Remembering Wonderful Artist and Friend Simms Taback (1932 - 2011)
Simms and I had been emailing back and forth for over a year before he died on December 25, 2011. We talked about many things: his family, his illness, his books, his travels with his wife Gail, and his art show at the Museum of Ventura County in California. On November 20, 2011 in his last message to me, Simms wrote, "There is a lot of LFO poster art in the show. I was surprised by what I had in storage and some of it still looks pretty good. The museum also bought a copy of almost every LFO poster I illustrated for you and Carol, amongst others that I had, for their permanent collection." LFO stands for Let's Find Out, Scholastic's kindergarten magazine. Carol Devine Carson was the art director, and I was the editor. Simms created wonderful, brilliant illustrations for us, in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. You can see many of his posters by CLICKING HERE. My favorites are "Eggs" and "Sharing."
In addition to posters, Simms illustrated 4-page children's magazines for LFO. While Simms had a great sense of color, he illustrated Bee Sting in black and white. In December 27, 2010, I wrote to Simms, "I would like to put Bee Sting on my website. This would be free for kids to look at and click through the pages. Why do I want to do this? Because it is great, and you are great." Later that day, Simms replied, "You have my blessing, Jean." Two days later Simms suggested that I get someone to "color it in a little." That prompted me to suggest that Bee Sting become a little coloring book. Simms liked that idea. Bee Sting has been available free on my website for months. This month I am proud to offer it to you to enjoy in honor of dear Simms.
And now for his books: Oh man, what wonderful books Simms Taback created! I can still hear his voice when he called me one morning, exclaiming, "Jean, I won the Caldecott! I'm going to be on the Today Show!" In the last year I told Simms several times that our grandson loves his books for babies and toddlers, to which Simms replied, "Your grandson has excellent taste." Gabe's favorites are: Where is My Friend?, Where is My House?, and Peek-A-Boo WHO? all written and illustrated by Simms Taback, as well as Who Said Moo? written by Harriet Ziefert and illustrated by Simms Taback.
Gabe's favorite Christmas present from us this year was an entrancing fold-out book called Simms Taback's City Animals, as seen here in the hands of Claudio, my husband, and Gabriel Claudio Marzollo.
Thank you, Simms, for all you have created for children of all ages.
My dear friend, Elwood H. Smith, another wonderful artist and illustrator of children's books, wrote a great piece about Simms called "Simms Taback, None Better" on his January 6, 2012 blog:
I met Simms Taback shortly after I arrived in Manhattan in 1976. He was tall, broad-shouldered and handsome and spoke with a deep, resonant voice. And he was immensely talented. I liked him anyhow. We all loved the man; he was warm, self-effacing, generous and unpretentious.
Simms and I stayed in touch over the years via email, so I knew he was fighting a deadly cancer, but I was shocked and saddened when I read about his passing from an obituary in The New York Times. Although I was aware that his days were numbered--my sister died of pancreatic cancer in 2009--it seemed that Simms, with his easy laugh and fearless, upbeat attitude, might beat the odds. The world has lost a great man, a great talent.
Simms did not make drastic changes in his style over the years, but his work--always excellent--got better and better over time. When he won his first Caldecott award, followed by a second one in short order, he became more sought after than ever. No one in the field of illustration was more deserving of the attention and accolades.
We are lucky to have many wonderful illustrators creating books for children these days, but I believe Simms to be the greatest of them all. His work is completely honest. His stories, his colorful designs and the characters he created over the decades never feel contrived. Simms had the gift to make pictures that were mirror images of his spirit: kind-hearted, fanciful and pure.