World of Children’s Lit Loses a Star

Caldecott Winner Simms Taback Dies at 79

By SLJ Staff December 27, 2011

Simms Taback, author, graphic artist, illustrator, and winner of the Caldecott Medal for Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (Viking, 2000), died peacefully in his home December 25 surrounded by his family and friends. He was 79.

simmstaback(Original Import)
Image found with original SLJ Tribute article.

Taback (left) died from pancreatic cancer, which he had been fighting for over a year, but he managed to fulfill his dream of traveling to Israel and London before his death.

Taback wrote or illustrated more than 40 children’s books, winning many awards, including the Caldecott Medal for his adaptation of a Yiddish folk song and a Caldecott honor for There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (Viking, 1997), which was designated as a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book and the Children’s Book of the Year selection from the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). He also received several notable book designations from the American Library Association, Parents’ Choice Gold awards, and the Sidney Taylor Award.

He designed the first McDonalds Happy Meal box in 1977.

Born in New York City in 1932, Taback grew up in the Bronx and graduated from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art in 1953. After serving in the U.S. Army, he worked as an art director at CBS Records and the New York Times, and later as an advertising art director at William Douglas McAdams.

Taback formed a successful design studio in 1963 in partnership with Push Pin Studios’s cofounder Reynold Ruffins. He worked as an illustrator, writer, art director and graphic designer, and taught at the New York City’s School of Visual Arts and Syracuse University.

joseph.2(Original Import)
Image found with original SLJ Tribute article.

Taback also was a founding president of the Illustrators Guild, which later merged and became the New York Graphic Artists Guild, where he was a founding member and president. He was an advocate for artists’ rights with his service as author, editor, and production supervisor for the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines.

A lifetime member of the Society of Illustrators, Taback had three children and five grandchildren. He and his wife Gail in 2006 moved from their home in New York’s Catskill mountains to their home town of Ventura, CA.

When Taback wasn’t working on children’s books, he would often enjoy long walks along the beaches of Ventura with his dog Buddy, explore new and interesting variations of all things chocolate, and stay current with most every new motion picture with Gail.

“Simms may have wished that those who loved him would not feel such grief, but the world truly seems less bright without his presence,” says his website. “One does not meet too many quite like Simms, and if his times helped defined him, it may be that such as he will not come again. Along with the astonishing creative gifts he shared with us, he carried a contagious warmth, humor, genuine humility and kindness, and a deep abiding sense of service to others.”

A retrospective of Taback’s work is currently on display at the Museum of Ventura County until February 12, 2012, and many of his old friends from the publishing world went to see the show. At the show’s December opening, Taback’s grandson Oliver, 11, read a letter that he wrote to his grandfather, and another grandson, Nelson, knitted him a scarf.

SLJ Tribute article can be found here.

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