Miska Miles' Annie and the Old One
Illustrated by Peter Parnall
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
38 years after publication, Annie is still popular and in print.
Winner of a Newbery Honor (and illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Peter Parnall), this children's book about death has become a classic.
In fact, it won a 1972 Christopher Award as a book that "affirm[s] the highest values of the human spirit."
Annie is a Navajo girl who lives with her parents and aged grandmother - the "old one." They live largely off the land, and Annie's mom weaves rugs. One night, grandmother announces:
My children, when the new rug is taken
from the loom, I will go to Mother Earth.
Annie is at first taken aback that the Old One knows when she will die, then grows upset when her mother continues to weave.
After all, per Grandmother's announcement, it is as if the very act of weaving will cause the Old One's death.
Annie conspires first to delay the completion of the rug - causing problems at school so that her mother will have to come and leave the loom - then to begin undoing the rug.
On the third night of unweaving, the Old One interrupts Annie.
Go to sleep, my granddaughter.
The next morning, the Old One takes Annie for a walk. Grandmother explains:
You have tried to hold back time. This cannot be done.... Earth [is that] from which good things come for the living creatures on it. Earth [is that] to which all creatures finally go.
Annie gets it. Soon after, she joins her mother at the loom, as her grandmother has urged. This, rather than the Old One's death, is the book's final act.
Annie and the Old One is a book about accepting death, seeing it as part of an inevitable cycle rather than something to be fought off. Annie learns this acceptance, and will likely be wiser - and happier - for it.
Peter Parnall's black and white sketches - filled in, in spots, with earthy browns - capture a family in harmony with natural things, for instance...
Welcoming a timely death instead of fighting it. Review continues.
This special book shows its own age in a good way. Instead of the one-size-fits-all 32 pages and 1000 words of contemporary children's books, it takes precisely the number of pages and words it needs to in order say what needs to be said.
Annie and the Old One is a book you'll be glad you have handy during difficult times.
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