The Tiny Woman’s Coat by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson

The Tiny Woman’s Coat by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson. Gecko Press, c1987, 2021. 9781776573424

Format: Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Picture book

What did you like about the book? On a cold autumn day, the tiny woman— red-haired, and with pale pink skin— wants a coat. She’ll have to sew it up herself, so it’s her good fortune that her neighbors— the grey goose, the porcupine, the horse, and even the falling leaves and the “wild wet weeds”—  deign to supply everything needed. Cowley’s text, first copyrighted in 1987, stands the test of time, and it could stand alone. Cowley’s is an effortless musicality: the tale has a quiet but effective refrain, and such rhymes as appear— even when they are familiar (“[m]y mane, of course, / said the friendly horse”)— are tried-and-true, rather than tired. When Cowley leans on stock turns-of-phrase (“[s]he stayed as snug / as a bug in a rug”), she manages to make them come off.

Clarkson’s illustrations are a marvelous complement to the text; there is a tangible frigidity to the ice blue sky and pale white-yellow sun of the initial spread, which may prompt a sympathetic chill in readers. Further, Clarkson provides helpful hints— to observant children— of each neighbor to be introduced. She is also attentive to botanical details: blue spike speedwell (Veronica sp.) and what might be common monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus) abound, while the “wild wet weeds” have leaves that point to dandelion or cat’s ear. The three latter species, along with the blackberries of the final spread, are introduced species in New Zealand (the home country of author and illustrator alike), and in classroom contexts, might even present an opportunity for conversations about ecology. Finally, the silent land snail who accompanies the tiny woman is immediately endearing. The careful coordination of the tiny woman’s dark brown slacks with the snail’s shell, and her tunic with its grey-green skin, are not to be missed. In fact, Clarkson’s sartorial decisions are admirable throughout: the tiny woman fashions an angular yellow macintosh jacket we should all be jealous of, and finishes the outfit with a saffron parasol mushroom, and an acorn cap to match her slacks.

Anything you didn’t like about it? A few onomatopoeic phrases seem questionable (“sharp, sharp, sharp”— for the rasping of a needle?), but are easily overlooked. 

To whom would you recommend this book? Early childhood education centers, public library and elementary school library collections. 

Who should buy this book? Early childhood educators; elementary school and public librarians; parents and caregivers. 

Where would you shelve it? Picture books.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Zeb Wimsatt, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA

Date of review: 27 July 2021

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