about simmsAbout_Simms_Taback_-_Biography.htmlAbout_Simms_Taback_-_Biography.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0
By Alicia Doyle · Photographs by Rob Varela / Star Staff
Ventura County Star
Speaking the Language of Children
Award -winning children’s author/illustrator Simms Taback’s newest book is called “I Miss You Every Day.” The book is an exploration from a child’s point of view to miss someone you love.
◄  last pageAbout_Simms_Taback_-_Tablet_Magazine.htmlshapeimage_11_link_0
next page ►About_Simms_Taback_-_Dedication.htmlshapeimage_12_link_0
Growing up in the Bronx, Simms Taback wanted to pursue a degree in engineering after graduating from Music and Art High School. But his goals soon changed when his creative talents took over.

Today, the Ventura County resident and award-winning children's author and illustrator has a new book, "I Miss You Every Day," which made the New York Times' best-seller list several weeks in a row. Inspired by the Woody Guthrie song "I'm Gonna Mail Myself To You," the book "is an exploration from a child's point of view to miss someone you love," said Taback, 75, of Ventura.

He is famous for illustrations for many children's books, including the Caldecott Medal-winning "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly" and "Joseph Had a Little Overcoat." With his latest book, "I tried to explore the emotional side of what it feels like to be lonely, what it feels like to miss someone," he said. "It became a story about something that's cute to something that's more emotional."

While writing the book, which generally targets 4- to 8-year-olds, Taback tried not to be too morbid or serious. "I kept it quite light," emphasized Taback, who has three grown children. "I think a child who wouldn't be in this situation would enjoy it, too. The best children's stories are really quite emotional, even if they seem simple. They're often deceptively simple but touch many chords."

Such is the reputation earned by Taback, known for his picture books, posters and Smithsonian calendars and his own line of greeting cards. Throughout his career, he was a graphic artist with CBS Records and a designer for the New York Times. He also was a teacher at the School of Visual Arts and Syracuse University and has illustrated for more than 35 children's books.

Although proficient in many media, his specialties are pen and ink and watercolor for his illustrations, for which he has won more than 100 art awards. His works are included in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, and he served for two years as president of the Illustrators Guild and five years as president of the New York Graphics Artists Guild. He is a member of the Society of Illustrators and has been named twice to the Best Illustrated Books list for the New York Times.

"When a simple story touches emotional strings, that's where the best children's picture books come from," he said. "The best ones look simple, but they are not simple to do."

When creating a picture book, Taback tries to get children involved in reading, "even if it's early level, 4 to 8 years old," he said. Especially when writing for very young children, "I have to write simply telling the story using the words and the pictures together."

Though he's not anti-technology, "I think TV and digital games are really interfering with kids' educations," Taback continued. "When they watch TV and see commercials every seven to 12 minutes, it interferes with their ability to concentrate."

His craft "is one of the ways I'm trying to have an impact on children that they should read," Taback said. "So when they get a little older, past picture-book age, they stick with it and stay interested in books." On a personal level, Taback loves how pictures and words are a unique way to tell a story. "That has always interested me," he said.

Copyright 2007 Ventura County Star

about simms

Through ingenuity and creativity, Simms Taback brings children’s books to life. Taback, a Ventura resident, is among the county artists and illustrators participating in the Picture This! The Magic of Children’s Books exhibit, which runs through July 5 at the Museum of Ventura County. Taback will discuss his storied career during a reception at 4 p.m. Saturday at the museum.

Readers of all ages are familiar with Taback’s cover illustration of the surprised-looking old woman in “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” “It’s an old folk poem,” Taback said. “It’s public domain so anybody can pick it up.”

The story has been published quite a few times. But Taback took it up a notch by demonstrating the expanding girth of the old lady with die cuts as she swallows increasingly larger, more bizarre things. “The die cuts were what made it different,” he said. He also added some of his own touches: “I extended the poem, added comments on the side that the animals say.”

lthough from the first page it’s a given the old lady will die from her excess, friendly looking animals provide rhyming philosophical insight on each page. “Gone to the by and by” and “I hope it’s a lie,” the dog says. “There’s a tear in my eye,” the cow adds. “You have a folk poem and you kind of want to make it your own,” Taback said.

The book won a Caldecott Honor for its clever illustrations. A later book, “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat,” won the Caldecott Medal in 2000. It also features die cuts, but instead of getting larger, they get smaller as Joseph’s overcoat wears out until all that is left is a button.

Taback laughed when he recalled being notified he had won the Caldecott. “I thought it was my friend Reynold teasing me so I hung up on him,” he said. The person called him back right away. “I had to jump on a plane and I was on the ‘Today’ show the next morning,” he said.

Yiddish folk tales are prevalent in his books. Growing up in Bronx, N.Y., he said, Yiddish was his first language, though his parents were secular nonobservant Jews. “I had a Jewish cultural background; I always loved Yiddish culture,” he said.

He showed an aptitude for drawing at an early age and went to the High School of Music and Art, where the curriculum included two hours of art a day in addition to academic courses. “But being a child of the Depression, I didn’t seriously consider art as a profession,” said Taback, who is 77.

About Simms Taback
Raised: Bronx, NY
Graduated: with a bachelor of fine arts degree from Cooper Union in 1953.
Wrote: and/or illustrated about 40 books for children including: “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat,” “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” “This is the House that Jack Built,” “Kibitzers and Fools,” “I Miss You Every Day” and “Simms Taback’s Big Book of Words.”
Won: Caldecott Medal, 2000, for “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat”; Caldecott Honor, 1998, for “There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly”; honors (twice) on The New York Times Best Illustrated Books list; Graphic Artists Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998; Augustus St. Gaudens Medal for professional achievement, Cooper Union, in 2001.
Married: to wife Gail; they have three children and five grandchildren.
Quote: “You have to think about the audience: the kids and the parents. The parents have to read it every night. They have to like it.”
Sidelight: Designed and illustrated the first McDonald’s Happy Meal box in 1977.
father wanted him to study engineering. “While I was waiting to get into City College in Manhattan, I took the test and got into Cooper Union,” he said. He majored in applied art and one of his teachers was George Salter, a freelance book jacket designer. “I saw his work, and I thought, ‘Oh wow, you can do that?’” Taback said.

After graduating and serving in the Army for two years, Taback worked in graphic design at Columbia Records and The New York Times and as an art director before starting a graphic design company in 1963 with colleague Reynold Ruffins.

Among his appropriately whimsical accomplishments as a graphic designer, Taback designed the first McDonald’s Happy Meal box. He also did some design work for KFC. Taback said the Happy Meal box turned out to be the thing people find most fascinating about his career. “I used to visit schools and the kids would be half asleep and, when I told them about that, they would go, ‘Wow!’”

During his seven years with Ruffins Taback, he did some children’s book illustrations. He and Ruffins started a greeting card company, which he later ran himself, called CardTricks. The die-cut cards won four Louie awards as the most outstanding greeting cards of the year. They also inspired the idea for the die cuts in his books. Taback eventually sold the company, decided to concentrate on the books in the mid-’90s and came to California in 2005. Currently he publishes his books through Viking, Putnam and Blue Apple Books.

His studio behind his house includes a drafting table with a large light box he made himself. One entire wall is lined with books he uses for reference, from art books to “Birds of America” and “The Way Things Work.” The museum exhibit includes storyboards and original art pieces that demonstrate what makes Taback’s illustrations so vivid and fanciful.

He is a fan of outsider art and the folk-art style known as naïve. “I am very influenced by the artwork of children,” he said. “I could paint realistically if I wanted to, but I choose not to.”

Sometimes people ask why he does books. “You do picture books to get kids interested in books,” he said. “They go on from there. You can learn about the whole world if you’re interested in reading.”

Copyright 2009 Ventura County Star

By Nicole D’Amore · Photographs by James Glover III
Ventura County Star
Taback to Give Hometown Talk
Award -winning illustrator Taback to give hometown talk at Ventura museum event
All About


Reynold Ruffins

Cooper Union

Ventura Museum

Tablet Magazine

Ventana Magazine

Ventura County Star  ►