two old folk songs beautifully made new

my grandfather's coat cover imageMy Grandfather’s Coat, retold by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
published in 2014 by Scholastic Press

An old Yiddish folk song tells the tale of a little overcoat grown old. Tra la la — what to do? Make that overcoat into something new! 

Jim Aylesworth has now recast that song into a truly charming immigrant story. I’m quite smitten with it.

Our narrator tells of his grandfather sailing into Ellis Island with “little more than nothing at all” who becomes a tailor, falls happily in love, and sews himself a handsome, long, wedding coat.  As the years go by, full of hard work and a growing family, the coat frays. So, snipping and clipping and stiching away, he turns it into a shorter jacket, then a vest, then a tie to wear for his daughter’s wedding.

my grandfather's coat interior jim aylesworth and barbara mcclintock

Time flies. Cloth frays. Where will it all end? The unfolding story uses pleasantly repetitive bits that will lure children into chanting along. Very upbeat.

What I really fell in love with are McClintock’s charming illustrations tracing the passing years. The handsome young man’s hairline slowly recedes and tinges with gray. Fashions change immensely and sewing machines modernize as new generations come into the picture.

my grandfather's coat illustration barbara mcclintock

Besides that, the re-purposing of tired belongings which our parents and grandparents were so good at, is affirmed as well. Author and illustrator have written sweetly-personal notes about their connections to this work, a lovely story to read again and again with children ages 3 and up.

the fox went out on a chilly night cover imageThe Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, illustrated by Peter Spier
Originally published in 1961; Revised Edition published in 2014 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Foxes get rather a bum rap in a lot of children’s books. They steal those featherbrained chickens, of course. And ducks. And eat them. We are supposed to be on the side of the poultry and shake our fists at the sly old fox.

But not in this story.

The text of this book, which won a Caldecott Honor when it was first published in 1961, is the lyrics to an old folk song. Mr. Fox raids old John Giggle-Gaggle’s farm snatching a grey goose and a fine duck and carrying them off with “their legs all dangling down-o, down-o down-o!”

the fox went out on a chilly night illustration2 peter spier

Here’s where we usually glare at the fox, but you see — that fox has a family to feed. He’s got two heavy birds weighing him down as he flees Farmer John, who’s chasing after with his rifle. Poor fellow! Why should his darling fox kits go hungry?

And they don’t. They have a tasty dinner, and in a deliciously-shocking ending, “the little ones chewed on the bones-o, bones-o, bones-o!” 

Stiff stuff! 

Peter Spier’s artwork is in a class all by itself. I love every book he’s drawn. These gorgeous watercolors of a New England countryside aflame in autumn glory, the hills silvering beneath a full moon, and a cozy fox home with its own wall-sized New England hearth and heaps of fox kits tumbling about — well, it just doesn’t get any better.

the fox went out on a chilly night illustration peter spier

Well, actually it has gotten better, because when Spier originally created this book, it was too expensive for all the illustrations to be colored. Half were his still-glorious black and white drawings. Now, more than 50 years later, he has gone back to these pictures and finished painting them. Every page in

Peter Spier

Peter Spier

splendid color.

And almost my favorite part of this book is Spier’s sweet, personal recollection of how the book originated, and the process of adding color in last year at the age of 86. His lengthy Author’s Note is truly lovely.

Music is included. Don’t miss this classic book, reborn. Enjoy it with wide-eyed children ages 3 and up. Note that the poor images in my blog do not nearly do this work justice.