There’s something about Those Shoes, written by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, that calls to me every November.
And so each year, the week before Thanksgiving hits, this is the book I pull out to read to every single one of my elementary school classes. And each time, without fail, when my students see me pull the book out from behind me, they clap and cheer.
Those Shoes is beloved by our school, and it fills me with such joy to see student reactions to this story.
In Those Shoes, Jeremy wants nothing more than the same pair of shoes that the rest of the kids at school wear. But, according to his grandma, Jeremy’s “wants” are not nearly as important as his “needs.” When his shoes fall apart at school, Jeremy is both ashamed and embarrassed that he has to wear babyish sneakers given to him by the school guidance counselor. So when his grandma takes him to the thrift stores, Jeremy is in heaven when he finds a pair of THOSE SHOES- and he buys them with his own money even though they are too small and destroy his feet. Leave it to grandma, though, to sneak a new pair of warm snow boots into Jeremy’s closet. What happens when Jeremy’s friend, Antonio, the only boy who didn’t laugh at Jeremy’s babyish shoes, comes to school with taped up sneakers, and his feet are noticeably smaller than Jeremy’s? Will Jeremy learn the importance of giving to those in need, even if that means getting rid of something he so desperately wants?
Those Shoes is an honest and poignant story. Before I begin reading this with students, I always start with a discussion of the differences between wants and needs– it provides such an amazing entryway into the book. After we read, the maturity and depth of conversation usually skyrockets.
Because Those Shoes so beautifully conveys that the things Jeremy has – family, new snow boots to protect his feet, and the opportunity to help someone in distress – truly are more valuable than holding on to something he wants because it’s “cool.” Often times, the things we so desperately “want” don’t bring us nearly as much fulfillment as the things we need.
You can practically see the wheels spinning in the kids’ heads after they read this book! Those Shoes offers a perfect segue into a discussion of gratitude and the countless things we have to be thankful for. It also reminds us that there are so many ways we can help others less fortunate during the holiday season and all year round.
Looking for a fun extension activity for your bigger kids? If you are an educator, use the Padlet app (it’s free!) and create a Gratitude Wall. I used a simple prompt- “what is one thing you are thankful for and why?” I made sure to limit student responses so they would have to think more deeply – thus, they were not allowed to answer with “family,” “friends” or “food.” Using their school devices, the students could write, draw, photograph or video their responses. The result? A beautiful, interactive bulletin board, showcasing the things our students value most, from backpacks (because they hold tools used to create!) to names of teachers (because they teach us and help us learn every single day), to the ability to dance (because dancing is a way to express myself). The results will both astonish and surprise you.
Want the book? Get it here! Those Shoes, by by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones. *This is an affiliate link.
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