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There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (Caldecott Honor Book) Hardcover – September 1, 1997

4.5 out of 5 stars 147 customer reviews

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--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

PreSchool-Grade 3. From cover to moral (never swallow a horse), this cleverly illustrated version of an old folk favorite will delight children. Each page is full of details and humorous asides, from the names of different types of birds, to a recipe for spider soup, to the rhyming asides from the spectating animals. As for the old lady, with her toothy grin and round bloodshot eyes, she looks wacky enough to go so far as to swallow a horse. A die-cut hole allows readers to see inside her belly, first the critters already devoured and, with the turn of the page, the new animal that will join the crowd in her ever-expanding stomach. The pattern of the lady's dress, with its patchwork of bright, torn colored paper pasted on black, is used as the background motif for the words. The text is handwritten on vivid strips of paper that are loosely placed on the patterned page, thus creating a lively interplay between the meaning of the words and their visual power. All in all, this illustrator provides an eye-catching, energy-filled interpretation that could easily become a classic in itself.?Martha Topol, Traverse Area District Library, Traverse City, MI
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

A die-cut hole approach to an old favorite that offers a view of the old lady's stomach and its expanding bestiary. The text has the look of a ransom note (a touch the devoured creatures might appreciate), but the jaunty colors--set skipping by a judicious use of black--keep the dark side of the poem at bay. Those accustomed to the streamlined version of this ditty won't know what to make of the comments scattered throughout the pages, little asides quipped by animals not yet swallowed; these rhyme with the ``perhaps she'll die'' line of the poem. Fortunately, these additions can be easily ignored or inflated according to taste, and full concentration given to the poem itself and the wild, eye-catching artwork: It is good fun to watch the old lady bulge and bloat, and the sheer corniness of the verse continues to be deeply gratifying. (Picture book. 4-8) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Juvenile; 1st edition (September 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670869392
  • ASIN: B0009HARWA
  • Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 8.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (147 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,919,704 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Perhaps I was just in a weird mood when I first read this book to my son, but I just found it laugh out loud hilarious. The expressions on the old lady's face are just too much, and the clever running commentary by the about-to-be-swallowed animals just adds to the fun.
The artwork is colorful and detailed, and there is plenty of little details for a smartalecky kid (or a smartalecky adult) to pick out of the background. My son loved this book and so did I. I would heartily recommend it. I will actively seek out other books by Simms Tayback.
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By A Customer on October 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I read this book to my Kindergarteners, and they LOVED it. We read it through once, and then I taught them the song. They simply couldn't get enough of it. The illustrations are great, and it really captivates the kids! Great buy!
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By A Customer on October 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderfully fun book. My husband had some reservations about the content ('perhaps she'll die'), but my three year old daughter is not at all disturbed and loves the silliness of the story. Whenever its time for a story, she always requests "There was an old lady..."
The illustrations are colorful, expressive and silly. The cut out that grows to accomodate each creature the woman consumes and the clever commnents of the about to be eaten animals really add something special to this book. The repetition is also a wonderful way to help kids read along.
I remember this folk tale from when I was young. I often "sing" the book as we read. My daughter loves that. Buy this book - you won't be dissappointed. It sure to become a family favorite.
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Format: Hardcover
Ah, Hoosiers. Is there anything they can't do? The folk poem, "There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" is probably the best known item found in the 1947 collection of "Hoosier Folklore". It has been turned into a wide variety of picture books, ranging from straightforward translations to bizarre new takes. If we were to pick the number one quintessential version of the poem in picture book form, though, then I guess the distinction would have to fall on Simms Taback's winner of the 1998 Caldecott Honor. In this version, a crazed senior citizen terrifies a community with her singular palate.

I think you probably know the song already, but it never hurts to sum it up. As we all know, there was an old lady who swallowed a fly. "I don't know why she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she'll die". To rid herself of the fly problem she eats a spider. Then, having obviously not thought this through, she eats a bird to catch the spider who, in turn, is supposed to catch the fly. I'd like to point out that when we get the occasional stomach-side view of the situation, nobody's doing any catching. Obviously the old lady isn't explaining to each animal what its job's supposed to be as she throws them down the hatch. By the time the old lady swallows a cat, she's pretty far gone. Her bloodshot eyes (nobody does good bloodshot eyes like Mr. Taback) roll in her head as she lunges haphazardly throughout the countryside. The cat is followed by a dog, the dog is followed by a cow. Apparently cows are good dog-catchers. Finally, she swallows a horse, and (best line in the song), "She died of course!". The author offers a sly moral at the end that is hard to contest. "Moral: Never swallow a horse".
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Format: Hardcover
Simms Taback's book "There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly" is humorous, with laugh-out-loud illustrations of the woman who just can't control her eating habits. Taback's collage pictures include brightly colored paintings with snippets of newspapers and other interesting materials, and Taback incorporates clever die-cut holes which add to the visual hilarity. My husband said that the illustrations in this book looked like "Mary Engelbreit gone evil."
The poem is the old familiar American classic, but Taback adds some original elements by allowing the animal characters to comment on the poem as it goes along, all the way to the shocking conclusion. Children will enjoy the colorful pictures and the poem, and adults will enjoy Taback's wry sense of humor.
This book was a Caldecott Honor book, but I think it deserved to win the Caldecott Medal. Full recommendation!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchased this book as my husband and I are currently building our children's book collection.
This was one of the first books I put on my list.
I remember being mesmerized by it as a child and I loved the ending. The illustrations are crazy and especially fun for kids. There's a little bit of suspense in which each character will swallow next as the book goes on and it makes for many hilarious reactions when being read to kids - it would be especially fun to see this book read to a large group of kids... maybe at a library reading or something.
I can see my family wanting to read this book again and again, as I did when I was young. I am so glad it was so easy to find and purchase this book through amazon. I was able to cross a book on my list to purchase, at an inexpensive price, and that made me very happy.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have often used this book when teaching relative clauses to foreign children. It is delightful, though there are some extraneous elements that cannot be appreciated by children just beginning to learn English--such as a page full of pictures of cheeses and their names, and funny "aside" comments about the story. I just skip those, unless the kids express special interest in them. As the story progresses, the old lady has bigger and bigger cutouts in her stomach to show the creatures accumulating in there, and the whole book is very entertaining and funny.

Caution for parents who for some reason do not want any references to death in a young child's book: The refrain, "I guess she'll die" is repeated over and over, though the whole story deals with absurd situations and it is obvious that "real death" is not being spoken of.
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