Review Blog

Aug 02 2019

Grandma's treasured shoes by Coral Vass

cover image

Illus. by Christina Huynh. NLA Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9780642279354.
Recommended. Grandma has lots of shoes: out and about shoes, splash in the rain shoes, walk in the park shoes, dancing shoes and fun shoes, but her favourites are her old shoes, worn and torn from a land far away. So begins this lovely tale of movement, of people migrating, of leaving their own land for somewhere quite different, often because their country is not at peace. Grandma's shoes were her only shoes when she lived as a child in Vietnam: they were for walking and going to school, for playing and working, for everyday. But one night she and her family had to flee, and her shoes became scared shoes, fearful shoes, shoes to escape in. They became salty shoes as they crossed the seas, free shoes as they arrived in a new land, Australia. Here she was given a new pair of shoes: shiny, clean for school, and she found that there were different shoes for all sorts of occasions. All the shoes she was given account for little compared to her old and warn shoes, wrapped in tissue paper in a box, kept on a high shelf, reminding her of where she came from and how these were her escaping shoes to find a place of safety.
The beautiful words flow through the book, offering a different view of the adage, walk a mile in my shoes, taking readers with them as the words unfold, each adjective creating a word image of how Grandma was feeling. So the simple 'trembling shoes', tells the reader exactly how she was feeling when the family boarded a boat bound for Australia.
Not usually a word associated with shoes, the combination of the two words creates an empathy amongst the readers for the child wearing them. The poetic word images used throughout the text display the range of emotions felt by people fleeing their own country.
The lovely illustrations too, create a story of the escape: the shoes are the boats they leave on, the shoes dip into the water as the girl flees with her family, her shoes land on the wharf, only to be given another pair of shoes, ones to replace her old ones. But her old shoes are irreplaceable, and have a place in the hearts of the family, now settled in Australia. At the end of the book several pages are devoted to the tale of the Vietnamese refugees who came by boat in the 1970's receiving a warm welcome by the government of the day and our citizens, a stark contrast to the detention centres now in place. But their arrival forced Australia to rethink its migration policies. A book to recall the past, to contrast with today's events, a book to tug at the heart strings, to give readers the opportunity to discuss migration and refugees, to see that Australia is a land of migrants, a part of our heritage. Teacher's notes are available here
and here. The authors gives some background here.
Fran Knight

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