by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
I only wore saddle shoes, Keds, and other sensible Thom McAn oxfords until I was liberated in junior high. Then, for some (arbitrary!?) reason, my parents decided I could handle wearing loafers and yellow go-go boots and generally allowed me more control over what I wore on my feet.
I have no idea why the type of shoe I wore mattered so much to my parents. I have a vague notion that, as with holding me back from trading in my coke-bottle glasses for contact lenses until I was 16, they believed insisting I wear not-so-flashy footwear would indicate I was a serious student focused on my studies more than my appearance or fashion.
When I look back on the ’70s, shoe fashion—clogs, wedges, platforms, and go-go boots like my yellow ones—was definitely part of the way we expressed ourselves.
Scholastic’s corporate offices in SoHo, New York City, sit almost equidistantly between a huge Adidas megastore and a huge Nike one. Across the street is a (two-story) Converse store, and down the block is Supreme. As anyone who is breathing, teaching, or reading children’s books these days knows, sneakers are huge.
You might remember this photo from an earlier Life of a Reader post, "Toys: When You Gotta Have 'Em." It shows the line for a sneaker release at the nearby Supreme store. As impressive (and intimidating!) as it is, this is definitely not a fluke or exclusive to New York City.
The shoe craze is a nationwide phenomenon. I think it may have to do with so many amazing professional athletes and celebrities releasing their own lines of shoes, but maybe the deep appreciation for shoes came first. I’m sure some sociologist has studied what trends in shoes mean for our culture and how they came about, and I’d love to learn more.
When we think of “innovation,” at least for me, shoes aren’t the first thing to come to mind. But this week, Alexie told me that Nike released new shoes late last year that lace themselves. They haven’t gone nationwide yet, but luck would have it that one of the two exclusive retailers is the SoHo shop down the block from us. Maybe I will go down there at lunch to see what all the hype is about.
Trying to stay on top of things, I subscribe to Sneaker News, and there were a few big shoe stories over the past few weeks. Additionally, a Japanese auto company designed a vacuum shoe that lets you clean as you walk. In the near future, “smart” running shoes will be able to help you stay healthy and train more efficiently. And then, of course, at the recent Golden Globes, there was a lot of talk about what shoes the stars were wearing.
In addition to huge sneaker manufacturers, we have tons of other shoe stores in our Scholastic neighborhood, including Prada, who is showing stunningly high heels right now; Clarks, who has been consistently making “modern classics” since 1825; and Foot Locker, Cole Hahn, and Camper. Honestly, you do not have to go far to get anything for your feet. Scholastic moved to this location in 1993, shortly after I came to the company, and it has taken me writing this post to realize that our neighborhood formerly known for artists’ lofts and galleries is now filled with footwear stores!
I asked my friend and colleague David Vozar if he had any memories about shoes, and this is what he told me:
“I think I was around nine or ten. I remember picking up one of my biggest presents on Christmas morning with dreams of robots or trucks. As I unwrapped it, my dreams were dashed. It was a shoe-shine kit. My initial reaction was something like, ‘What a horrible gift this is for a kid!’
“I put the wooden box aside, and it sat in the corner of my room for months until I actually opened it. The box itself was a stand for my shoe, and inside was a polishing cloth, a brush, a buffer, and some polish—black and brown. I figured out how to open the can of polish after a few minutes, and the smell hit me. I LOVED THAT SMELL! I immediately took out my shoes and brushed them, applied polish, and buffed them to a bright sheen. I am not sure what ever happened to that kit, but I do remember that it outlived almost all of my toys from that Christmas.”
Of course, like everything we write about in Life of a Reader, shoes play an important role in children’s literature. Here is a fun fact: the first book to prominently feature shoes was The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, published by John Newbery (for whom the medal is named!) in London in 1765.
Pop quiz! Can you match these iconic shoes to their respective stories? Write your answers on our Facebook wall, or tweet at us (@ScholasticClub)!
Here are some books available through Scholastic Reading Club that feature shoes in one way or another.
This old woman owns perhaps the largest pair of shoes on the planet—one being her house and the other being her car! They may not match, but they both come with their own little tricks. The houseshoe, for example, comes equipped with a slide and swing and is made of beautiful multicolored bricks. The carshoe is sports-car red with bright yellow wheels and can comfortably seat ten kids, a couple of animals, and an old woman—but make sure it’s running first!
A classic twist on a centuries’ old, much harsher rhyme, this picture book stars a cute, sweet old woman who never gets angry but instead lovingly “makes do.”
“A warm-and-fuzzy addition to any picture book collection.” —School Library Journal
Floyd’s favorite shoe and its mate—both low-top teal Converses—are practical and timeless. One of the few shoes to be beloved over the course of decades, Floyd’s shoes are perfect for people of all ages and walks of life…assuming, of course, you can get them down from the tree first.
Floyd’s kite got stuck in a tree, and so he understandably tosses his shoes up to knock it loose. Unfortunately, they get stuck as well. So Floyd throws everything and (literally) the kitchen sink at them to no avail. To see if these classic, cool shoes ever make it back down to earth, read Stuck—a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2011.
“The giggle-inducing conclusion leaves some stuff, um, up in the air.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
What doesn’t mix with expensive, fashionable shoes your mother loves? A dog who’s a chewer. The second book in this fun, action-packed series, Jimmy and his crime-fighting dog, Abby, are back. Only this time, the criminal is Abby. Abby keeps eating Jimmy’s mother’s expensive shoes, and so his mom gives Jimmy an ultimatum: take Abby to obedience class to get her to behave, or Abby has to live somewhere else.
Just a couple of classes later, Abby is well-behaved…so well-behaved she won’t even fight crime! So when Jimmy’s escapades on the lacrosse team break up his team of crime-fighting kids, the Crime Biters, he has to deal with some suspected criminal activity alone. This is a fun, fast read for any sports fans, dog lovers, or mystery seekers!
“Fun and friendship combine for a satisfying sequel.” —Kirkus Reviews
Imagine having your shoes shined by one of the world’s most notorious criminals. That’s life for the prison guards living on Alcatraz Island in 1935. The inmates perform household chores around the prison, including washing, starching, and sewing uniforms, and making their big, black leather shoes shine.
In the sequel to the Newbery Honor–winning Al Capone Does My Shirts, 12-year-old Moose Flanagan still lives with his family on the infamous prison island. His father is a guard, managing some of the scariest criminals of all time—including none other than mobster boss Al Capone. In the first book, Al Capone shows his soft side by helping Moose get his sister with autism into school. But now, Al Capone needs a favor in return. See how Moose gets out of this mess by checking out this witty and action-packed middle grade mystery.
“Heart-stopping+heartrending+heartwarming.” —San Francisco Chronicle
Like David Vozar, Alfie falls in love with the smell of a shoe-shine kit. To help his mother pay the bills while his father is away in World War I, nine-year-old Alfie “borrowed” the kit from his neighbor and skips school to shine shoes in King’s Cross railway station in London. Over time, he really gets the knack of it and even starts to enjoy what he does.
He was barely five when the war started. Now he is nine years old, and he hasn’t heard from his father—a soldier—in nearly four years. Through his shoe-shining business, he becomes quite good at chatting with his customers and learns, serendipitously, that his father is a patient at a nearby hospital. Alfie is determined to bring his father home and make his family the way it once was.
“A vivid, accessible tale of the staggering price war exacts from those who had no voice in waging it.” —Kirkus Reviews
Maybe this last title is a bit of a stretch on the theme, but it’s a really wonderful book, so we’ve decided to include it anyway. Lewis Blake is a Native American living on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in upstate New York in 1975. He goes to the local middle school, which also serves the nearby air force base. Unfortunately for Lewis, he is the only non-white kid in his class, and the prejudice and cultural differences leave him feeling invisible. That is, until new kid George joins his class, and they become friends.
Shoes come into the story when George eventually nicknames Lewis “Shoe.” It’s a meaningful moment because Lewis had struggled in the past to balance what his Native American friends consider playful jibes and white kids consider insults (he once nicknamed Stacey “Spacey” and she hasn’t been friendly since). This young adult realistic fiction novel looks at race, poverty, friendship, family, and culture in a way that is heartbreaking, genuine, and funny.
(This is a young adult book and, as such, has some mature content that may not be appropriate for every reader.)
“And although Gansworth manages the weighty themes of racism and poverty with nuance and finesse, at its heart, this is a rare and freehearted portrait of true friendship.” —Booklist (starred review)
The ancient Romans put it well when it comes to having good shoes: “Solvitur ambulando,” which is Latin for “It is solved by walking.”
Even though the Romans probably meant that physically walking around helps you to work through problems, I can’t help but think of how this connects to books. Reading allows you to walk around in someone else’s shoes. And understanding other people’s points of view is one of the most important parts of resolving many issues.
As always, happy reading, and please email me at JNBlog@scholastic.com if you have any more books featuring shoes you’d like to share!
These Books Are Available from Scholastic Reading Club