The Life of a Coat

Image of The Life of a Coat
Release Date: 
September 24, 2019
Reviewed by: 

“A wonderfully fun young graphic picture book, the perfect way to revive this old Yiddish classic.”

A Yiddish poem from the 1930s is given new life in this delightful edition of The Life of a Coat. The author, Kadya Molodowsky, taught in Jewish preschools in Poland. Her young students inspired her to write poems that reflected their daily lives with warmth and humor.

The book opens with a large family, eight children, and one single coat being made by the tailor father. As in many Yiddish folktales, there is a cumulative effect. The coat is perfect, wonderful for each child until suddenly it's not. The first boy, Shmulik, outgrows the coat: “Little Shmulik, not so little, Now the coat's tight 'round his middle.” The next boy wears the coat until he also outgrows it, this time tearing off the sleeves.

The clear illustrations, in a young graphic novel style with clear lines and bright colors, are a perfect vintage fit for the rhyme. They add humor to the story that only gets more and more ridiculous as parts of the coat are lost with each successive child. From sleeves, to lining to pockets until finally all that's left are the holes themselves, a perfect expression of the frugalness of a poor family where even the holes are precious.

Much of the charm of the book lies in how evocative it is of a lost world, the rich world of Yiddish culture, steeped in humor. Poverty, rags, hunger are all easier to face if you can joke about them. There is pleasure in the pure silliness, the way the children play in the wonderful coat until they ruin it. Young readers will love to guess which part of the coat will go next and they'll have fun following the animals that also want a turn—the goat, dog, and cat all vie for a chance to wear at least a part of the coat.

The text, beautifully translated from the original Yiddish, has an infectious rollicking rhythm. Batia Kolton, an Israeli illustrator, creates googly-eyed characters that exaggerate the mock horror each time a bit of the coat is lost. “How can it be? And at what cost? Pockets shouldn't just get lost!” Together they provide a wonderfully fun young graphic picture book, the perfect way to revive this old Yiddish classic.