Tag Archives: Karen English

Red Shoes by Karen English illustrated by Ebony Glenn

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Red Shoes by Karen English illustrated by Ebony Glenn

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This delightful 32 page picture book links two girls, two ends of the world, two cultures and two stories together with a pair of red shoes.  The short sentences pop with action and the perfectly illustrated two-page spreads convey relatable emotion and joy.  The beloved shoes travel on the feet of one character to a wedding, Christmas dinner, and birthdays, they are then are donated and journey to West Africa to be given as a gift for a little girl who fasted half of Ramadan.   The message I hope children ages three and up will get from the story, is that we are more alike than different, that we should take care of our things (amazingly the shoes weren’t worn out), and that we should donate things of good quality that we ourselves value.  I hope it doesn’t lend itself to perpetuate the stereotype that we can send our castaway items to Africa, being the author comments in her bio on the back flap that her husband is from West Africa and that she frequently visits there, I’m hoping that this is just me being overly cautious in the messaging, and nothing is being implied or negatively taken from a casual reader.

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Malika and her Nana see a pair of dazzling shoes perched in the window, and Malika is enamored. Her grandma later surprises Malika with the shoes.  She quickly tries them on and tests them out.  She keeps them safe from the rain and dances with them on at her Auntie’s wedding.  She kicks her cousin Jamal with them on, under the table at Christmas when he tries to steal her biscuit.

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She stomps away from her best friend in her red shoes, and jumps double Dutch with them on when she makes up with her friend at her birthday party. But at Nana’s birthday, “the shoes don’t let her forget that her feet have grown.” Nana and Malika take the shoes to the thrift store to be resold.  A sad Malika says goodbye to them, they were her favorite shoes ever.

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Inna Ziya sees the shoes in the window and knows just the little girl who will love them.  She squeezes them in to her suitcase and they are off to Africa. They wait under a table selling claypots in a market waiting for the girl who fasted half the month of Ramadan.

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When Amina comes holding her mother’s hand, Auntie Inna Ziya delivers the promised gift.  Amina thinks they are beautiful and lovingly carries them in the box on her lap as they fide the tro-tro home.  Amina’s little sister Halima, can’t wait to see the gift as she too hopes to one day fast in Ramadan.

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Amina lets her try them on and when she outgrows them she plans to pass them on to her.  Meanwhile, Malika is wondering whatever happened to her beautiful red shoes, and if someone else is wearing them.

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There is no mention of Islam nor is Ramadan explained.  There are women in hijab in America and in Africa, even in the books in a shop window there is representation.  I particularly love the shout-out in the illustrations to “Mommy’s Khimar.”

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The front of the book has Malika, and the back, Amira.

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Nadia’s Hands by Karen English illustrated by Jonathon Weiner

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nadia's hands.jpegNadia’s aunt is getting married and she gets to be the flower girl in the Pakistani-American wedding.  She also will get mehndi put on her hands for the big event.  Her cousins warn her that she might mess up and even in the midst of her excitement she begins to worry what the kids at school will say when they see her hands on Monday.  As her aunt prepares the mehndi and the application process begins, various uncles peek in on her and her aunt gifts her a beautiful ring.  The mehndi has to sit on the skin for a while to set and as Nadia practices sabr, patience, I couldn’t help but think something seemed off in the story.  I’ve been at, in, and around a lot of Pakistani and Pakistani-American weddings, and this story didn’t seem to reflect the tone of such occasions.  The book doesn’t reflect the hustle and bustle and near chaos, it doesn’t sound like the tinkle of jewelry and laughter as the women sit around chatting and getting mehndi put on together, the pots on the stove are referenced but not described so that the reader can smell the sauces thickening and hear the pans crashing and taste the deep rich flavors.  It is lonely.  Nadia is lonely and filled with anxiety about Monday.  Durring the wedding she is walking down the aisle and suddenly freezes when she looks down and doesn’t recognize her hands.  Her cousins seem to show unsupportive “I-told-you-so” expressions as she searches for some comforting encouragement to continue on.  When she finishes her flower girl duties, her grandma asks if she understands why looking at her hands makes her feel like she is “looking at my past and future at the same time.” Nadia doesn’t understand and the author doesn’t explain.  At the end she is ready to embrace that her hands are in fact hers and that she will show her friends on Monday.  But the reader has no idea how it goes, or what exactly the significance of her painted hands are.  The book fails to give any insight or excitement for a culture bursting with tradition at a time of marriage.

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There is a glossary at the beginning for the few Urdu words sprinkled in the book.  There is no further explanation however, of  mehndi, or weddings, of the brides clothes etc.  The illustrations are adequate, but because the text doesn’t offer much warmth or vibrance, they seem a little drab, and raise more questions about what some of the traditional items depicted are.  The book is a standard 32 page picture book and is written on an AR 3.8 level, which I think is a little high.  Granted my children are familiar with mehndi, but my first grader read it to me with little assistance.  There isn’t any mention of Islam and could probably be argued that the story reflects any wedding from the subcontinent background performed in the west.  The bride has a duputta on her head in the picture, but that is neither here nor there, and no one in the audience appears religiously covered.  I would assume they are Muslim because of the minor characters’ names: Omar, Saleha, Amina, Abdul Raheem.  Also, the word Sabr, an Arabic word, suggests that they are Muslim.  Plus they eat kabobs which the glossary defines as mincemeat, so probably not Hindu.  Overall the book is not, “bad” or “wrong,” I just wish there were more to it.