Holt, William T., illus. by Casandra Ciocian. Brand New Shoes. Searl Kids, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9883670-7-4. unpaged. $16.99
When Thomas’s Pa’ Paw comes to pick him up for a visit, he is shocked at the state of Thomas’s room and comments on it. His grandfather notes the condition of his show and when Thomas asks for a new pair of shoes, his grandfather agrees, on the condition Thomas complete a variety of chores and earn the money to purchase a second pair. The deal is struck and Thomas works and plays hard all summer. At the end of the summer, Thomas’s new shoes are falling apart, but the identical pair he purchased for himself are pristine, having been tucked away in the box. The life lesson Pa’ Paw offers is to take care of your belongings, especially those what someone else worked hard to provide.
This seems to be an instructive book, with the character set up to fail. Retaining his old sneakers for chores would have made much more sense–of course the new ones were covered in paint, out in the rain and mud, and grass-stained, and may not have been able to be protected given the task list. Certainly, children should be taught to not be careless with their things and to value and appreciate gifts, but having Thomas come to this conclusion, and giving the young reader the benefit of the doubt, would make for a stronger narrative and less moralistic tone. Thomas and his Pa’ Paw have a warm relationship, and the portrayal of people of color as regular folks doing regular things is a valuable addition to children’s literature.
That said: there are several grammatical errors, including punctuation and tense, that should have been caught by an editor, and an overuse of ellipses and exclamation points. The picture book format is intended for the story and art to work together to tell the story, and there is a lot of telling (Thomas’s old shoes “were also very raggedy”) instead of describing. Some images are captioning as part of the narrative, as if the reader cannot figure out what is happening, or as if to direct the artist what to draw. However, an illustration of Thomas washing Pa’ Paw’s car in the rain is particularly clever; his expression of “why am I doing this?” speaks to not just the unanticipated weather, but the project as a whole.
The art has some comic book styling to it, including pull-out illustrations in boxes and varying of perspective, and some captioning; this might have worked much better as a graphic novel than a picture book. There is nothing to lead the eye from page to page, the font is not particularly large or readable, the text varies in color and location, and in more than one instance, it is not intuitive for the eye to track where to jump to read next. The images of children playing includes a multicultural cast of boys and girls. It’s unclear how old Thomas is — he looks and acts like he is 10 or 11, but he rides in the front seat of the car, which is not recommended for children under age 13.
The book appears to be sewn together, but signatures have some loose threads, and the thick glue for the endpapers bled through the paper a bit. The cover and pages are thick and glossy.
A companion coloring and activity book contains similar grammatical errors of punctuation and tense, and uses a hard to read font with a mix of lower and upper case letters.
This didactic picture book is not recommended.