New Shoes – 2015 Diversity Reading Challenge


shoesTitle: New Shoes

Written by: Susan Lynn Meyer

Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez

Published by: Holiday House, 2015

Themes/Topics: Shoes, Segregation, Discrimination,  African American Interest, Human & Civil Rights, Fairness, Justice & Equality, Determination,

Genre: Historical fiction

Suitable for ages: 5-8


My cousin Charlotte hands me the package as we stand outside Johnson’s Shoes.               “If you could have any shoes in the window,” I ask, “which ones would you chose?” “Those!” Charlotte says, pouting to red sandals. “What about you, Ella Mae?”                  Today I choose saddle shoes. They’d be just right for back-to-school. But I know full well it’s just wishing. Money’s too tight for new shoes.


This picture book recounts the process of acquiring children’s shoes if one grew African American in the south during the time of segregation.

African American Ella Mae’s cousin’s old hand-me-down shoes don’t fit her her because feet have grown. Ella Mae is thrilled when her Mom says she’ll have to have new ones from Johnson’s Shoe store, as this is clearly a luxury and exception in her poor family.

She and mer mom are ignored by the salesman in favor of a white girl and her father who came in after them. Eventually the salesman acknowledges them, pointing out where the pencil and paper are so that Ella Mae’s mom could draw an outline of her feet. Both Ella Mae and the reader wonder why she can’t just try them on? Because African Americans were not allowed to actually try on shoes back then. Matches were made from their foot outlines on paper.

Ella Mae’s cousin Charlotte tells her that she has had the same humiliating experience buying shoes at the shoe store. So instead of whining, the two girls come up with  a plane They do chores in the neighborhood, requesting a nickel and a pair of outgrown shoes in exchange.Finally, they have enough nickels and shoes. The girls clean and polish and wash shoelaces for all the old shoes. And they open their own shoe store: Ella Mae and Charlotte’s Shoes, price: 10¢ and their used pair. And the best part of their shoe store is the everyone can try the shoes on.

Why I like This Book:

This is a historical fiction picture book, which tackles the subject of Jim Crow laws  in the South around sixty years ago in a way that is thoroughly relatable to today’s young picture book readers (every elementary kid has tried on shoes.) The author powerfully portrays a very specific moment of segregational history to great effect. The protagonist Ella Mae is spunky, positive and determined throughout the story despite the discrimination she encounters, and I love that she and her cousin come up with their own solution to the problem. Their solution reaches beyond their own needs to touch their entire community. The story is entertaining and inspiring. The girls are courageous but non-conlfictual and the impact is uplifting. It would be a great classroom addition. As is often the case, I learnt something new through this children’s book.

Valasquez uses a earth tones for the background illustrations but he shows the girls’ dresses in soft pastels. The artwork manages to convey realism, a historic feel and intimacy through these color choices.


Holiday House have produced an educator’s guide for NEW SHOES on their website.

I Thought This Was a Bear Book – Perfect Picture Book Friday

threeTitle: I Thought This Was a Bear Book

Written by: Tara Lazar

Illustrated by: Benji Davis

Published by: Aladdin (S&S), 2014

Themes/Topics: aliens, Goldilocks and Three Bears, metaphysical mash up

Suitable for ages: 4-7


Once upon a time there were three bears.



An alien (Prince Zilch) crashes into the story of The Three Little Bears in a classic storybook mash-up!

The alien spins out of his story after a bookcase collapsing incident and lands in a weird world with talking bears desperate to eat blueberries instead of porridge. Prince Zilch asks the Bear family he encounters for help so he can get back to his storybook (p.27) and save his Planet Zero from total destruction before it’s too late.

Mama and Papa Bear come up with all kinds of ways to help the alien return to his planet using anything at hand like their mattresses and a homemade catapult (all from things the pesky blonde girl has broken). Goldilocks even joins in without much luck. Baby Bear finallycomes up with the perfect meta solution to get the prince out of their woods and back to Planet Zero.

Why I like This Book:

Kids will love the humor of the bear/alien mashup and a character arriving in the wrong book. This is most definitely a bear AND an alien book. The story is told entirely through snappy dialogue depicted through color-coded balloons. It is a busy, animated, action-filled story with some fun reader interaction. It is a new take on the fractured fairy tale theme with a great blend of outer space and traditional characters developed a little further,

Benji Davis’ illustrations are vibrant filling most of the space on each double spread with some humorous details for kids to spot.


Have kids write some crazy mashups (Yeti and the Gingerbread House, The Loch Ness Monster and Beauty and the Beast!)

Check out this interview with Benji Davies.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Note: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.

Gabi Swiatkowska – Illustrator Interview

gabi.picA couple of years ago I reviewed INFINITY AND ME on my blog and have been following Gabi’s career ever since. She is also a fellow European, and I do like to squeeze a few into my interviews when I can!

See more Gabi’s work on her website-

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[GS] I begin with…. a word.
It’s “Oh god…” usually. Which is rather fitting as I was raised in christian faith and though my idea of god continues to transmute and morph and alter on daily basis there seems to be an ever present concept of one.

I do have a very visual mind, words and pictures are closely related in my head. In fact – words are pictures to me.

When someone says “Küss mich” for example – though I haven’t the faintest idea of what this means, in the wonderful space in my brain that makes it that I can “see” things – I see a frog. A beautiful, fat, green frog.
With brown speckles.

I am fascinated with the correlation between words and pictures. I love how either one can be used to tell a story and how sometimes – so much can be said with one picture, but some other times the same can only be accomplished with words.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work? I know this happens to include Brooklyn and France, both places I have loved living in!

[GS] I was born in Poland, a country of perpetual greyness –
I don’t really understand why, because I know for a fact that the full spectrum of color exists in Poland, but all of my memories play out in various shades of grey.
Here I might sink even deeper into the complicated matter of (my) peculiar perception, because when I say grey – I probably don’t mean what most people expect it to mean.
I love grey. I feel like in Poland I learned a thorough appreciation of grey.
I could almost claim that grey is my favorite color.
To use with red.
Because what that grey can do for red is just flabbergasting.

All this might sound a little silly but the trouble is – this is what I spend entire hours of my days contemplating.

I use a lot of grey in my work – I’m thinking this might be inspired by Poland…
In reality Brooklyn is probably greyer than Poland (the bit I grew up in), but that’s not how my brain registered it. Brooklyn to me is like a balloon brimming with shiny, practically neon colors.

France… – I feel like I’m lying about France. I don’t really live in France, not the entire country anyway, only just my garden. I feed birds obsessively and ponder over all sorts of strange things.

Where have you lived in France?

[JM] 13 wonderful years in Nice! Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[GS] Officially – I did not choose to become an artist, It was my parents who made that decision.
I wanted to be a gardener. My dad wanted me to be a musician, my mom wanted me to be a painter.

It was my mom that signed me up for the Art Lycée in Bielsko-Biala, Poland. I was assigned to the “Art of Display” department – this is as close of a translation I as can manage.

I remember having to draw a lot of perfectly straight lines. In a country suffering from lack (of socks, shoes, toilet paper and all the rest) this proved a very useful meditation.
I was seventeen when I arrived in New York and I think that the shock of it changed me permanently.

For one – I started avoiding identifying myself as an artist. I decided there were too many of them in the city already. I packed all of my paints and pencils, started a family, opened a little preschool and only allowed myself to play with clay. I made a whole bunch of ceramic bowls.

I have no idea how I ended up working as an illustrator…

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[GS] As long as it thins and cleans up with water – it’s my preferred medium.

[JM] Tell us a little how you came to collaborate with Kate Hosford on INFINITY AND ME before approaching a publisher! Normally a big no-no!

[GS] It started with Kate sending me the manuscript. I immediately promised that I would make a dummy for it and then proceeded not to make it for about two years.

Kate, who is the goddess of grace incarnate, never even whimpered. She waited patiently.
There was not a lot of back and forth. Kate sent the manuscript, eventually I made the dummy and sent it back to Kate and then Kate placed it with Lerner. Lerner kicked up with an impressive publicity campaign and here we are – working on our next book “The Perfect Cup of Tea” (see the following sketches.)

spreads 1 - 4 copy queen 2014 queen 2015 b

Kate and I align perfectly for this type of collaboration – we are very alike seemingly, but when it comes time to attack a project we come at it from a completely different perspective.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

[GS] Yes. I am currently installing an exhibit at The Brooklyn Library (10 Army Plaza) that will open on the 1st of October through to the end of January.

The exhibit consists of two parts – the original illustrations from my published work and a story called “The Secret Life of Books” that I constructed specifically for this show. “The Secret Life of Books” is a story illustrated with comic strips and dioramas. I don’t want to give away too much because I really, really want people to come and see it in person, but – I can tell you that the making of it and the transport was packed with action. (We even got an upgrade on the flight – courtesy of KLM!).The construction of the entire project took 11 months.

In fact, it is still in progress – I am now pretty much residing in the underground of the Brooklyn Library – an obsolete archives section, assembling all the pieces together.

Gallery below – a selection of work from the last three projects:
“Queen on Wednesday”
“Mary Cassatt Extraordinary Impressionist Painter” by Barbara Herkert – coming out October 2015
and a WIP “The Perfect Cup of Tea” by Kate Hosford scheduled for spring 2017.

I feel like I am stuck in a B&W Kafka-style documentary about hidden worlds of New York city, completely free of digital technology. There’s no signal down there of any sort. The intense bustling of the city above has been successfully replaced by a steady hum from the huge tail-end of the AC ventilating system. It will occasionally give a clamorous cough indicative of a long-time smoker.

Every now and then I can hear the door open and someone invisible shuffle by. It’s beautiful. It’s as though I’m actually inside the “Secret Life of Books” story.

[JM]  I shall certainly come and see the exhibit at BPL. What does your workspace look like?

[GS] See photos below of Kate Hosford in the workspace – the general chief of scheduling. Without Kate I would not need to look at my calendar. It was Kate’s idea to approach Barbara Wing at the Brooklyn Library about a potential show.

[JM] Five Fun Ones to Finish
Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[GS] I spend close to 80% of my time trying to make sense of the chronic stream of updates on my equipment (I probably specifically mean the smart phone).

[JM] First paid job after high school?

[GS] Working at an antiques boutique.

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[GS] Anything I can find in my fridge – the range of cravings can vary greatly depending on the hour.

[JM] What’s your favorite park (state, urban or national) in the world?


Herbal Garden in France

[GS] I harbour a special love for my own backyard. It only recently occurred to me that I might be an introvert (???!).
If I’m not home – Les Jardins de Cadiot in dordogne.

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[GS] At the moment – cats and birds. The birds all live outside somewhere.
I spontaneously love all innocent life and actively practice loving all the rest.

[GS] We have an opening at the Library (Brooklyn Library – 10 Army Plaza) at 6pm this Thursday.


October 1
I’m attaching the official invites (I can send them in PDF if you prefer).

On Saturday (October 3) at 1pm – Tildon Krautz (you can check out the band off the link below) has a show at the Library

October 8 – Kate and I will have a presentation, also at the Library.


Gabi, what a labor of love this exhibit is. I am delighted to be able to promote it here and I hope many children and adults will come. Thank you so much for taking time out of your crazy schedule and deadlines to share with is today.