simply a lovely book to read, full of subtle teaching moments

by Harriet Ziefert and Anita Lobel - Alfred A Knopf, 2002
ages 2 to 8 years / diversity, s.o.s.e.

After World War II – as indeed after every war – there was a period of terrible poverty in the directly affected areas. Dreadful stories of hunger and deprivation were common and there was a terrible lack of consumer goods. 

In this story, a young girl, Anna, is in need of a new coat - in post-war Europe! In an economy where there is very little food and very little money, there are also no coats available for sale. 

Anna’s mother does have a few nice things left, so she decides to use those things to barter for the new coat. But, because there are none for sale, Anna and her mother must work through the process of actually producing the coat. 

First, they visit a farmer and offer Grandfather’s gold watch in exchange for some wool from his sheep. They have to wait till the following spring for the sheep to be shorn, but eventually Anna gets the wool for her coat. Then the wool must be spun, woven and tailored into a coat. Each process needs someone new to do the job and each time Anna’s mother offers a family treasure in exchange for services. 

In the end, Anna has a wonderful new coat. Just in time for Christmas.

And the story is made even more appealing by the dedication that reads in part:

“A book based on a true story is best dedicated to those whose reality provided the raw material.”

This is great story for drawing attention to concepts such as:


The effects of war continue even post-conflict
Anna and her mother had expected to be able to buy a new coat when the war was over.

Practicality and necessity sometimes win out over sentimentality. 
Even though the nice things Anna’s mother exchanged along the way were important to her, it was more important that Anna had a new, warm coat.

Communities are made up of many different people and professions.
Anna needs a farmer, a spinner, a weaver and a tailor to make her coat.

Sharing and giving bring happiness even when we have little to give.
Each of the people who help Anna with her coat also give the family something extra: extra wool from the farmer, cherries from the spinner, and so on.

Work and ingenuity matter
Anna’s mother came up with a solution to her problem and she and Anna both worked towards it.

Gratitude and respect for the work of others leads to personal happiness. 
Anna thanks the various people who help to make her coat by inviting them to share Christmas Eve with her. She even thanks the sheep!

Even after the devastating effects of war, life goes on. 
Anna, her mother and the others come together for a Christmas Eve celebration, even though they are each alone.

There is a lengthy, labour intensive process in making many of the consumer items we take for granted.
Anna has to go through each step, even dying the wool with berries to produce the gorgeous red colour she is after for her coat.


As well as being full of subtle teaching moments, this is simply a lovely story to read. Anna is a very relatable child – she's growing out of her clothes, she makes little gifts for the sheep, she's keen to share Christmas with her friends – and in spite of her present difficulties she seems happy just to be with her mother. 


There's an optimistic tone to the telling of the story and the illustrations are cheerful and soft in tone and texture. I especially love the very first picture which shows Anna standing in her old coat in the ruins of her city with arms stretched out in delight that the war is over - it's a lovely story for a child who is growing out of last year’s clothes.

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