The Old Woman Who Named Things

The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Kathryn Brown

Old Woman Who Named ThingsThere was a time in my family’s reading history when we had books by Cynthia Rylant in every room, all of the time.  Henry and Mudge books.  Mr. Putter and Tabby Books.  The Cobble Street Cousins. Gooseberry ParkThe Blue Hill Meadows.  And this one, The Old Woman Who Named Things.

An old woman lived by herself in a house she named Franklin.  She named her car Betsy.  She even named her favorite chair, and her bed (Fred and Roxanne).  She hoped to get a letter from someone, but she only received bills in the mail.  She was alone, but was making the best of it.

The old woman was alone because:

“…she had outlived every single one of her friends.  This worried her.  She didn’t like the idea of being a lonely old woman without any friends, without anyone whom she could call by name.”

So she named the things around her — but only the very sturdy things that would last a long time, “only those things she knew she could never outlive.”

One day a shy brown puppy came to the old woman’s house.  It looked hungry.  It wagged its tail.  The old woman watched the puppy for a little while, then she gave it some food and told it to go home.  The puppy left.  But, it was back the next day.

The old woman thought it was a very nice puppy, but she couldn’t keep it.

“If it stayed, she would have to give it a name.  She might outlive it.  And she didn’t want to risk that.  She didn’t want to outlive any more friends.  She would just keep telling it to go home.”

Every day for months the puppy visited the old woman.  She fed it and told it to go home.  Soon, it wasn’t a puppy anymore, it was a dog.

One day the dog did not come to the old woman’s house.  She watched for it all day, but it didn’t come.  The dog did not come the next day, either.  The old woman got worried, and went to look for the dog.  When the dog did not come on the third day, the old woman called the dogcatcher, and found that he had several brown dogs there.

When the old woman got to the dogcatcher’s kennel, she told him she had come to get her dog.  When he asked the dog’s name, the old woman thought for a little while.

“She thought of all the old, dear friends with names whom she had outlived….and she thought how lucky she had been to have known these friends.  She thought what a lucky old woman she was.”

And, she told the dogcatcher that her dog’s name was Lucky.  When she called to the dog, he ran to her – and they went home together.

This is a good story about friendship, and love.  And, that love and companionship bring such joy and fullness to life – well worth the risk of outliving someone you love.  Like all of Cynthia Rylant’s books, this is well-suited for children – young readers will cheer for the old woman and the dog who end up living happily together in a house named Franklin.



The Cobble Street Cousins

The Cobble Street Cousins series by Cynthia Rylant has a sweet, old-timey feel – with everyday things making the stories, and nothing really upsetting happening.  These books are great for newer readers who are ready to tackle chapter books (around 55 pages), but still enjoy having smaller illustrations on most pages.  The series has at least 5 books.  I’ll discuss the first two here.

In Aunt Lucy’s Kitchen by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin

Aunt LucysKitchen coverIn this first book of the Cobble Street Cousins series, readers meet Aunt Lucy and her three nieces.  The girls’ parents are touring the world with the ballet (the parents are dancers), so the girls are staying with their Aunt Lucy for a year.  This seems like a good arrangement for everyone.  The cousins (all 9 years old) are good friends – their very different personalities seem to compliment each other.

Rosie is sweet, likes stained glass windows, paper dolls, and crafts.  Her twin sister, Lily, likes to write poems, collects stuffed animal bunnies, and wants to be a writer when she grows up.  Their cousin, Tess, is outgoing, loves to sing (and has a good voice), has a cat named Elliot, and wants to be a famous singer when she grows up.  Aunt Lucy is warm, friendly, and fun – and enjoys spending time with her nieces.  Aunt Lucy owns a flower shop around the corner from her comfortable, old house.

The cousins live in Aunt Lucy’s attic.  They each have a room (created by hanging quilts or folding screens), and have a big area they call the playroom – with blankets and pillows spread on the floor – that has stuffed animals, books, and paints.

AuntLucys girls walkOver the summer, the cousins decide to have a cookie company.  They put up signs and take orders on the phone.  They bake batches of cinnamon crinkle cookies and deliver the cookies.  (Note:  They are dealing with strangers, and do go inside houses to deliver the cookies.  I pointed out to my children that it is not safe to go into strangers’ homes.  But, in the story, the three girls always are together, and nothing threatening ever happens.)

Through the cookie company, the cousins meet Michael, who becomes Aunt Lucy’s beau.  They also meet Mrs. White, a friendly 90 year old woman.  They hold a performance and tea for their new friends.

A Little Shopping by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin

ALittleShopping coverThe cousins decide they need a fun project to do after school.  Lily suggests they make a model of Aunt Lucy’s flower shop as a surprise gift for Aunt Lucy.  The others love the idea.

They make a plan, gather materials – and make a trip to The Olde Craft Shoppe for the little things they need to furnish and decorate the flower shop.

They have a wonderful time making the dollhouse-like version of Aunt Lucy’s shop.

ALittleShopping make shopAnd, of course, Aunt Lucy is thrilled with her surprise.  The cousins are happily creative in making the gift.  Other events include going out for ice cream and another trip to the craft shoppe.

The books in The Cobble Street Cousins series deal with friendship, family, and small, fun adventures like having a cookie company or creating a model of a shop.  They are great books for young readers ready for chapter books.

The Blue Hill Meadows

The Blue Hill Meadows by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Ellen Beier

blue-hill-meadowsWillie Meadow lives with his family (mother, father, and big brother) in Blue Hill, Virginia – a green valley with mountains and lakes nearby. Things in Blue Hill seem to belong to a simpler, slower time.  This is a book about Willie and his family, told in four stories.

In the first story, the family adopts a stray dog.  They name her Lady, and they all dote on her in their own ways.  The mother brushes Lady’s coat.  The big brother wakes up early to feed her and take her outside.  The father sneaks her ice cream.  Willie seems to understand Lady the most.

“And when Lady wanted to play, Willie knew how to be a dog for her and tug and jump and roll.  Willie didn’t mind being a dog and sometimes wished he could stay one a good long while.”

When they realize that Lady will have puppies, the family is thrilled.  They find good homes for the puppies, and keep one for themselves (along with Lady of course).

In another story, the father in the family (Sullivan) takes a day fishing trip with one of his sons.

“Sullivan liked to take the boys fishing one at a time (‘to get to know them on their own,’ he’d say), and this delighted Willie.”

On the day of the fishing trip, Willie and his father wake up at dawn, eat a big breakfast, and set off.  They rent a boat on a lake, and spend the morning happily (and quietly) fishing together.  They have a grilled cheese lunch at a nearby restaurant where they talk and tell stories.

In the third story, the weather report says eight inches of snow is coming – and people get carried away, closing shops, getting off the roads, and sending children home early on the school buses.  Willie Meadow is supposed to take a bus home.  But, the buses park in different places and he can’t find his bus.  By the time he finds his teacher to help him look, all the buses have already driven away.  Willie and his family (who come to get him at his teacher’s house) end up waiting out the storm at Willie’s teacher’s house – playing games, making cookies, and playing with cats).

In the final story, Willie’s teacher reminds his students that Mother’s Day is coming.  Willie is worried about this, and wonders how to find the perfect gift for his mother.

“This year he could think only of one thing:  he must give his mother a gift that meant something.”

Two days before Mother’s Day, Willie finds his mother staring out the window watching a large wild rabbit.  And, Willie knows what to do – get her the rabbit.  But, since Willie knows his mother wouldn’t want a wild rabbit in a cage, Willie wants to make the rabbit stay around.  So, on Mother’s Day, Willie plants a garden for the wild rabbit, right under his mother’s tree.  It is the perfect gift.

This is a book of sweet stories of family life, perfect for beginning readers ready to move on to chapter books.  There are small, colorful illustrations on every page.  The text is in longer paragraphs.  There are four chapters.  The stories are full of family comfort and caring, told in Rylant’s flowing, easy-to-follow style.

Henry and Mudge and the Long Weekend

Henry and Mudge and the Long Weekend by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Sucie Stevenson

One morning in February, Henry woke up and looked out of his window and found wet yuck.  It was one of those gray days that isn’t Winter (with snow and exciting outdoor fun), but really isn’t anything else either.

What to do on a gray, wet weekend?  Henry was bored.  His big dog Mudge was bored.  Even Henry’s father was bored.  Then, Henry’s mother had an idea — a fun, creative, whole-family idea.  They could use the cardboard boxes the new refrigerator and the stove came in to make a castle.

“It has to have turrets,” Henry’s father said.  “And a drawbridge.  And Buttresses.  And flags.”

“Dad,” said Henry, “it’s just a refrigerator box.”

“Not for long,” said Henry’s father.

They got to work building the castle in the basement – planning, cutting, stapling, and painting.  Henry’s big dog Mudge joined them and chewed on a boot.  Suddenly it wasn’t a long, boring weekend anymore.  When the castle was finished, Henry and his father pretended to be knights, and Mudge was the king.

This is my favorite of the Henry and Mudge series.  I love the idea of the entire family working on such a fun, creative project.  Like the other Henry and Mudge books, this one is perfect for beginning readers.

Gooseberry Park

I first came across Cynthia Rylant’s writing through the Henry and Mudge books when my children were learning to read.  When they were ready for longer books, we found several books by Cynthia Rylant that seemed safe, yet still new and interesting, to my blossoming readers.

Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant was a favorite for both my young readers.

Gooseberry Park is a wonderful story for children moving from beginning reader books to chapter books.  Arthur Howard’s black and white illustrations appear at the beginning of each chapter, and are scattered throughout the pages – visually breaking up the text, but still giving the reader a sense of reading a real chapter book.

Kona is a chocolate Labrador who lives with wise hermit crab named Gwendolyn and a retired biology professor.  The professor and Kona frequently visit nearby Gooseberry Park where Kona’s good friend lives in an oak tree – a red squirrel named Stumpy who has just had babies.

One day a storm with freezing rain hits the area, coating everything in a thick layer of ice, and leaving downed and broken trees in Gooseberry Park.  Kona makes his way to the park to check on his friend and her family, and finds the oak tree broken on the ground, Stumpy missing, and a bat (named Murray) taking care of the squirrel babies.  Kona and Murray hide the baby squirrels in the professor’s house to keep them safe and warm.

Kona then faces the challenge of reuniting Stumpy with her babies, and of hiding the babies and Murray, who likes to snack on Oreos and other treats, from the professor.  Eventually, with the help of Gwendolyn and Murray, Kona comes up with a plan – involving weasels, rumors, and a glowing watch – that gets a message to Stumpy and shows her the way to the professor’s house.

Gooseberry Park is a story about friendship, and courage.  Rylant takes readers on this adventure with warmth and plenty of humor.  Two paws up rating.