Title: 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, pointing 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.