Joseph Had a Little Overcoat
by Simms Taback

Joseph had a little overcoat that he dearly loved and wore every day. Eventually it got old and worn, but rather than throw it out, Joseph made it into a jacket, which he wore as often as possible. When that wore out, rather than throw it away, he made a vest, then a scarf, then a tie, then a handkerchief, and then a button. Then, when he lost the button, he made a book about it!

The fun beat, the jolly Joseph, the positive message... this book is a treat! Taback's exciting illustrations are a mixture of gouache, watercolor, and little scraps of  fabric.

 What we like best about this book is that Taback has managed to write a feel good story about something as "not fun" as reusing old stuff. Now that's a sign of a real talent! Use this book on Earth Day or in lessons on the 3 Rs of caring for the earth (renew, recycle, reuse). With each transformation, students will clearly see how much joy Joseph got out of his 'new' items each time, as opposed to throwing the items away and buying new ones.

This book won a number of children's book awards, most notably the Caldecott Medal!!!

Reading Levels for Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

Interest Level: K-Gr. 2            DRA Level: 16                   Lexile Measure: BR
Grade Equivalent: 1.9           Guided Reading: I

See Inside this book

Below are sample pages from inside Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. The illustrations below should give you an idea of the illustration style, but you really need to see it in person to see how the different printed fabrics and photographs are worked into the illustration.  Brilliant!

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Extension Activity for this book

Many children know the phrase 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle', but no one really talks about that middle one.  When things wear out, we generally throw them out (or donate them).  But this book reminds us that things that are worn out (or things that we are merely tired of) can be re-purposed into something new and special.

After reading this book to your class, talk about how much Joseph got out of that original overcoat, and how much happiness reusing it brought him. Ask the students if they have ever re-purposed something, or share a time when you re-purposed something. (Most teachers use old food containers to hold different things in their classroom, so you might even be able to show them firsthand.)

Then, for fun and to show how far you can take the reuse your students a selection of products on the website of TerraCycle -- a company that makes products out of used packaging, and their items are quite trendy. Three sample items are shown below -- a used packaging backpack, a keychain picture frame, and a used packaging purse.

This is a great book, but if it's not exactly the book you are looking for, you can see: