cover image New Shoes

New Shoes

Susan Lynn Meyer, illus. by Eric Velasquez. Holiday House, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8234-2528-0

After Ella Mae discovers that even buying shoes is a humiliating experience for people of color in 1950s Jim Crow America (she isn’t allowed to try the shoes on), she and her cousin Charlotte unleash their entrepreneurial talents, opening a backyard store of clean, used shoes. Now, Ella Mae explains, “anyone who walks in the door can try on all the shoes they want.” It isn’t easy to make a story seem as if it’s telling itself, but this gripping piece of historical fiction does just that. Meyer’s (Black Radishes) prose is vividly precise in its detail; the girls’ optimism and determination is almost palpable, and when Ella Mae and Charlotte prepare their inventory for sale, the smell of soap, polish, and leather seems to fill the air. Velasquez (A Thirst for Home), working in oils, takes an unobtrusive, documentary-style approach, but he also cleverly combines warm, earth-toned settings with the bright pastel dresses worn by Ella Mae and Charlotte, so that his heroines literally and unequivocally shine through. Ages 6–9. Author’s agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Feb.)