Monday, April 6, 2015

New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

It's the 1950s somewhere in the Jim Crow south and Ella Mae is off to buy new shoes with her mom.  Normally, Ella Mae's new shoes would have been a pair of her older sisters outgrown shoes, but her feet have grown and she can't wear her sister's hand-me-down shoes anymore.

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


  1. Yes, there are shameful realities in all of history, American or otherwise, and this helps shine a spotlight on the absurd thinking that mankind can embrace. This looks like a beautiful book, and the illustrations look stunning :D

  2. What a great book, not only explains history, it explains the tragic parts of history in a way kids can understand. Will be adding this to my list.

  3. Love this book and included in a review of new African-American picture books earlier this year. So happy to see you feature it! Thanks for stopping by the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  4. Thanks for this thoughtful review! I really enjoyed this book as well and found it a useful way to introduce some of the harms of the Jim Crow era to younger kids. Great share for the #KidLitBlogHop!

  5. Thank you for this wonderful review. It is good to show readers the horrible things that have happened and how resourceful young people can peacefully take a step toward change. I'm adding this to my to be read list. Thank you again.
    Tea Time with Melody Q
    & Kid Lit Blog Hop

  6. This sounds fabulous - as you say, it highlights a terrible thing (I didn't know that African Americans weren't allowed to try on shoes and my jaw dropped as I was reading your review), and the girls' solution is so positive - and all the more shaming because of that. Thank you for highlighting this. #kidlitbloghop


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