Title: New Shoes
Author: Susan Lynn Meyer
Illustrator: Eric Velasquez
Theme: Discrimination, Perseverance, and Kindness
Character Origin: Human
Book Type: Picture Book | Pages: 32
Ages: 6-9 | Book Level: 3.4 | Lexile Measure: 490L
Synopsis: Ella Mae, a seven-year-old African-American girl living in the rural south in 1950, is excited to buy her first pair of new shoes in a store instead of wearing hand-me-downs. But when it is her turn to be waited on, she learns that the white store owner doesn’t allow African-Americans to try on shoes. It isn’t fair, Ella Mae tells her cousin Charlotte. Charlotte agrees.
A 2016 NAACP Image Award Nominee, and a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award winner.
This is a story about cousins, Ella Mae and Charlotte. Ella Mae usually gets hand-me-down shoes from Charlotte because new shoes are expensive. Only this time they don’t fit and they have to get new shoes from Johnson’s Shoe Store. Ella Mae and her mom, living in the Jim Crow Era, are treated differently than another patron in the store. Mr. Johnson’s behavior left Ella Mae with questions and knowing that it wasn’t quite right.
This reminds me so much of stories my parents told us growing up. The discrimination of shopkeepers and store owners in the 1950s South was commonplace for “colored people.” Meyer offers an accurate portrayal of a real-life experience that many African American’s faced during segregation. Despite the dehumanizing treatment that Ella Mae received, she devised a plan to work hard and make sure that other families that looked like hers didn’t have that same experience. I loved how Ella Mae and Charlotte saw a problem and created a solution that helped other people.
The illustrations were appropriate and the tonal quality seemed to capture the richness of the story. Velasquez’s technique took the reader back in time. More stories like this need to be told as a reminder of a time that many would like to forget. I hope families will share this story with their children and have an age-appropriate conversation on treating everyone fairly.