Karen English, a Coretta Scott King honoree, recently published a new picture book called, Red Shoes. You may know Karen English as the author of the chapter book series Nikkie and Deja and The Carver Chronicles.
Red Shoes begins as the story of Malika whose Nana gives her the most beautiful pair of red shoes. The reader is then taken on a journey of the red shoes as Malika wears them to school, to her Auntie’s wedding, and to Christmas dinner at Nana’s house. Malika loves her shoes until the sad day, “Oh no! Red shoes pinching…and all through dinner her red shoes don’t let her forget that her feet have grown.”
The red shoes then continue their journey to a thrift store where they are quickly purchased by Inna Ziya who knows the perfect little girl to give the shoes to…Amina, all the way in Africa. Inna Ziya travels to Africa where she gives the shoes to Amina, “the girl who fasted for half the month of Ramadan.”
This is a sweet story of a pair of shoes that make two little girls, living on different continents, very happy. In many ways, this story can serve as a mirror for children who have a favorite article of clothing that are part of many important moments in their lives.
This story can also serve as a window. When I read this book with a group of first graders, we talked about thrift stores, a concept they were not familiar with. Also, as the shoes made their journey to Africa, we got another glimpse into a different world. We visited the local marketplace, rode the tro-tro, and had the opportunity to ask questions about the mention of what sounded like a major accomplishment, Amina fasting for Ramadan.
I turned to the internet to find resources to further educate my students on Ramadan. I found this video of kids talking about their own experiences with Ramadan as well as a National Geographic article that can help kids to understand the customs and traditions of others.
Picture books like Red Shoes can open doors for us to help kids to see how we are connected. It also opens the door to asking questions, seeking answers, and learning to better understand others.