Teaching Economics with Children’s Literature: A New Coat for Anna


The book A New Coat for Anna, written by Harriet Ziefert and illustrated by Anita Lobel, takes place right after World War II and tells the story of young Anna, who has outgrown her old winter coat. As a result of the war, money, food, and other goods, including clothes, are still very scarce and Anna’s mother does not have enough money to buy her a new coat:

Last winter Anna’s mother had said, “When the war is over, we will be able to buy things again and I will get you a nice new coat.” But when the war ended the stores remained empty. There still were no coats. There was hardly any food. And no one had any money.

Anna’s mother must make choices about what she will buy and decides to exchange the few valuable items she has left for the services of a farmer, a spinner, a weaver, and a tailor to make Anna a new coat.

“Anna, I have no money,” she said, “but I still have Grandfather’s gold watch and some other nice things. Maybe we can use them to get what we need for a new coat.”

The story takes readers through all the steps involved in the production of Anna’s new coat. First, Anna and her mother go to the farmer and offer to trade grandfather’s gold watch for enough wool to make the coat. When spring comes, the farmer sheers his sheep and gives Anna’s mother a big bag of wool. Anna and her mother then take the wool to the spinner and offer to give her a beautiful lamp if she will spin the wool into yarn. After receiving the yarn, Anna decides that she would like her coat to be red, so she and her mother pick lingonberries and dye the yarn red. Then they take the red yarn to the weaver and ask her to weave it into cloth in exchange for a garnet necklace. Two weeks later, Anna and her mother take the cloth to the tailor, who measures Anna and makes her coat in exchange for a porcelain teapot.

At the end of the story, Anna proudly wears her new red coat home and shows her appreciation for everyone who helped make her coat by telling her mother that she would like to invite the farmer, the spinner, the weaver, and the tailor to come to their Christmas celebration.

Curriculum Connections
A New Coat for Anna
would be an excellent book to use as part of an economics lesson on scarcity, specialization, and/or barter and trade. This book includes numerous details about the producation of Anna’s coat and clearly explains the role of the farmer and his sheep, the spinner, the weaver, and the tailor.  It also reveals the benefits of specialization, as each of these people are able to trade their services for valuable items. The book is simple enough to be read to Kindergartners or first graders but also contains sufficient details to be used as an introduction to a 3rd or 4th grade lesson on scarcity and specialization.

In Virginia, this book relates to social studies SOLs 1.8, 2.8, 2.9, and 3.8, which state that students will

  • distinguish between the use of barter and money in exchange for goods and services,
  • explain that scarcity requires people to make choices about producing and consuming goods and services, and
  • recognize that people specialize in what they do best and trade for everything else.

Additional Resources

  • Here is a link to a 2nd grade lesson plan for the story A New Coat for Anna. This lesson focuses on barter and trade and the economic resources used to produce Anna’s coat. It includes lots of discussion questions, worksheets, and activities to go along with story, as well as a class bartering activity.
  • This teacher’s guide for the story provides activities designed to help students understand the steps involved in creating fabric from sheep’s wool. Activities include discovering factual information about sheep, weaving a placemat, and dying a coffee filter with food coloring, jello, or Kool-aid.
  • The website “Show-Me Economics” contains student activities and lesson plans for a variety of economics concepts for grades K-5.
  • You can listen to a terrific podcast review of the book.

Book: A New Coat for Anna
Author: Harriet Ziefert
Illustrator: Anita Lobel
Publisher: Dragonfly Books
Publication Date: 1986
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: K-4
ISBN: 0-394-89861-3

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