Author: Kevin Henkes

Illustrator: Kevin Henkes

Publisher/Year: Greenwillow Books, 2015

Pages: 29

Genre: Fiction


Waiting is the curious story of five toys who live on a window ledge. Four of the toys (the owl, puppy, bear, and pig) wait for something specific (e.g. moon, snow, wind, rain, respectively), but the rabbit simply enjoys looking out the window and waiting. Told and drawn from the perspective of the toys, Waiting explores their life, from sleeping and new ledge-mates to the wonderful and scary things they observe through the window.2016-05-27_11.38.16[1]

Waiting can be seen as a metaphor for life; readers can relate to one, some, or all of the toys and their experiences. Each toy is waiting for something different, but they nonetheless wait together as a sort of community. From this, children can see that every person has a unique source of happiness. For example, the pig waits for rain because she has an umbrella, while the bear waits for wind so his kite can fly. Children who have yet to discover their preferences and interests can relate to the rabbit, for he finds happiness in simply looking out the window, waiting for nothing in particular. Children can also see their lives portrayed in other experiences of the toys as well. The five toys are a dynamic community; the way some toys go away to return later on (after being played with) or the introduction of new toys to the ledge, resembles how people in our own lives come and go, sometimes returning and other times not. Waiting can indirectly function as a door because the original five toys model conviviality. Although the five toys were initially surprised when a cat with patches joins them on the ledge, they welcome the cat and patiently wait to see what it is waiting for (kittens/four nesting cats). At the end of the book, all ten animals happily wait together and intermingled.

Power is distributed evenly in Waiting. The family of five, and later ten, animals are drawn and described to be equals. They welcome each other and coexist. It can, however, be assumed that power rests with the child owner of the toys who, although not pictured or mentioned, is responsible for removing, replacing, and breaking some toys on the shelf. Without the supposed presence of their owner, the toys would not be waiting for wonderful things to happen. Culture does not really figure into Henkes’ Waiting. Without seeing the toys’ owner, the set of toys could belong to a child of any race, gender, or even social class.

The text in Waiting communicates how each animal’s life and happiness on the ledge is defined by waiting for something. Besides the occasional new animal or visitor, all the animals truly have is themselves and the window for entertainment; their lives, like the text itself, is rather plain until what they are waiting for arrives. As much of the text is vague and told from the perspective of toys, the illustrations both mirror and add to the text. Images add a curious and playful feeling. The changing expressions (e.g. surprise, questioning, peace, joy, and fright) and body language of the toys in response to new can tell the story by itself. The fact that the animals are waiting by a window is both symbolic and a little ironic; windows are said to represent thresholds, progress, and growth, yet by spending most of their days waiting, the animals really are not moving forward, and their happiness is not always assured. The animals are often shown peering up and through the window to emphasize how the happenings outside of their window offer a picturesque, dream-like quality (i.e. fluffy white snow, rainbows). Finally, by having the animals’ backs to the reader in the illustrations, readers are invited to peer through the window as well. Waiting embodies themes of the inclusion and acceptance of others, and shows patience to be a virtue.

The Dog Who Belonged to No One


Author: Amy Hest

Illustrator: Amy Bates

Publisher/Year: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2008

Pages: 29

Genre: Realistic Fiction


The Dog Who Belonged to No One tells the parallel stories of two lonely characters: “a small dog with crooked ears” (p. 1) and a “wisp of a girl named Lisa” (p. 4). The dog is quiet, friendly, and helpful, but no one ever notices him; Lisa spends long Sundays delivering breads and cakes and has to think up stories to ward off the loneliness. On one stormy morning, Lisa and the dog get caught in the rain and after both taking shelter in Lisa’s warm home, they become inseparable friends.

The Dog Who Belonged to No One speaks to readers, like Lisa and the dog, who feel unnoticed, underappreciated, and in need of a good friend. For readers who have never struggled to make friends, The Dog Who Belonged to No One provides a window into the lives of the lonely, and the hopelessness they find themselves in. Phrases like the “dog could not outrun the night” help readers to see that loneliness can feel like an inescapable trap or a bottomless pit (p. 13). Readers will likely empathize with the dog and Lisa as they read how much of their happiness is derived from wishful dreams (e.g. the dog dreams of a softly lit yard and porch). Finally, Lisa and her family set a good example for readers by graciously and happily welcoming into their lives a dog who needed exactly what they had: a warm home, and tender love. Hest calls upon readers to open their eyes and open their hearts to those in need.


Power rests symbolically in the hands of fate, the force that brought Lisa and the dog together. The main characters who suffer from too much solitude are depicted as rather powerless. The dog, for example, can try as hard as he wants to help others (e.g. fetching the boys’ baseballs), but still his efforts go unnoticed, causing him to feel even more sad. Lily is jealous of the girls who can stand outside with their dolls and talk, and the sight of them makes her feel alone. While the illustrations mirror the text, they do not fully align with my understanding of culture. Minorities, and the disabled, ugly, or poor—not white girls of hardworking families and well-behaved dogs—are characters I feel typically face loneliness or a lack of belonging. However, using Lisa and the dog as she did could be Hest’s way of saying that anyone can feel alone and in need of a friend.

Hest uses long sentences, repetition, and parallel wording (between the stories of Lisa and the dog) to dramatize the loneliness felt by Lisa and the dog and gain the reader’s sympathy. The text emphasizes how the dog and Lisa are perfectly good people and animals who do not deserve their loneliness. Bates’ illustrations add to the text by also appearing to readers’ emotions. Lisa and the dog, for example, are often drawn with their eyes gazing downward and a blank, somber expression; only after they have found each other do they make eye contact. In the final scene, the dog and Lisa are welcomed from the rain with an open porch, symbolic of their new beginning and friendship together, and personal growth (they no longer have to be alone). Love and acceptance are themes prevalent in The Dog Who Belonged to no One. Unfortunately, fate and coincidence are shown to be problem-fixers in Hest’s book. This is not always realistic, for some situations can only be improved by human initiative and purposeful action.

Grandpa Green


Author: Lane Smith

Illustrator: Lane Smith

Publisher/Year: Roaring Book Press, 2011

Pages: 34

Genre: Realistic Fiction


In Grandpa Green, a little boy gives a history of his great-grandfather as he wanders among the artfully shaped trees and hedges of his garden. The boy’s history exposes his great-grandfather as a humble farm boy, a soldier, a husband, and most of all, an artist whose memories lie in his garden creations. The book ends with the boy trimming a topiary tree in the shape (memory) of his great-grandfather.

In a touching and whimsical way, young readers who feel a great sense of pride and respect towards a role model, friend, or family member, can relate to the little boy’s fascination with his great-grandfather and his desire to bond in the garden. Grandpa Green acts as a window by exposing young readers to the experiences of a different generation, one where children got chicken pox, did not have cell phones, and had to serve in the war as young adults. Grandpa Green also introduces readers to the process of aging, but not as they have experienced it thus far in their lives; for boy’s great-grandfather, aging involves forgetfulness and handing down his memories and legacy through garden creations. Finally, the boy’s honorable behavior allows Grandpa Green to act as a door for readers. Instead of mocking or judging his great-grandfather in his old age, the young boy shows great curiosity and respect for him. The boy both interacts with his great-grandfather’s memories (in the form of shaped trees) and helps him to not forget things like his hat.


Power is distributed evenly in Grandpa Green. Although the great-grandfather is old and growing forgetful, Smith celebrates the power of older generations to pass down memories and family history. The boy as well has power—the power to keep his great-grandfather’s art and spirit alive by learning how to trim trees and shrubs. Although concepts of family history and aging are universal (or race-less), Grandpa Green focuses on those themes within the setting of a white, American family. Some readers might get the message that gardens as spectacular and elaborate as the great-grandfather’s are typical of white people, and senior citizens especially. Grandpa Green only explores one way family history can be shared, even though it is different across cultures.

The text communicates the identity transformation of the great-grandfather as he ages and grows from a farmer to a lover, soldier, husband, and artist. The text, while limited, also provides context to the illustrations. Sif’s illustrations add a whimsical feeling to the story and symbolize how imagination and artful skill can preserve things (i.e. memories) otherwise forgotten. On each page, trees and bushes are shaped to mimic each event in the great grandfather’s life (e.g. trees shaped like a plane and parachuting soldier to represent war). The boy is drawn very lightly and is almost invisible; the purpose of Grandpa Green is to celebrate the great-grandfather, not the boy. Also, the way the young boy plays with his great-grandfather’s garden creations in the illustrations symbolizes how history is lived through the memories of loved ones. Themes present in Grandpa Green include respect for elders and the use of art as a means of story-telling and sharing of culture.



Author: Birgita Sif

Illustrator: Birgita Sif

Publisher/Year: Candlewick Press, 2012

Pages: 29

Genre: Realistic Fiction


“Oliver felt a bit different,” Sif writes (p. 2); a young, bespectacled boy dressed all in green, Oliver enjoys his solitude and imaginative play with his stuffed animal friends. Alone, Oliver can go on any imaginative adventure he pleases, but he soon discovers that his friends cannot actually listen to him play piano. Then, one day, a run-away tennis ball leads Oliver to someone new and different too: Olivia.

Introverted, imaginative, and solitude-loving readers can personally identify with Oliver’s need to freely exist in his own world. Many of these same readers can also relate to Oliver’s desire for human companions that can listen and respond, but his hesitancy, as an introvert, to reach out on his own. Oliver speaks to “all those who have ever felt a bit different,” as Sif writes in her dedication. For more extroverted and social readers, Oliver provides a window into the world of an often overlooked group: introverts. Sif portrays introverts like Oliver with both respect and a critical eye; she celebrates their contentedness with being alone but also highlights how complete solitude can even be too lonely for the introvert. For introverted readers, Oliver models how one can step out of their comfort zone and take a leap of faith into new things. Oliver encourages introverted readers to seek companionship in their human peers, and not solely with their toys.


Power is not distributed between characters but embodied in fate—the happy coincidence that Oliver’s run-away tennis ball led him to new beginnings with a girl that is different just like him. Oliver contains a very limited view of culture, beyond that of introverts. Every character is white and able-bodied. It is possible, therefore, that Oliver could send a rather unintended message that there is only hope of new beginnings for white introverted children.

The repetition of how Oliver was “a bit different,” “but it didn’t matter,” communicates an important transformation that Oliver, and many of us, undergo in our lives. At first, Oliver believed that enjoying being different meant solitude; later, he discovers that he could befriend Olivia because they are both different and could be so together. All other text elaborates on this realization of Oliver’s and his ensuing leap of faith. Sif uses color symbolically in her illustrations. Oliver, his toys, and Olivia are all drawn with colors far more vibrant (i.e. red and green) than the dim and subdued grays, blues, and golds of the real world they live in. This color contrast symbolizes how Oliver and Olivia are different, yet perfect companions. The contrast also compares the freedom and contentedness Oliver and Olivia feel in their imagined world to the isolation they feel around others. Sif’s illustration of Oliver running to the right and through the open gate to Olivia’s yard shows Oliver’s growing acceptance that his toys might not be good enough companions for him. Overall, Oliver supports individualism and the idea that people should not have to change who they are to be friends. Although Oliver celebrates the power of human companionship, it rather idealistically shows that a perfect someone exists for everyone and fate (vs. human initiative) will bring soulmates together.

The Butter Man


Authors: Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou

Illustrator: Julie Klear Essakalli

Publisher/Year: Charlesbridge, 2008

Pages: 30

Genre: Realistic Fiction


One Saturday evening, Nora could not wait for Baba’s couscous and begged for a pre-dinner snack; Baba refuses and tells Nora a story of living in Morocco during a drought and famine. Baba recalls how his favorite treat—butter—quickly ran out and he had to wait patiently for the Butter Man to walk through town so he could enjoy his bread. Although the Butter Man never showed, Baba’s father’s return home triggered a wet spring season and their family could buy the cows needed to make butter.


Young readers who have felt the gnawing pain of hunger or experienced the frustration of having to wait for everyone to come home to eat a meal, can personally identify with the difficulties Nora and her father endured. The Butter Man acts as a window to the struggles faced by people living in the small villages of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, where families survive by farming, and food sources are limited and unpredictable. The Butter Man exposes readers to a lifestyle very different from that of many Americans—a life where needs are not immediately satisfied and the art of being patient and resourceful is key to passing time. Finally, Baba’s childhood story provides an honorable model of behavior for readers of all kinds. Baba teaches Nora and readers that good things come to those who wait patiently, and how waiting allows a person to better appreciate and enjoy the awaited thing when it is finally in their possession. After many long days of waiting and the disappointment of not seeing the Butter Man, Baba received an even greater gift: the return of his father, and in due time, butter and a revived farm.

In The Butter Man, power is not an external force, but exists within the individual; it is the ability to wait for something meaningful. Just as Baba’s mother taught him the virtue of patience, Baba hoped to do the same for his daughter Nora. The Butter Man affirms and accurately portrays Moroccan and Islamic culture. Essakalli draws the Morrocan people in authentic cultural attire, and together, the text and illustrations depict Moroccan people as hardworking and humble people. Readers can empathize with Baba and his neighbors who must look for work to support a family during famine, in villages that lack electricity, cars, and paved roads. The book also provides a fresh look on modern Moroccan-American culture, as shown by Baba’s continued tradition of cooking the couscous for Saturday dinner (while the wife works).

The importance of one’s heritage and culture is communicated through the Alalou’s inclusion of authentic Berber language (e.g. baba, bahalou, mahalou) and Moroccan traditions (e.g. Bismillah: pre-meal blessing; use of special Moroccan pot to prepare couscous). Illustrations in The Butter Man are unframed with some even spanning two pages; this encourages the reader’s involvement in the hunger and impatience felt by Baba and Nora. Folk art paintings fit with the lesson-giving nature of The Butter Man. Intense, yet subdued, colors (burnt oranges and reds) convey the intensity of the drought and famine. Likewise, the disproportionately large size of the Moroccan pot and couscous dish help portray the strength of these time-honored traditions and also remind readers of the great deal of waiting Baba and Nora had to endure before savoring the dinner. As a whole, The Butter Man challenges gender roles (Baba cooks the Saturday dinner), celebrates the symbolic connection between food and heritage, and shows patience and humility to be virtues and character-builders.

The Five of Us


Author: Quentin Blake

Illustrator: Quentin Blake

Publisher/Year: Tate Publishing, 2014

Pages: 27

Genre: Fiction


Five friends are each fantastic in their own way: Angie has exceptional vision, Ollie has spectacular hearing, Simona and Mario have amazing strength, and Eric discovers the power of his voice. During a trip to the countryside, their bus driver becomes ill and faints, forcing the five friends to wander aimlessly in search of help. After Angie spots people on a cliff across the river, quiet little Eric proves to be just as amazing as his friends by using his incredibly loud voice to call for help.

The Five of Us presents a diverse group of characters that many readers can personally identify with; Angie is African American, Ollie wears glasses, Mario uses a wheelchair, Simona is overweight and Hispanic, and Ollie is shy and introverted. Each character and their personal differences are represented in a way that affirms and respects readers who also share those qualities. The five friends are unique in that their special abilities are ones that readers would least expect, though they are still possible (e.g. an overweight girl and handicapped boy having super strength; a shy boy having a loud voice). As such, Blake’s book validates readers who feel doubted or overlooked because of how they look or act. The Five of Us functions as a window by introducing readers to the feelings and experiences of individuals, such as Eric, who take a little more time in realizing their uniqueness. Eric is last to discover his amazing potential, but readers can see that without Eric’s help, the Fantastic Five would not have been rescued by the helicopter. Eric slowly but surely worked up the courage to give a loud cry for help.  Finally, The Five of Us acts as a door by encouraging readers to focus on the assets of their peers rather than their inabilities and flaws. Readers are also asked to be more empathetic and understanding towards individuals, like Eric, who develop slower.

Power is equally distributed between the five friends for each has an important power that allows for their eventual rescue. For the five friends, rescue depended on combining their individual powers for the greater good. Although the Fantastic Five represents cultural diversity in and of itself, all other characters in the story are illustrated as white, normal-looking, and able-bodied people.

Blake uses text to celebrate each friend’s individuality. The five friends are all described as “amazing” for the unique abilities they possess (p. 2-3). The text also shows the completeness of Eric’s self-discovery. For most of the story, Eric is nervous and in an effort to prepare himself to speak, all he can muster is “Erm…erm…” (p. 7, 11, 14), until he at last belches out a “HELP” so loud that the exclamation takes up half of the page (p. 20).  Blake’s illustrations are also symbolic. As the five friends explore the countryside and look for help, Eric is always drawn lagging behind (on the left in their procession) and also a bit smaller and shorter in size than his friends. Such a portrayal conveys Eric’s perceived weakness in light of his friends who have already showcased their talents. This also allows Eric to both literally and figuratively move forward (to front of group) and provide his unique contribution: a loud cry for help. The text and illustrations, both show how Eric is not to be underestimated. The main ideology presented in The Five of Us is individualism, and how it can be maintained while working as a team and is discovered by humans at different rates. Blake warns against judging people at first glance.


The Day the Crayons Quit


Author: Drew Daywalt

Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers

Publisher/Year: Philomel Books, 2013

Pages: 32

Genre: Fiction


In The Day the Crayons Quit, Duncan receives a stack of letters written by his twelve crayons: red, purple, beige, gray, white, black, green, yellow, orange, blue, pink, and peach. In their own letter, each crayon describes his or her unique woes, including being used too much or too little, being a “girl” color, or only being used for outlines. Duncan’s responds by using all twelve colors in his next drawing, scoring him As for creativity and coloring.

The Day the Crayons Quit acts as both a mirror and a door. Although indirectly, each crayon’s woe is not too far related to the real life struggles of young readers. The red, gray, and blue crayons describe how they often work harder than other crayons because there are so many (large) things of their color. Readers who have ever felt used, overworked, or underappreciated can personally identify with these three crayons. Likewise, just as Beige is tired of being incorrectly labeled “’light brown’” or “’dark tan,’” elementary aged students have surely dealt with threats to their individuality. Finally, Pink complains of never being used because of her association as “girl” color; this woe can speak to both girls and boys who have felt swayed to act in a certain way because of their gender. Woes a reader cannot personally identify with can help expand their world view, maybe even alerting them to the troubles their peers are experiencing. For very young readers, Daywalt’s book provides a basic understanding of the colors used to draw certain things. Duncan’s response also functions as an appropriate model of behavior, for he not only addresses the complaints of each crayon but uses their unique ability to create an interesting illustration.

Power rests with Duncan for only he can attend to the woes he unknowingly wreaked upon his crayons. Through each crayon’s letter, Daywalt creatively and humorously explores the concept of power struggles.


Exclamations, purposeful capitalization and underlining, and humor captivate the intense desire of each crayon to have their concerns met. The signature and closing of each letter communicates very briefly the situation each crayon wants recognized and fixed (e.g. “Your very stubby friend” (p. 22)) and type that mimics a child’s handwriting helps give each crayon personality. Jeffers’ illustrations mirror the text but more symbolically and literally show the emotions felt by each crayon. For example, as Beige complains of being used only for wheat he is drawn with a sorrow expression and weak posture like that of a lonely stalk of wheat. White complains of meaning nothing without a black outline, and is thus illustrated by Jeffers without a black outline, causing White to be nearly invisible and easily overlooked by readers, myself included. The illustrations also contrast the current and ideal worlds perceived by each crayon. The placement of the majority of crayons lower on the page signifies their low spirits and power so long as Duncan does not respond as they please. Many themes in The Day the Crayons Quit deal with social justice concerns, such as challenging gender norms, oppression, and the democratic right to free speech and expression (i.e. striking). The theme of teamwork without the loss of individuality is also explored, as exemplified by Duncan equally addressing the unique needs and wants of each crayon.


Last Stop on Market Street


Author: Matt de la Peña

Illustrator: Christian Robinson

Publisher/Year: Penguin Group, 2015

Pages: 28

Genre: Realistic Fiction



On one particularly rainy Sunday, CJ is far from excited about riding across town with his grandma to the soup kitchen where they volunteer; he questions Nana as to why they must wait for the bus, why they do not have a car like his friends do, and why they cannot just go home after church. Nana helps CJ’s imagination grow by encouraging him to look for the beauty along their journey—from the magic of music and city life, to the spirited characters of the soup kitchen.

The Last Stop on Market Street can speak to young readers, such as CJ, who feel uncomfortable living a lifestyle different from that of their peers, and needed a push from someone they love to appreciate what they have and are working for. Young readers who live with and/or spend most of their time with a grandparent or other non-parent caregiver can also relate to CJ’s experiences with Nana. Likewise, The Last Stop on Market Street functions as a window. As a narrative of a young boy living modestly in the city, Matt de la Peña’s book introduces readers to a day in the life of someone who may be less advantaged (i.e. financially) than they are. White readers of the middle class are given a chance to empathize with CJ as he realizes the cultural differences that divide he and his friends (e.g. CJ must wait in all weather for the public bus, and has to volunteer after church instead of going home to relax). Finally, The Last Stop on Market Street acts as a door through Nana’s example of respect and optimism. Specifically, Nana models for CJ how to be a “better witness for what’s beautiful” by not being narrow-minded (p. 22). For example, when CJ questions why the blind man cannot see, Nana invites CJ to consider understanding the world through one’s ears.

Symbolic power—the ability to see the beauty in even the most imperfect and overlooked aspects of life—is imparted on CJ through his Nana’s wise advice and model behavior. Both the text and illustrations accurately and respectfully represent African American culture. Many, but certainly not all, African American parents are absent in their children’s lives due to divorce or multiple jobs, as can be inferred by the intimacy between CJ and Nana. The language used by CJ and Nana is not always grammatically correct (e.g. “gotta;” “Boy” to refer to CJ) and resembles slang. Although CJ and Nana are stereotypically living and working in an urban environment, Peña and Robinson celebrate the spirit and diversity of such a place. Contrary to what one might expect, Robinson’s soup kitchen is a place where men and women of all colors work and eat.

Text, in the form of out-loud wonderings, questions, and wishes, is used to communicate CJ’s initial resentment and discontentment with his lifestyle. Nana’s wisdom and her helpful advice for CJ are also communicated through words. Illustrations in The Last Stop on Market Street embrace the theme of human diversity. Many characters are illustrated with a distinctive look (e.g. tattooed man; pregnant woman), and represent a wide range of ability (e.g. blind; physically handicapped) and race (black, white, and all colors in between). In this way, Robinson’s illustrations challenge various stereotypes, such as how soup kitchens and public transportation are not just for people of color. Late in the book, hawks flying towards the right of the page, and the use of brighter, more optimistic colors to illustrate the neighborhood slum symbolize the return of CJ’s pride for their work at the soup kitchen, and respect for the community he lives in. The Last Stop on Market Street preaches the value of humility, or the idea that having less allows a person to see more beauty in the world. Another, perhaps unintended theme is orthopraxy, explored by how CJ and Nana go to church but also do good works (volunteer work).

A Day with No Crayons


Author: Elizabeth Rusch

Illustrator: Chad Cameron

Publisher/Year: Rising Moon, 2007

Pages: 27

Genre: Realistic Fiction



In A Day with No Crayons, a young Hispanic girl named Liza has her beloved crayons taken away for a day when she colors the walls of her room. Although sad at first, Liza quickly realizes that she does not need crayons to make art; art is all around her just waiting to be uncovered. Slowly, Liza’s world turns less and less gray as she colors her world using grass, flowers, mud, berries, leaves, and bricks.

 On a very basic level, many young readers can relate to Liza’s challenge of having to find alternate means of fun after getting in trouble and having things taken away. A Day with No Crayons does not really provide a window to the lives of others but it does, however, provide a window to the unexplored world we live in. Liza is surprised to find all of the beautiful and exotic colors around her, just waiting to be discovered, named, and transformed. Liza even concludes that a day apart from her crayons was actually quite liberating. Liza also models good problem solving skills, such as how to create something out of seemingly nothing.

 Although initially power rests with the mother and her ability to take away or give back Liza’s crayons, creative power ultimately rests with Liza, for she can choose to find and work with the color and art around her. The absence of crayons does not create a power struggle between Liza and her mother, nor does it represent an unconquerable obstacle for Liza. The mother is the only parent involved in the story and is rather stereotypically shown to be the rule-enforcing, punishment-giving parent. Although this instance of taking the crayons away helps Liza to grow (as an artist), it may still enforce in young readers’ minds the notion of a father as a buddy and only-around-for-the-fun sort of guy, rather than as an involved or active parent.

 The beauty and uniqueness of the world is conveyed by the use of creative and descriptive color names, such as cornflower, laser lemon, meadow green, and wondermelon. These words help communicate Liza’s excitement about the rainbow of colors around her. To help Liza’s world come alive in color, actual photographs of nature are skillfully blended with painted illustrations. Cameron’s changing color scheme is symbolic. When first deprived of her crayons, Liza feels blue and everything around her is illustrated in grayscale. However, bright colored illustrations gradually consume more and more of the page as Liza realizes the freedom of not being tied to her crayons and coloring books. The illustrations are also diverse in style, ranging from a two page spreads, to multiple unframed images per page, and to paintings that seem to crawl up the edge of the page. Liza is similarly drawn at different perspectives and with changing expressions. These dynamic illustrations captivate the book’s creative energy and show Liza to be a lively individual with spunk. With Rusch’s decision to have a female main character, A Day with No Crayons advertises, to a degree, that art and coloring are feminine hobbies. However, Rusch’s book nonetheless embodies a positive sky-is-the-limit attitude, and makes an interesting claim about art: that nature is more inspiring than material objects, such as crayons and coloring books.

Those Shoes


Author: Maribeth Boelts

Illustrator: Noah Z. Jones

Publisher/Year: Candlewick Press, 2007

Pages: 32

Genre: Realistic Fiction


In Those Shoes, Jeremy, a young African American boy living with his grandmother, wants and dreams of only one thing: getting the high-tops everyone is wearing at school. After his old shoes fall apart, Jeremy is forced to wear a pair of childish and embarrassing shoes from his guidance counselor that other kids laugh at, causing Jeremy to impulsively buy a pair of high-tops that are cheap but too small for him. After much thought, Jeremy befriends his classmate and gives him the high-tops.

 Any child who has ever felt that fitting in with the cool crowd meant wearing certain things can relate to Jeremy’s over-idealized view of “those shoes” and his desperation in trying to snag a pair for himself. Those Shoes can also function as a mirror for children who have made sacrifices because of a tight money situation. Jeremy’s grandma tried to remind him that expensive high-tops are a want, whereas new snow boots are a need. Those Shoes can function as a window in the same way. The story introduces children of a more stable financial situation to how it feels to not have all of ones’ wants satisfied. The story also introduces readers to the experiences of children who live a needs-only based life, such as having to wear free, outdated shoes or shopping at thrift stores for better deals. Finally, Those Shoes provides an admirable model of behavior. Jeremy knew that keeping the cool shoes that did not fit was wasteful so he gave them to Antonio, a classmate who could fit them and who did not laugh in class when Jeremy wore the counselor’s shoes (he too, wore broken shoes). Jeremy’s kind gesture represents a simple way young readers can pay it forward and not hoard things with no practical purpose.

 Those Shoes broadens materialism and conformity to boys, and exposes how girls are not the only ones concerned with fashion and having the “cool” clothes. Boelts gives a nondiscriminatory, yet accurate, portrayal of African American culture. In contrast to the white norm of a nuclear family, Jeremy lives with his grandmother in an urban high-rise apartment. Jeremy and his grandmother are humbly depicted as members of the lower middle class, money-conscious but still happy. Jones modernly portrays cultural diversity (in urban settings) with African American, Asian, Hispanic, Indian, and White characters.

 The repetition of “those shoes” conveys the intensity of Jeremy’s want and how to the impressionable child, there are cool shoes and there are other shoes. The text in Those Shoes mostly mirrors the images, although the images elaborate on the strong emotions Jeremy experiences: hope, happiness, frustration, (stubborn) determination, and intense desire/preoccupation. The large size of the painted advertisement for the shoes (compared to the size of Jeremy) and its placement high on the building help to over-idealize the shoes and represent the power propaganda has over the weak and easily persuaded buyer. Jeremy is often depicted as shorter and smaller than his male classmates, suggestive of his suffering self-image around peers who have the high-tops. Jeremy and Antonio are the same size, signifying both their friendship and similar experiences of having worn-down shoes and being the last to get their hands on the high-tops. On the last page, Antonio and Jeremy are racing each other into the distance and to the right. As new friends, they are moving forward and no longer held back by the shoe dilemma. They can now focus on more important things, such as relationships. Overall, Those Shoes highlights the power of propaganda, and challenges materialism and conformity as the keys to happiness.