Jim Aylesworth’s My Grandfather’s Coat is a sweet retelling of a traditional Yiddish folktale. In this version, a young man comes to America and works as a tailor. For his wedding day, he makes himself a beautiful overcoat. Over the years the coat becomes worn out, but he doesn’t ever throw it away. Instead he finds new uses for it until there is only enough thread left for a mouse to use to make a nest. It’s a great story about resourcefulness and recycling. We’ve read and enjoyed Simms Taback’s version of this story, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (a Caldecott winner). I liked this new version even more mostly because of Barbara McClintocks’s illustrations. Jim Aylesworth tells the story from the perspective of the granddaughter of the man. At the end of the book you realize she is telling it to her own baby. The delicate yet detailed illustrations tell the story of the family while the text tells the story of the coat. We see the great-grandfather arrive in America, meet his bride, marry, work hard, have a child and then that child grow up.
The second book that was a recent hit at our house was also illustrated by Barbara McClintock. Where’s Mommy? by Beverly Donofrio tells the story of Maria (a human girl) and Mouse Mouse (a mouse girl) who are trying to go to bed but can’t find their mothers. Maria and Mouse Mouse live in the same house and are friends but think that their friendship is a secret from the rest of the family. As they hunt for their mothers the illustrations show their parallel lives. The charm is definitely in the detailed illustrations, especially of the Mouse world. The sort-of surprise ending is also charming. Apparently, this is a companion to an earlier, unknown to us book, Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary by the same author-illustrator pair.
And as a side note, if you are a biology major, Barbara McClintock,the illustrator, is not the same as Barbara McClintock the Nobel prize-winning corn cytogeneticist. Everytime I see the name I do a double take and part of me thinks “Wow! That is one talented lady!” Although Barbara McClintock the illustrator is pretty darn talented without the cytogenetics. Take a peek at her website if you aren’t familiar with her work.