Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Red Shoes, written by Eleri Glass and illustrated by Ashley Spires (2008)

The Red ShoesFirst, I'd like to apologize for a few weeks' unannounced hiatus.  I got more than a little caught up in the whirlwind of final classes and exams, family visits, graduation, etc., and I'm afraid that my blog was one of the casualties.  But welcome back!

Fortunately, this quiet book has absolutely nothing in common with Hans Christian Andersen's more famous---but terribly dark and disturbing---fairy tale by the same name. Rather, it's the story of a young girl's shoe-shopping expedition with her mother, set in the 1960s.  Predictably, the mother advocates a sensible, boring pair of brown lace-ups...but the girl has her heart set on the one pair of spirited red shoes high on the shelf.

Author Eleri Glass, a Canadian storyteller about whom little information is available, presents the story in what is essentially a free verse poem.  Her lyrical, often spare stanzas are rich in metaphor and personification; the red shoes "giggle" and "whisper" to the girl, "happy apples, waiting to be picked." Ashley Spires, illustrator of Binky the Space Cat (among others), renders the story in a rather drab palette of predominantly browns and greys that set off the red shoes (and their metaphorical meanings) by contrast.  She makes powerful use of angle, perspective, and proportion to effectively convey the emotional nuances of the girl's experience, while vintage details add charm and gentle humor.

In addition to being beautifully crafted, The Red Shoes is highly relatable.  On a more obvious level, young Fashionistas will be all too familiar with At the same time, though, it speaks eloquently to one of the central tensions of adulthood.  It cries out to all of us who long---secretly or not so secretly---for what is bold, glamorous, distinctive, and whimsical against the forces of a daily life that too often demands conformity, dutifulness, practicality and expediency. 

Miss E's Read:  She loved it.  She wants red shoes too.  Only not the pair that are in her closet, naturally.

N.B.  Twelve enlargeable pages from the book are available here.

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