Kids’ Book Club June: My Grandfather’s Coat – the hard work, thrift and conservation of our ancestors
My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock, teaches about the hard work, thrift and conservation of our ancestors. This book club post will share discussion questions, family story ideas, and an activity you can do with your own kids to teach about these important values.
This post contains affiliate links. If you click the link and make a purchase, we receive a small commission but it doesn’t change the price of the item. Thank you!
My Grandfather’s Coat is based on the Yiddish song, “I had a Little Overcoat.” The author says the story is an ode to immigrants who brought with them hard work, thrift, and conservation. He hoped that the book would inspire children to create new things out of what they have and save the wonderful stories that their families have to tell.
The story is about the narrator’s immigrant grandfather who designed, wore, and wore out a special wedding coat.
He then redesigned it into something smaller over and over as he grew older and older, wearing it to special family events like his daughter’s wedding, the birth of his grandchildren, the day his granddaughter first walked, rode a bike, graduated, and was married.
The narrator (a mother) tells her young son that finally, her grandfather gave the reinvented coat to him as a toy for his kittens. When it was worn out, it became a nest for a mouse, and nothing was wasted. The nest was finally all used up and there was nothing left of the coat, except the story.
What do you think it would be like to move away from your home to a place where you had little more than nothing at all?
Why did the grandfather have to work very hard?
Why did he save the cloth from his coat instead of throwing it away?
Do you have anything that has been recycled?
Do you have anything that you can reuse when it gets worn out?
Do you think your grandparents ever had to make do with what they had?
Share a Family Story
Do you have a grandparent who conserved what they had, worked hard and was thrifty? This would be a great time to interview grandparents about their own thrift, conservation, and hard work.
I shared the following story with my 5 year old that my grandfather wrote in his personal history. Here’s what I said:
“Your Great Grandpa Elder, Billy, was a little boy during the Great Depression. Do you know what the Great Depression was? It was a time in the United States when many people lost their jobs and didn’t have homes to live in.
“Billy’s father lost his job in 1929 during this Great Depression. They lived on his mother’s canned fruit and had to sell his dad’s overcoat and violin to buy flour and milk. What can you make with flour and milk? Maybe they made bread.
“Billy’s family went to live in a logging camp in the mountains in 1935, when he was 7 years old, just a few years older than you!
They went to the logging camp with Billy’s aunt and uncle, who had a tent. Billy’s family didn’t have a tent and they had no idea how they were going to live.
“With some luck, or a blessing (as his mother called it), they drove down to the river and found an old abandoned log cabin. It had a leaky roof and no glass windows. It was May and it was very rainy.
“They decided to live in that cabin, and Billy’s mom worked very hard to make it a home. One day, Billy’s father said to her, “You can take a little of nothing and make a home.” They were both very hardworking people.
“Your great grandpa said that he didn’t remember his time living in the mountains as a sad or hard time. He enjoyed building tunnels under the six foot snow drifts and fishing for trout in the summer. He even had a slingshot to hunt birds and squirrels.
“When your great grandpa grew up, he was like his parents – he worked hard and made do with what he had. He learned how to fix everything in his home and even learned how to build a basement and more rooms onto the house to make space for his ten children.
“You can be like Great Grandpa Elder too! You can work hard and “take a little of nothing” and make it into something special. You can recycle and reuse things that you already have.
We wanted to practice making do with what we have, like the man in “My Grandfather’s Coat” and our own grandpa, so we decided to “take a little of nothing” and make something.
My five year old was fascinated by the story of Great Grandpa Elder playing with a slingshot in the mountains, so we looked up pictures of slingshots and saw some ideas to make one. We have a woodpile in our yard with branches trimmed from our mesquite and nectarine trees. We scavenged in the woodpile and found a couple branches that had a Y shape.
Jacob and his dad worked together to trim the branches and sand them down. They made little notches in the side, then attached a rubber band and made some pellets out of paper. Both of the kids now have wooden slingshots to play with. We talked about how we made a toy out of nothing, and how it didn’t cost any money! Like Grandpa Elder, we can make do with what we have.
What stories of thrift and conservation can you share from your family history?
Q & A with Aylesworth & McClintock about My Grandfather’s Coat by Sandra Bornstein
Undergoing Changes by Judy Freeman at Desperate Librarians, about an activity you can do to make a take apart coat.
Lesson plans based on “I Had a Little Overcoat”
Something From Nothing at Early Literacy Connection