Monday, April 6, 2015
New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Money is counted out and soon Ella Mae and her mom are off to Johnson's shoe store, where they 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.
Why? Because African Americans were not allowed to actually try on shoes back then; shoes were matched to the outline of a person's foot.
Sadly, Ella Mae's cousin Charlotte tells her that she has had the same humiliating experience buying shoes at the shoe store. So Ella Mae comes up with a plan. The two girls diligently begin doing chores for neighbors, and all they ask for is a nickel and a pair of outgrown shoes.
Finally, they have enough nickels and shoes to set their plan in action. The girls clean and polish and wash shoelaces for all the usable shoes. And when all that's done 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.
I really liked this book because it not only opened a window on a shameful part of American history but I loved the way Ella Mae and her cousin Charlotte came up with a way to fight back and solve a problem in a way that also allowed their friends and neighbors to be treated respectfully at the same time. And it shows how even kids can make a difference.
New Shoes is narrated by Ella Mae in a very matter of fact way that immediately draws the reader into her world. For the realistic oil painted illustrations, Valasquez used a palette of earth tones for the background and but he shows the girl's dresses in soft pastels. In this way, the illustrations compliment the narrator's tone, making it feel inmate yet still giving the reader some needed objective distance to think about what is being said.
Sometimes when we talk about things like the Jim Crow south and segregation, we tend to see the overall picture. But historical picture books for older readers like New Shoes are able to bring to light the everyday individual indignities and humiliations caused when these ideas were played out. Trying on a pair of new shoes is such an ordinary, everyday thing that most people probably don't even think about it, let alone think about a time when African Americans were not allowed to simply because of the color of their skin.
Be sure to read the informative Author's Note at the back of New Shoes.
This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from a friend