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.




Akiak – A Tale from the Iditarod, by Robert J. Blake

Akiak coverAkiak was an experienced lead dog – an intelligent dog who was good at finding the trail, noticing hidden dangers (like thin ice or big rocks), and who understood what the human musher wanted the dog team to do.  She was part of a team running the Iditarod Sled Dog Race seven times, with three top-ten finishes.  She was getting older and would not run another Iditarod race.

The Iditarod Sled Dog Race is 1,151 miles long, from Anchorage, Alaska to Nome, Alaska.  The race commemorates the famous 1925 dog team relay that rushed life-saving serum to Nome, Alaska during a diphtheria epidemic.  Mushers and dog teams come from all over Alaska, the rest of the United States, and from countries all over the world to compete in the race.  They stop at checkpoints along the way – where vets examine the dogs, and mushers check-in with race officials.

“The team followed Akiak.  Through steep climbs and dangerous descents, icy waters and confusing trails, Akiak always found the safest and fastest way.  She never got lost.”

Akiak and her team began the race in Anchorage, and raced steadily for several days.  When the team moved into first place, they had to run through deep snow.  By the time they reached the Ophir checkpoint on the fourth day, Akiak had snow jammed in one of her pawpads, and was limping.  Mick (a woman), her musher, knew the injury was not serious (it would be better in a day), but needed to continue the race.  So, she left Akiak at the checkpoint with race volunteers to be flown back to Anchorage.

However, on the morning of the fifth day, when race volunteers tried to get Akiak into the airplane for Anchorage, the small plane shifted in a wind gust.  Akiak twisted out of the volunteer’s hands, and was off.

Akiak ran off looking for her team.  She was the lead dog.  She needed to lead the team on the trail.  Trail volunteers knew Akiak was loose, and that an experienced lead dog would stay on the trail.  They tried to catch her as she trotted into the next checkpoint, but she got away again.

By the eighth day, when Akiak got to the Shaktoolik checkpoint, she was about six hours behind her team.  Volunteers chased her into a building where some mushers were sleeping – and chased her around knocking things over until a musher opened the back door letting her escape, whispering: “Go find them, girl.”

As Akiak ran along the trail, people’s thinking changed.

At Elim, people put food out for her.  Almost everybody was rooting for Akiak to catch her team.

By the ninth day, when Akiak was running through Golovin, people lined the trail to watch her run through the town.  She was just two hours behind her team.

By the tenth day, Mick and the dog team were almost to Safety (the checkpoint before Nome and the end of the race).  They were confused by a series of snowmobile tracks and were trying to find the right trail.  Mick got the team going along what she thought was the right trail, only to have the team stop.  Akiak had found them.  And, Akiak stopped the team, turned them around, and directed them to a different trail.  Then, she ran to her usual place at the head of the team and waited.  Mick could not put Akiak back in harness (rules of the race), so Akiak got in the sled and, in her own way, Akiak led the team to Nome where a crowd awaited their arrival.

Akiak NomePeople had come from everywhere to see the courageous dog that had run the Iditarod trail alone.

As sure as if she had been in the lead position, Akiak won the Iditarod Race.

“Nothing was going to stop this dog from winning,”Mick told the crowd.  Akiak knew it.  The other dogs knew it, too.

This story cheers for Akiak.  Blake’s oil painting illustrations of the dogs and the snowy landscapes beautifully accompany the text.  There are maps showing the Iditarod trail in the inside covers of the book.  There is an author’s note with information about the race.  For more information about the race, go to — they have a section for students, with activities.

Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time

Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time by James Howe,                              illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay

Houndsley-and-Catina-quiet-timeHoundsley and his friend, Catina, find themselves snowed-in for a day (with the first snow of winter).  Catina worries at first – she has things to do before the concert that evening.  Houndsley loves the quiet and isn’t worried at all.

Houndsley loves the way the world looks and feels while it is snowing.  He calls it the “quiet time.”  When Catina continues to worry, they decide to practice for the concert (Houndsley plays cello, and Catina plays clarinet), just in case there is a concert that evening.

Before they began to play, Houndsley said, “Listen, Catina.  Can you hear it?”

“Hear what?”

“The quiet.  It is almost like music.”

Later, Houndsley suggests they pretend they are on an island – they can’t go anywhere, but they have things on the island with them.  They read poems to each other, then try writing their own.  They bake cookies.  They play board games.  They build a fire and talk about things they see in the fire.  They sit quietly thinking.  They go outside to get more logs for the fire and end up playing in the snow – making snow creatures.

They snowshoe to the gazebo with their instruments.  The musicians seem to feel the quiet time too – and play softly to the audience.

This is a sweet book for beginning readers.  It is told in three chapters.  There are color illustrations on every page.  It captures the sense of magic and quiet that sometimes comes with a day of snow.