Title: Those Shoes
Author: Maribeth Boelts
Illustrator: Noah Z. Jones
Target Audience: 5-10
All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the shoes everyone at school seems to be wearing. But his grandma tells him they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” and what Jeremy needs are new boots for winter.
The main character is relatable. Nearly all children have felt embarrassed or experienced teasing by their peers. Jeremy gets a heaping helping of it because he is seemingly the only student who does not have “the” shoes. Then, his ordinary shoes come apart, causing him to have to wear an even more humiliating pair!
Jeremy learns the value of a dollar. Even with the money his grandma has set aside, there is not enough for the shoes he wants. They visit several thrift shops until he finally finds a pair! They are too small, but he buys them with his own money—hoping the shoes will stretch out.
He demonstrates selflessness. Antoine, the only student who does not mock and tease him, has a pair of shoes held together with tape! Jeremy’s “anonymous” act of kindness toward him demonstrates character and maturity.
In the end, he has some unresolved conflicting feelings, which gives the book authenticity. Few people in his circumstances (especially children) can be fully content. Ultimately, he choses to embrace a positive outlook though. The key is, it is his choice--despite the fact he did not get his desires.
Those Shoes tackles the trap that we all fall in at varying degrees: Consumerism. More than ever, even children are consumed with having the latest trendy items. Those who have them are “in” while those who do not are “out.” This situation can cause embarrassment, stress, and low self-esteem in children and teens. Boelts deals with the subject in a profound though age-appropriate manner.
I loved this book because the valuable lessons are clear, but it is not preachy or overly idealistic. The story is well written with expressive watercolor and ink pictures. I enthusiastically recommend Those Shoes.
Activities and Ideas for Lesson Plans:
- Social Studies: Discuss the difference between needs and wants. For older children or teens, introduce Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
- Math: Identify current trendy items (preferably more expensive ones). Using the current minimum wage, calculate how many hours the student would have to work to earn the items. Discuss if the item would be “worth” it.
- Character: Read Those Shoes as part of a lesson on teasing or bullying. Talk about Jeremy’s and Antonio’s situations and feelings.
- Economics: Discuss commercialism. How do businesses target key demographics? What techniques do they use to create a need and desire for their products? How can students arm themselves so they do not fall prey?
- Writing: Have students write a letter to someone who has sacrificed or given them a memorable gift. Teach how to express gratitude and appreciation to the giver. OR Students can make a list of non-material items that they are grateful for.
- Literature: Evaluate the character’s feelings, actions, and motivations. See ideas for areas to cover in the “Evaluation” section above. Discuss the story’s conflict. Ask the students if the conflict is resolved and how.
- Art: Have students design their own pair of shoes. Modify for younger children by giving them a shoe printable like this one and instructing them to decorate it.
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