There Was an Old Lady
Who Swallowed a Fly
by Simms Taback


Simms Taback's There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 2-8


A visual version of the wonderfully silly old song

Simms Taback will never run out of material. Any silly song or poem is a blank slate for Mr. Taback to apply his singularly absurd vision to.

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.
I don't know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps she'll die.

Want to know what that fly looks like inside the old lady? Simms Taback wants to show you. (See below.)

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider.
That wiggled and jiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
I don't know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps she'll die.

Using mixed media and collage and die-cut pages (that means he cuts holes in them), Taback depicts a growing assortment of hapless creatures inside the daffy old woman's fast-inflating form.

My mother loved singing this silly ditty to us when we were little, and I suspect she'd like this version of it just as much. I know I would have. Half the fun is in paging backwards and forwards trying to figure out how an image on one page finds itself inside the old lady's stomach on another.

Taback won a Caldecott Honor for There Was an Old Lady, only a year after winning the Caldecott Medal itself for Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (reviewed on this site).

Do know that this is an unsentimental book that features the old lady dying in the end (remember, she eats a horse!), but it's silly and unreal and not meant to be taken at all seriously. (Taback does supply us a moral, namely, "Never swallow a horse." You might want to post this warning on the refrigerator!)

If you prefer your young ones' mindless entertainment to come from a book, rather than the TV, then treat them to the There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly book. Then pull out the art supplies and challenge them to create their own books in the same style!

More Caldecott books.

More picture book award winners.

collage of images from Taback's book

Read more of Steve's reviews.

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