It’s not easy to write a picture book for young kids that tackles a tough subject in an age-appropriate way. And it’s even harder to do so while still being entertaining. NEW SHOES by Susan Lynn Meyer does all of that and more, and it does it so very beautifully.
Set in the South during the time of segregation, this lushly illustrated picture book brings the civil rights era to life for contemporary readers as two young girls find an inventive way to foil Jim Crow laws.
When her cousin’s hand-me-down shoes don’t fit, it is time for Ella Mae to get new ones. She is ecstatic, but when she and her mother arrive at Mr. Johnson’s shoe store, her happiness quickly turns to dejection. Ella Mae is unable to try on the shoes because of her skin color. Determined to fight back, Ella Mae and her cousin Charlotte work tirelessly to collect and restore old shoes, wiping, washing, and polishing them to perfection. The girls then have their very own shoe sale, giving the other African American members of their community a place to buy shoes where they can be treated fairly and “try on all the shoes they want.”
It’s hard for me to imagine not being allowed to try on shoes, and I must admit I never even realized that particular injustice was part of the Jim Crow laws. I’m glad to have been enlightened. Wanting to try on a pair of shoes is something that can be easily understood by young children, and they will be able to appreciate the unfairness of the situation in the shoe store.
What I really love about this book, though, is how the girls solve the problem themselves. They work hard to earn startup funds, they take great care and pride in launching their shoe store, and they solve a problem not just for themselves, but for their whole community! That is changemaking at its finest.
This moving and inspirational picture book belongs in every classroom in America. To make it even easier, the publisher’s web page for the book has classroom discussion questions and an educator’s guide, both with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) connections.
I hope you’ll check out NEW SHOES… and share it with others!