Taback was born on February 13, 1932 to a father who worked as a house painter and contractor and a mother who was a seamstress. This Jewish family spoke Yiddish and lived in the Bronx, New York. When Taback began demonstrating artistic ability, his mother enrolled him in art classes. As a teenager he attended New York City's Music and Art High School, but wasn't convinced that he wanted a career as an artist. Instead Taback entertained the idea of becoming an engineer.
Changing his mind again, Taback returned to art and entered Cooper Union, receiving his bachelor of fine arts degree in 1953. His first job came as a graphic designing artist with CBS Records. Later he worked for the New York Times
and other businesses before he decided to start his own design studio. As a free lance illustrator, Taback's first book project saw publication in 1964. From there, he continued illustrating for other authors and instructed students at the School of Visual Arts. He also taught at Syracuse University.
Though Taback liked illustrating children books, he didn't seriously believe he could make a living from it alone. Thus he started his own greeting card business and later sold it. Finally tempted to write and illustrate books by himself, Taback adapted traditional tales and made them his own, reworking the text and using his own drawings. He penned and illustrated There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
, and it received a Caldecott Honor Book Award in 1998. Over twenty years earlier, Taback had written Joseph Had a Little Overcoat
. Though the book didn't gain immediate attention or success, some readers felt compelled to write to Taback telling him how much it touched them. Not giving up on his story, Taback researched life in Poland, the Yiddish theater, and ghetto life. He then rewrote the piece and redesigned the illustrations. Both readers and the Caldecott committee found the book enchanting and appealing. In 2000, at age 67, Taback earned the Caldecott Medal for his story.
Since then he has spent more time writing and self-illustrating books, touring the country, and speaking on television and at schools. Having spent many years drawing over thirty book projects for authors such as Harriet Ziefert, Katy Hall, and Mary Calhoun, Taback found he earned the most recognition and praise for a profession he never thought profitable. His theme for students and adults alike became to never give up and be persistent. Busy writing and traveling, Taback lives in the Catskill Mountains in New York. This talented man has been awarded prestigious prizes, but little known is that he also created and illustrated McDonald's first Happy Meal Box.
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