The Children’s Book Review | August 12, 2014
Written by Susan Lynn Meyer
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Age Range: 6 to 8
Publisher: Holiday House, (January 2015)
What to expect: Racism, segregation (Jim Crow), ingenuity, historical fiction
Set in the 1950s during the infamous days of Jim Crow, New Shoes is a story of an African American girl who comes up with a brilliant idea to remedy the far-too-often degrading experience of buying shoes, especially for back-to-school. Money is tight and Ella Mae is used to getting her cousin Charlotte’s old shoes. Yet the next pair of hand-me-downs is too tight and Ella Mae’s mama has “to scrape together money for new shoes.” Ella Mae recognizes that she’s treated differently at the shoe store when the salesman determines her shoe size based on paper foot tracings. The humiliating experience sparks an idea that not only benefits the girls, but also their neighbors.
Award-winning author Susan Lynn Meyer offers a clever twist to a disconcerting aspect of American history. Spoken through the eyes of Ella Mae, Meyer’s first person narrative zeroes in on the mindset of an early elementary school-aged “colored” girl (terminology befitting the time period) amid the throes of segregation. In Ella Mae’s interactions with Charlotte, Meyer’s text reflects a young girl who has interests in nice things just like any girl her age. But then Meyer’s text shifts when Ella Mae converses with her mama. Ella Mae, curious about the treatment of blacks among white folks, raises questions. But her mama always responds with words that soften the blow to the truth about the new age of African Americans enslavement.
Ella Mae knows that something’s definitely wrong with this picture. And to accurately portray Ella Mae’s responses, Meyer collaborates with award winning illustrator Eric Velasquez. Using a blend of mixed media and oil colors on watercolor paper, Velasquez’s depictions brilliantly capture a multitude of emotional expressions. His renditions are so incredibly lifelike that they can be easily mistaken for photographs. Equally eye catching are the collage-designed end pages filled with paper foot tracings—a stark reminder of history that should never be repeated.
Closing with an author’s note that includes a brief summation of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement, New Shoes is a definite must read for both home and school.
Add this book to your collection: New Shoes
About the Author
Susan Lynn Meyer is an English Professor at Wellesley College and a children’s book author. Her WWII/Holocaust story Black Radishes won the Sydney Taylor Honor Award in 2011 and was named a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year. She lives in Massachusetts.
About the Illustrator
Eric Velasquez‘s many awards include the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent. He lives in New York.
New Shoes, by Susan Lynn Meyer and Eric Velasquez, was reviewed by Anita Lock. Follow along with our articles tagged with African American, African American History Month, American History, Civil Rights, Eric Velasquez, Historical Fiction, History, and Segregation, to discover more great books for kids.