the last page of the book. I really loved that the author included the backstory to what inspired him to write the book. The author also wrote a note to the readers at the end, reminding them that they can always make something out of nothing. The book helps the reader understand to be appreciative of what they have.

The attention to detail is great. On the page where “he had nothing” there was a piece of art hanging on the wall that said “What one has, one doesn’t want, and what one wants, one doesn’t have.” 

The illustrations are very colorful and command your attention. They told a lot of the story in and of themselves.

You know, this happens sometimes. I really don’t have anything negative to say about the book. There’s no glaring thing that jumped out at me with the story or the illustrations. The pacing is great. It sparks curiosity from page to page, wondering what Joseph will turn his overcoat into next. Kids and adults alike will enjoy the story.

Re-read Value

Here’s the metric I use: When you’re a parent and your child asks to read this book 3 or more days in a row, how likely are you to want to jump headfirst through a wall?

The cutouts and illustrations are excellent, but what also makes this story great is its simplicity. I don’t mind reading this book over and over again because the pacing of the story is fast, which increases its re-read value to me.

Final Thoughts

My kids and I really like the book. The book holds the attention of my kids and keeps them inquiring about what Joseph will turn his overcoat into next. I really love it when my kids get curious about what will happen on the next page. That quality is a trademark of a good book. Give it a read and let me know what you think! Additionally, I have many children’s book reviews and some of my own projects for you to enjoy. Thanks for stopping by!