The Old Woman

h1 September 15th, 2020 by jules

“The old woman stopped to watch a crow fly past. The dog looked up, too.
What would it feel like to fly? she thought. She imagined wings spread,
gliding on wind currents. She teetered a bit just thinking about it.
To have a bird’s-eye view, now that would be something.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


Joanne Schwartz’s The Old Woman (Groundwood), illustrated by Nahid Kazemi and coming to shelves at the end of this month, is the remarkably gentle and quiet story of just what the title tells you—an old woman. She lives alone with her “scruffy old dog,” and she takes walks with him, marveling at the natural world around her. She’s not on the verge of death, and she doesn’t lose her dog (to the woods by her home or to death). If you were to summarize this, you’d say that it’s about a woman near the end of her life who appreciates her life. That’s about it, plot-wise, but so much more is going on. And I can hear people now saying that children won’t want to read such a story. But I think there are child readers out there for whom this thoughtful story will surely resonate.

Most mornings, we read, the dog runs around outside and chases squirrels, tiring himself out. Then he curls up on the “worn-out rug” inside and rests. But one day the old woman and the dog walk into the hills. It’s been a while since the old woman has done this. It’s fall, and “the old woman wanted to hear the crunch of dry leaves under her feet and the wind whispering through the trees.” She stops to watch a crow in the sky, imagining how exhilarating it would be to fly. She finds a walking stick. She stops to rest on a rock, which has the perfect spot for sitting. She remembers being younger, “when she used to play outside for hours, never wanting to go in. Couldn’t the day last forever?” She wonders at the harvest moon and brings to mind precisely the word she wants to describe it: “magnificent.”

The woman goes inside and sleeps. The next day, achy from her walk, she heads outside to watch the sun rise. The chill in the air (air the old woman describes as “quiet”) tells her winter is coming: “It always comes like this, thought the old woman, and yet no one day is the same as another.”

Schwartz’s language is descriptive and lyrical (where the air touches her face “feels like the softest hand in the world”), and Kazemi’s textured and atomospheric mixed-media illustrations, which include chalk pastels and color pencils, let nature take center stage. These are spreads to get lost in, just as the woman gets lost in her decision to give herself over to the outdoors for a day. This is a story that breathes.

Find your favorite child; ask them kindly if they’d like to sit with you; and share this woman’s story. They may very likely marvel at how it must feel to be at the end of one’s life and to recall being younger; how it feels to have the day stretched out before you, nothing on your schedule but to take a walk and appreciate the “warm, gentle, enormous, dreamy, peaceful, autumnal” moon; how it feels to not be in a hurry; and how it feels to deeply appreciate each new day.

Enjoy these spreads ….


“An old woman lived there with a scruffy old dog who was her best friend.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click iamge to see spread in its entirety)


(Click iamge to see spread in its entirety)


“An old woman lived there with a scruffy old dog who was her best friend.”
(Click spread to enlarge)

“The harvest moon rose slowly and suddenly it was there, taking her breath away. What was that word? Magnificent — it was magnficent. And it was so orange, or sort of a rusty color. She thought abou thow to describe it — huge, looming, warm, gentle, enormous, dreamy, peaceful, autumnal — magnificent.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click cover to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

THE OLD WOMAN. Text copyright © 2020 by Joanne Schwartz. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Nahid Kazemi. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Groundwood Books, Toronto.

2 comments to “The Old Woman

  1. Thanks, Jules! I think Joanne Schwartz is a genius. Her “Town Is By The Sea” is a remarkable book, as you know, and I’m looking forward to seeing this one. If you hadn’t posted this, I wouldn’t have known about it.

  2. Yes, Leda. I get excited when I see Joanne’s name on the cover of a book!

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