A New Coat for Anna
A New Coat for Anna, by Harriet Ziefert, follows a mother and daughter in post World War II Europe as they barter their last valuable belongings to acquire a new warm coat for Anna. The reader gets to follow the process of creating a product from scratch - from shearing sheep to a tailor's shop. They trade a gold watch to a farmer, a lamp to a spinner, a garnet necklace to a weaver, and finally, a porcelain teapot to a tailor who finishes the job. They pick berries to dye the wool red themselves. It's fascinating for a child to see how many steps are needed to make a seemingly simple object like a coat. The illustrations by Anita Lobel are warm and charming, endlessly interesting to spend time with.
It is incredible to think of the patience and creativity people needed to survive after war destroyed their economies, how barter, trade and sacrifice were essential. The mother had to give up her most precious things so her daughter could have a warm coat (that would be grown out of in a couple of years!) but this does not come across as a painful choice. It was doing what needed to be done to survive, and is done happily. Her loving actions and attitude made life happier and brought a small community together. At the end of the story the mother invites all the new friends over for a Christmas celebration, “the best they’d had in a long time”. Anna even takes time to thank the sheep on Christmas day, a very sweet touch at the end of the story.
In a time when we can order almost anything we can dream up online and have it delivered a few days, this story provides perspective on how everyday things can be incredibly precious when resources are limited. War is devastating, especially for ordinary people, and in times of abundance we should be grateful and generous with what we have. I can’t wait to see my family for the holidays and share love with them, have a wonderful Christmas everyone!
GRADE LEVEL: K-12