Inspiring Young Readers
New Shoes, Red Shoes by Susan Rollings, illustrated by Becky Baur
Buying new shoes is not something that I particularly enjoy but I know that a trip to the shoe shop can be an exciting experience for young children. If only there was the array of choices as illustrated on the end papers of this book to choose from! I spent some time browsing here deciding whether I preferred the rather natty boots with a bright green shoe shape and densely floral legs, or the scarlet and brown Doc Martens - lots of opportunity for discussion and follow up drawings even before the story has started.
In the best Nursery Rhyme tradition, the lively text is powerfully rhythmic which encourages beating time and joining in throughout:
‘Two shoes, small shoes,
Off to get some new shoes’.
I liked the first double page spread that shows what is a two-woman household as the context for the boy setting out to the shops with one of them as the other stays at home, evidently working on a laptop. Is it a friend, relative, nanny or could he have two mothers? Waiting at the bus stop is a chance for us all to look closely at what people are wearing on their feet. Eye level for little children gives a different view of the world, which means they often spot details that an adult might not immediately see. The cross section of the double decker bus gives the illustrator more chances to show an interesting and diverse crowd of people including a man carrying a baby, an Asian man with a child on his lap and a child with a Guide Dog. This variety is very typical of any inner city bus – the only difference being that everyone is smiling, which is somewhat unrealistic in my experience!
Every turn of the page is a delight from a scene in the park to a building site where both men and women are shown wearing sturdy work boots. The little boy has collected a friend from her house along the way and they walk hand in hand through the busy, colourful street market:
‘Busy shoes, shopping shoes, are we nearly there shoes’?
When they arrive at the shoe shop they are faced with rows and rows of choices, ideal for every possible occasion and hobby. At last a decision needs to be made:
‘Green shoes, purple shoes, red, blue or yellow shoes’!
As an adult I must again confess to a reality check here as I worried whether the shop would have his final choice in the right colour. But in storybook world this is of course not a problem and so he takes his splendid new red shoes in a box back home to show his mother who is still busily working on her laptop. On the facing page we see his friend who has chosen the same shoe style but in green. It seems that a big party was the reason behind the trip to the shoe shop and the book finishes with everyone shown having a great time dancing to music.
For a successful picture book, simplicity and brevity of plot can be vital. The skill is in enticing the young reader to fill in the gaps and use clues in the pictures to expand the story and make it relevant to one’s own experiences. Child’s Play (International)Ltd is a well- established publisher adept at finding author/ illustrator combinations that do this very well.