The Old Woman Who Named Things
by Cynthia Rylant, published 1996
“So she began to name things. But she named only those things she knew she could never outlive. Her car, Betsy, had more get-up-and-go than anything around. Her chair, Fred, had never sagged a day in his life…”
Finally, a book that made me reverse my somewhat arbitrary policy of not reviewing picture books! This little illustrated children’s book totally stole my heart, and I felt that I had to make it more widely known. Yes, it is an illustrated, rather than a chapter, book. But it is actually literature, as the beauty of the little story is so sweet.
I had to think hard after I read this children’s book about whether I loved it for me, or whether I loved it for children. It’s about an elderly woman (as I am, I suppose, or will be sooner or later), who makes space in her heart for a little stray dog. There are several reasons why I really like the book. One is that it introduces the possibility of death in a way that has life in it. The old woman has ‘outlived’ all those she loves, and, the word death never appears. What a gentle way to describe the life of elders.
This children’s book also doesn’t have a child character for the young reader to identify with. While this might be construed as a flaw, to me, as a grandmother, I love that a child could read about and perhaps in some small way experience the life of an elder.
I think this is a very special young children’s book, one that I would want to read aloud with my grandson, and allow his own questions to arise. In any case, it is a perfect book for very young children, 5 to 6. And by the way, the watercolor illustrations are sublime.
Find this at your local bookstore