July 2002

A wistful portrait of the ties that bind

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Indian Shoes is a collection of delightful tales about a little boy named Ray, a young Native American who lives in Chicago with his grandfather. Halfmoon is the type of grandfather that any kid would love to have for his own. Wise and playful, he allows Ray to feel his way through life and make mistakes, yet he is also protective. In turn, Ray seeks to please the old man.

In the title story, he tries to figure out a way to buy the pair of genuine Seminole Moccasins from Oklahoma that sit in an antique store window after Grampa Halfmoon casually remarks that the shoes remind him of home. Ray realizes the wistful comments are an indication of homesickness but doesn't have enough money to make the purchase. His inventive way of handling the problem will remind the reader of the type of solution Tom Sawyer might conjure up.

Other episodes deal with the ordinary and not-so-ordinary situations of neighborhood life. In "Don't Forget the Pants!" Ray must deal with the nightmare we all have at some point. In "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" he and Grampa Halfmoon start off Christmas feeling a bit sad because they are so far from home for the winter holiday. But they find solace in tending to some special, needy creatures.

"The Accident" teaches us that despite our best efforts, not everything goes our way and we have to learn from our disappointments. "Team Colors," on the other hand, demonstrates the joy of serendipity. My favorite, though, was the final piece, "Night Fishing," in which Ray and his grandfather spend some simple quality time together on an excursion. There's no need for thunderous action or mysterious settings.

Cynthia Leitich Smith, who has written on Native American themes in two other children's books, Jingle Dancer and Rain Is Not My Indian Name, brings a gentle touch to her stories. The role of family is obvious throughout as both Ray and Grampa Halfmoon fondly recall an absent aunt or far-away cousins back in Oklahoma. Images of sitting around the kitchen table with the smell of bacon frying are almost palpable, and the relationship between these two is as heartwarming to see as an old family photo album.

Be prepared to reach for the phone so the kids can call their grandparents after reading Indian Shoes.


Ron Kaplan writes from Montclair, New Jersey.

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