The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant

The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

How does an old woman who has outlived all her friends keep from being lonely? By naming the things in her life she knows she will never outlive—like her house, Franklin, and her bed, Roxanne. When a shy brown puppy appears at her front gate, the old woman won’t name it, because it might not outlive her. Tender watercolors capture the charm of this heartwarming story of an old woman who doesn’t know she’s lonely until she meets a plucky puppy who needs a name—and someone to love.

Love comes in all shapes, sizes, and species.
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The unnamed main character had the unfortunate experience of living longer than everyone she ever loved. She was now nervous about growing attached to anyone else because of her fear of losing them. This isn’t something I’d ever seen brought up in a picture book before and I was quite curious to find out what this character’s solution to her problem would be. It obviously needed to be something that was appropriate for children, and it was. I had so much empathy for her and her loneliness.

There were some themes about death and grief that I thought could have been explained a little more gently, especially given the age group this was written for. These sections seemed to be geared towards adults instead of young children, so I’d probably have a conversation with little ones about this stuff before diving into the storyline. With that being said, they are important things to discuss with children and I’m glad the author decided to write about it.

Yes, this was serious subject matter, but it was presented in a lighthearted manner that I found pretty appealing. The old woman’s budding friendship with the stray puppy who kept showing up in her yard made me smile. She was kind to him from the beginning, but she was also so nervous about welcoming him into her home and heart. I truly enjoyed the tension between her conflicting desires to look after him and to protect her heart.

The Old Woman Who Named Things was a unique tale that I’d recommend to children and adults alike.