There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly - Thao Lam
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There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

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Robert Fulghum, the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, wrote that “wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile of school.” Keep reading…

He provided a list of Golden Rules for sane living:

• Share everything.

• Play fair.

• Don’t hit people.

• Put things back where you found them.

• Clean up your own mess.

• Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

• Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

• Wash your hands before you eat.

• Flush.

• Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

• Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

• Take a nap every afternoon.

• When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

• Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

• Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

• And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.

Here are some additional lessons I learned in kindergarten:

• You might die if you swallow a fly.

• It’s absurd to swallow a bird.

• Don’t be a hog and swallow a dog.

• And never swallow a horse.

(Perhaps this is where the seed that lead to my becoming a vegetarian was planted.)

The lyrics to “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” were first heard in the United States in the 1940s. Several children’s book versions of the lyrics have been published since, but my favourite was illustrated by Simms Taback]. The wacky illustrations will tickle your insides, much like the spider must have done to the Old Lady. Created using mixed media and collage on kraft paper, each illustration is full of humorous little details, from newspaper headlines such as “Lady Wolfs Down Dog” to a recipe for spider soup. His use of eye-catching colours and his eccentric style fills the pages with vibrant energy. The hand-illustrated text adds a whimsical touch to an already off the wall poem. With her patchwork dress, blood-shot eyes and toothy grin, Taback’s version of the Old Lady actually looks loony enough to swallow a horse. His inventive use of die-cut holes within the art allows readers to see what’s happening inside the Old Lady’s belly as each new animal joins the crowd in her ever-expanding stomach.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, a children’s book review by Thao Lam

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Illustrator Simms Taback

Simms Taback is an award-winning illustrator, having received a Caldecott Honor for There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. It was also selected by The American Institute of Graphic Arts as Children’s Book of the Year and one of two books appointed as New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book. Born in 1932, working-class Jewish parents, Taback was raised with a sense of tradition. He grew up in a tight-knit community in the Bronx, New York. Originally, he had wanted to pursue a career in engineering, but his creative talents took over and he enrolled in The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art. After a brief service in the US Army, Taback worked as an art director at CBS Records and then at The New York Times. Later on, he opened up his own design studio, taught at the School of Visual Arts and Syracuse University and began illustrating children’s books, eventually completing over 40 of them. He served two years as the founding president of the Illustrator Guild and five years as the founding president of the New York Graphic Artist Guild. As an advocate for artist’s rights, Taback has provided his services as an author, editor and production supervisor for the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook.

To read more on Simms Taback, please visit his website:

Publisher Scholastic Inc. (1999)

ISBN-10 0590632647

ISBN-13 978-0590632645