Sunday, September 23, 2007

Those Shoes

Those Shoes
by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
review copy compliments of Candlewick Press

I'm not much of a fashion maven anymore. I like what I like, and I buy what fits comfortably. It's my money, so I get to decide when I say I can and can't have something.

But I certainly remember what it was like to want and what it was like when Mom tried to explain away my hunger with talk of need and price. I remember my desire for a shirt with a little alligator on it, for a particular pair of lime green pants, for go-go boots.

Maribeth Boelts captures the struggle between need and want perfectly in Those Shoes. Jeremy wants more than anything a pair of black high-tops with two white stripes. Everybody has them. Everybody except him and his friend Antonio. When Jeremy's shoes fall apart, the guidance counsel0r gives him a pair of shoes that close with velcro and have "an animal on them from a cartoon I don't think any kid ever watched."

Grandma takes Jeremy to shop for the shoes he wants so desperately, even though she's told him, "There's no room for 'want' around here -- just 'need'...and what you need are new boots for winter." Grandma has to sit down hard when she sees the price of the black high-tops with two white stripes. Jeremy holds out hope that they will find a pair in a thrift shop, and they do, but they are too small for Jeremy. He buys them anyway, with his own money, hoping and believing that they will stretch. (Sounds like a dozen or more ill-purchased pairs of jeans in my lifetime!)

Jeremy tries and tries, but he can't make the new shoes work for him. Then he notices that Antonio's feet are smaller than his and he knows he has a way to make his friend happy.

In the end, it snows, and when it's recess Jeremy gets to leave his velcro cartoon shoes in the hall and change into his new snow boots. (Thank you, Grandma!)

In spite of my remembered desperate childhood fashion wants, there are some huge differences between me and Jeremy -- I never wore clothes until they fell apart at school, I was never given a pair of shoes by the guidance counselor (or some equivalent because we didn't have such a thing), and we didn't shop at thrift shops. So I'm wondering if perhaps I only understand this story in a very surface sort of way. And as I look back at the illustrations, I wonder about the other story this book might tell. Jeremy is black and lives with his grandmother. There are blacks and whites and Asians (and a girl) who have those shoes, but Jeremy who is black, and Antonio, who has a Hispanic name, don't. The guidance counsellor appears to be white. Maybe I'm making too much of this. Maybe it's reality, get over it. Maybe it's just a story about wanting versus needing and getting versus giving. See what you think.

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