Children’s author Simms Taback dies at 79


llustrator and author Simms Taback, whose more than 40 colorful and quirky children’s books gained him wide appeal and numerous awards, died Dec. 25 at 79.

Taback “was one of a new breed of commercial illustrators who in the 1960s rejected realistic trends in favor of expressionistic and comic visual storytelling,” the New York Times said.

“Mr. Taback has the rare talent of being able to dazzle readers both young and old with bold, vivid colors that appear to jump right off the page,” a children’s educational website wrote.

“With his death, the children’s-book world has lost one of its most innovative and entertaining luminaries, someone who worked hard to create books that were fun for children to read,” said journalist Karen MacPherson. “Taback’s folk-art style, vivid colors and quirky humor are instantly recognizable in his books.” MacPherson’s reference to Taback’s "folk-art" style made no mention of its Jewish flavoring and overtone, but Taback and others often noted it.

Taback, a native Yiddish speaker, won a Caldecott award in 2000 for his adaptation of the Yiddish folk tale, "Joseph Had a LIttle Overcoat,” and a Sydney Taylor honors book award in 2006 from the Association of Jewish Libraries for "Kibitzers and Fools." His awards speech for the Caldecott is richly flavored with Yiddish expressions and sly Jewish humor.

“Overcoat” may have been based on a fanciful folktale with a heartwarming message, but Taback did serious research before writing it, the Times wrote: “Taback spent time at the Jewish Museum to view period clothing and other artifacts and learned everything he could about shtetls in prewar Poland and Russia.”

Taback once cited influential book author Ezra Jack Keats, who also called on his Jewish roots in his work, as a mentor (Hat tip to Penny Schwartz for this tidbit).

Taback grew up in the Bronx and graduated from The Cooper Union. He worked in the commercial art field at CBS Records, and the New York Times, among others. Among his commercial projects was the original McDonalds’ “Happy Meal” box.

The exhibition, “Simms Taback: Delighting the Child in Us All,” opened at the Museum of Ventura County three weeks before his death. The museum described him as “the man who recognized the child in us all.”

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