Each week, we select the most interesting Jewish obituary. This week, it’s that of Simms Taback. Like Andy Warhol, he came out of the field of commercial illustration, but he achieved full artistic realization in the realm of children’s books, where he adapted the Yiddish tales of his childhood into such works as the Caldecott-winning Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall penned an appreciation of Taback a year ago (when he was already suffering from pancreatic cancer). “Even the non-Jewish books give off Jewish vibes,” she wrote.
A note at the end of This Is The House That Jack Built suggests that the famous rhyme was probably derived from “an ancient Hebrew chant”—Taback is referring to Chad Gadya. And in his voice, the nursery rhyme does indeed feel like a Passover melody. In I Miss You Every Day, based on Woody Guthrie’s “Mail Myself to You” (Guthrie’s estate wouldn’t give Taback permission to futz with the lyrics, so he wrote his own), Taback finds the sweetly minor-key, melancholy tone of a klezmer violin. A little girl misses an unnamed someone and mails herself across the country to this person. Could that mix of joy and mystery and sorrow feel any more Jewish?
Ingall notes that Taback also helped found and was the first president of the Illustrators Guild, which united freelancers so that they could achieve workers’ rights. Could that feel any more Jewish?
Simms Taback, Author of Wry Children’s Books, Dies at 89 [NYT]
Related: Illustrious [Tablet Magazine]