Center for Children's Books
|The Big Picture, a
regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth
look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.
by Maribeth Boelts; illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
Money and stuff. For all but the most ascetic among us, they are never
far from mind, and the inner imps and angels that respectively urge
“Acquisition!” and “Restraint!” whisper also into the ears of the very
young. In this witty, wise picture book Boelts presents a kid’s-eye
view of a consumer fad that rages through school at gale force and the
students who are left twisting in the wind.
A huge, fiery orange billboard featuring an expensively shod basketball
star screams its message, “Buy These Shoes,” and the kids in Jeremy’s
school enthusiastically respond. As each day goes by, another student
turns up in the coveted kicks (“Black high-tops. Two white stripes”),
and soon only Jeremy and Antonio are mired in sartorial embarrassment.
Grandma is unmoved by Jeremy’s gimme crusade (“There’s no room for
‘want’ around here—just need”), and she points out that new snow boots
fall into the need category this season. But Jeremy does, in fact, need
new shoes: his old sneaks fall apart on the playground and Mr. Alfrey,
the counselor, supplies him with a temporary pair from a box of
castoffs. The abject dorkiness of these blue, velcroed,
cartoon-emblazoned sneakers drives Jeremy to desperation, and even
Grandma recognizes the need to take him shopping. The price tag on the
striped high-tops sends them both into sticker shock, but they track
down a pair in a resale shop, and Jeremy plunks down his own money for
them despite the fact that they’re way too small. He can’t take the
pain, though, and soon he’s back again to wearing the despised “Mr.
Alfrey shoes.” When it finally dawns on Jeremy that classmate Antonio’s
taped-together shoes are even more humiliating than his own—and that
Antonio’s feet are smaller—he generously gives Antonio the high-tops.
Then a turn in the weather finally puts an end to the whole footwear
drama, as a snowfall sends all the kids scrambling for their boots, and
Jeremy is right in style after all.
Boelts knows a thing or two about grade-school sumptuary laws, and her
deft observations of show-off technique are right on the mark. Brandon
T. boasts that he can now outrun Jeremy, and kids who have succumbed to
shoe seduction are painfully litanized: “Antonio and I count how many
times Nate goes to the bathroom—seven times in one day, just so he can
walk up and down the hall real slow.” Boelts also knows a thing or two
about grandmothers: Jeremy’s grandma, who appears to be his guardian,
is clearly trying to instill in him some fiscal responsibility, and she
mutters the de rigueur “How kind of Mr. Alfrey” when Jeremy comes home
in the blue shoes that sport an animal “from a cartoon I don’t think
any kid ever watched.” But she also knows there’s a limit to how much
chagrin a kid can suffer, and her “little bit of money set aside” will
never be directed to anything other than her grandson’s comfort.
Jones mixed-media, digitally assembled pictures cleverly capture how
thoroughly the shoe craze permeates every aspect of Jeremy’s life. The
ad that fires desire covers a brick wall, dwarfing posters for race
cars and jugglers and jazz, dwarfing Jeremy himself, sprawling across
the double-page spread and bleeding off the edges of the recto. Jeremy
incorporates Those Shoes into his yearning doodles, wherein they warm
the tootsies of monsters and superheroes and feature in ethereal
settings. Those Shoes creep into his homework, and even his spelling
list seems to mock him: South
America, Hawaii, Ohio,
England, San Francisco.
It is also illustration rather than text that establishes a neutral
economic context in which the tale plays out. The urban streets and
school are free equally of glitter and of grime; children of all ethnic
backgrounds are clad in the expected array of pants and caps and shirts
and hoodies, allowing viewers to focus on that single, salient
variable, Those Shoes. Jeremy (African American) resides in a modest,
tidy apartment that hints of creature comforts—his dinosaur collection,
his adequately stocked closet, Grandma’s closely crammed bookcase. Even
Antonio (Caucasian), the child who truly is needy, is only conspicuous
in his taped sneakers. By refusing to connect craving to either income
or ethnicity, Boelts and Jones create a work with broad appeal.
Jonesin’ can and does smite everyone, and any kid who’s been the last
one on the block to procure the latest must-have—whatever its monetary
value— will feel the sting of Jeremy’s predicament. Fortunately,
there’s also comfort here in the gentle message that fads fade, as well
as a cautionary observation that a compelling ad, coupled with an
infusion of peer pressure, can turn the consumer into the consumed.
Elizabeth Bush, Reviewer
Cover image by Noah Z. Jones from Those Shoes ©2007.
Used by permission of Candlewick Press.
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This page was last updated on December 1, 2007.