Those Shoes written by Maribeth Boelts,
Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
A Review by Eden Grey
“At school, Antonio is smiling big in his brand-new shoes. I feel happy when I look at his face and mad when I look at my Mr. Alfrey shoes.”
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts is a sweet and touching story that addresses issues of social justice, empathy, generosity, and selflessness through the life journey of a young boy named Jeremy and his pursuit of a new pair of shoes. After his sneakers fall apart at school one day, Jeremy is mortified and disappointed by the replacement pair he receives from the lost-and-found. He sees more and more kids coming to school with the trendy new high-tops he wants so badly and wishes that his grandma had bought him new sneakers instead of the snow boots in his closet. Despite financial constraints preventing Jeremy’s grandmother from buying him the shoes he wants, she shows remarkable compassion and selflessness when she offers to buy them anyway with what little money she has. This aspect of the story beautifully portrays the sacrifices that are often made in families that suffer from economic hardship. Jeremy’s grandmother cannot afford to buy the shoes outright, so they resourcefully visit many thrift stores until they find the exact shoes he is looking for, just a few sizes too small.
At school, Jeremy notices that his friend Antonio is wearing an old, beat-up pair of shoes. In a heartwarming act of generosity, Jeremy decides to surprise Antonio by gifting him his new pair of shoes that are too small. As the story reaches its end, Jeremy is grateful when his teacher instructs the class to put their boots on because there is fresh snow. He is able to wear the new boots his grandma bought him previously and doesn’t even need “those shoes” anymore. Jeremy is filled with gratitude and fulfillment, as he experiences a win-win; new boots that “nobody has worn before,” and the satisfaction of helping a friend in need.
Throughout the story, Jeremy struggles to accept his family’s limited financial means. Unlike many other kids in his class, Jeremy’s family can only afford the bare necessities. His desire for a popular new pair of shoes mirrors the experience of other children who may face economic hardship and touches on elements of capitalism and privilege which influence all of society, even kids who cannot yet make money. Furthermore, this story speaks to the importance people place on material possessions, and the way material possessions impact feelings of self-worth, confidence, and even basic happiness.
Those Shoes explores issues of inequality, gratitude, and sacrifice through displays of empathy and selflessness. The compassion and generosity Jeremy’s grandma displays for him at the beginning of the story later influences his own generous behavior. Challenging stereotypes that portray poor people as being “needy,” Boelts depicts Jeremy and his grandmother as responsible and resourceful, grateful and generous instead.
Maribeth Boelts is a popular writer of children’s books and is known for artistically communicating about important topics related to social justice through her stories. In Those Shoes, Boelts teaches readers about the challenges and hardships faced by economically disadvantaged communities in the United States. The story comments on privilege and inequality and speaks to the systemic influence of consumerism on society. Furthermore, her choice to depict the main character as Black asks the reader to consider how having intersecting identities may exacerbate the negative impacts of capitalism, and its perpetuation of institutional disparities.
I highly recommend Those Shoes to readers of all ages. The illustrations are engaging and appropriate and the story spreads a positive and uplifting message. This book may be especially useful for teachers and parents who want to foster positive values such as generosity, gratitude, and compassion in children.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
My name is Eden Grey and I am a Senior at Portland State Univeristy (PSU) pursuing a General Sciences Degree. Following my graduation from PSU, I plan to explore careers in advocacy and would like to work with children as much as possible. I am a passionate student and can't wait to begin making a difference in world after earning my degree
Meet Maribeth Boelts