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Thursday, March 19, 2015

My Grandfather's Coat, retold by Jim Aylesworth and illustrated by Barbara McClintock. Scholastic, 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"So what did my
grandfather do?

He went right to
work, and he snipped
and he clipped, and he
stitched, and he sewed,
and out of the still-good
cloth of his handsome
coat, he made ...
... a smart jacket!"

My own kids and my students at school loved to listen to Phoebe Gilman's Something From Nothing (Scholastic, 1993). The fact that it is still in print 22 years later is testament to their fine taste in storytelling. Lucky are the children today who can add Jim Aylesworth's My Grandfather's Coat to their shelf of similar folktales. Based on a Yiddish folksong, and celebrating those immigrants who crossed a cruel and vast ocean to make their way to North American shores, it is a book that is sure to stand the test of time.

The first person voice of a grandchild tells the story of one man ... a young man looking for a better life. With hard work, he learned a new trade, found his own true love, and married her. To celebrate (and look handsome and debonair on his wedding day), he made himself a fine blue coat. He wore it until it fell apart. Then he fashioned from its remnants a very fine-looking jacket. He did the same with it ... and so on!

The repetitive structure of the book is welcome and entertaining for a young listening audience. It has warmth and honors a strong work ethic, an ability to create something new from something old and much loved, and a story that bears repeating.

" ... he made a toy for you and your kittens!
You and the kittens loved the toy,
and you played with it,
and you played with it.

And little bit by little bit,
you tore it, you frayed it,
until at last ... you wore it out!

"It's okay," said my grandfather.
"Nothing has been wasted."

And up the stairs to bed
my grandfather carried you."

Barbara McClintock, as she has skillfully done on numerous occasions, here creates scenes in  pen, ink, and watercolor that add a gentle feel of 'rightness' to Mr. Aylesworth's text. Her warm, touching artwork allows us to see the quiet drama of this grandfather's life played out on carefully designed pages. Time passes, with all of its many changes, and we are witness to history and a family's lasting love.

Two stories, one in text and one in illustration, create a perfect whole. A note from both author and artist add context.                                                                         

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