Those Shoes: A Lesson in Coping with Consumerism and Rampant Fads

“I have often been touched by the generosity I’ve witnessed in children and their willingness to share, even when it’s tough to do so. These selfless acts have a way of shaping lives.”

Cover of the book Those Shoes

Globalization has brought with it many benefits, but freedom from advertising and consumerism isn’t one of them. In virtually every nation, childhood is becoming increasingly commercialized and commodified. Companies spend $17 billion dollars a year marketing to children, and the average American child watches an estimated 25,000 television commercials per year according to the FTC.

Those numbers have a big impact. The majority of children have seemingly insatiable appetites for toys, clothing, and other products designed for exclusively for kids. In fact, children influence up to $500 billion a year in family buying. According to Dan Cook, an assistant professor of advertising and sociology at the University of Illinois, the psychological effect is detrimental to children and parents alike.

What is most troubling is that children’s culture has become virtually indistinguishable from consumer culture over the course of the last century. The cultural marketplace is now a key arena for the formation of the sense of self and of peer relationships, so much so that parents often are stuck between giving into a kid’s purchase demands or risking their child becoming an outcast on the playground.

Kids’ consumer culture takes a most intimate thing — the realization and expression of self — and fuses it with a most distant system — the production of goods, services and media in an impersonal market.

Cumulatively, this fusion has been forged cohort by cohort and generation by generation over the twentieth century, making each of us a small conspirator in its reproduction. The process is so insidious that by the time a child gains the language and capacity to grasp what is occurring, his or her attention patterns, preferences, memories and aspirations cannot be neatly separated from the images and poetics of corporate strategy.

Author Maribeth Boelts and illustrator Noah Jones tackle this issue and others in Those Shoes (public library), a thought-provoking and heartwarming children’s book. In addition to consumerism, the story touches on many of the other big problems experienced by little people — stuff like bullying, peer pressure, and poverty — while also serving as a poignant reminder that children are capable of incredible acts of kindness and generosity in the face of overwhelming social pressure. The result is an unforgettable lesson in empathy, perseverance, and compassion.

The story starts with the hero, a boy named Jeremy, dreaming about some expensive shoes.

I have dreams about those shoes. Black high-tops. Two white stripes.

‘Grandma, I want them.’

‘There’s no room for want around here — just need,’ Grandma says. ‘And what you need are new boots for winter.’

Artwork from the book Those Shoes

Of course, it seems like virtually everyone else in school has “those shoes,” except for Jeremy. When his shoes fall apart during a kickball game, Mr. Alfrey, the guidance counselor, helps him find a new pair in “the box of shoes and other stuff he has for kids who need things.” When he walks into the classroom wearing them, the entire class laughs at him.

When I come back to the classroom, Allen Jacoby takes one look at my Mr. Alfrey shoes and laughs, and so do Terrence, Brandon T., and everyone else. They only kid not laughing is Antonio Parker. At home, Grandma says, “How kind of Mr. Alfrey.” I nod and turn my back. I’m not going to cry about any dumb shoes.

Artwork from the book Those Shoes

On Saturday, Jeremy learns that Grandma has saved a bit of money and might be able to buy him the shoes. But the shoes are too expensive. They find a pair used at a thrift store, but they’re too small for Jeremy’s feet. Jeremy buys them with his own money anyway.

Artwork from the book Those Shoes

Jeremy sees that Antonio’s are falling apart too, and he notices that Antonio’s feet are smaller than his. He decides to give Antonio those shoes he bought at the thrift store.

That night, I am awake for a long time thinking about Antonio. When morning comes, I try on my shoes one last time. Before I can change my mind, the shoes are in my coat. Snow is beginning to fall as I run across the street to Antonio’s apartment. I put the shoes in front of his door, push the doorbell—and run.

Artwork from the book Those Shoes

Artwork from the book Those Shoes

The story ends with Antonio thanking Jeremy, and the two of them running through the snow in their new boots.

Boelts, a former preschool teacher, says that the story was inspired by the kids she worked with. “I have often been touched by the generosity I’ve witnessed in children and their willingness to share, even when it’s tough to do so,” she said. “These selfless acts have a way of shaping lives.” Jones, the illustrator, says that he can identify with the main character. “I know exactly how Jeremy feels in this book, wanting something so badly it becomes all-consuming,” he said. “In my case it was probably a new, crazy action figure with ‘kung fu’ grip.”

Advertising, peer pressure, and consumerism pose real threats to children, but parents can help. Those Shoes is a deeply moving children’s story that delivers a powerful lesson of empathy and compassion. Complement it with Last Stop on Market Street, a Caldecott Honor Book about a boy who takes a bus ride through the inner city with his grandmother.

Talking to Kids About Childhood Hunger with Maddi’s Fridge

A touching exploration of childhood hunger, courageous generosity, and staying true to friends in need.

Cover of the book Maddi's Fridge“The belly is an ungrateful wretch,” wrote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a novel about life in a Soviet labor camp. “It never remembers past favors, it always wants more tomorrow.” Starvation is a terrifying reality for much of the world’s population, but childhood hunger is a true tragedy. According to the non-profit organization Feeding America, “good nutrition, particularly in the first three years of life, is important for establishing a good foundation that has implications for a child’s future physical and mental health, academic achievement, and economic productivity.” During the year of 2015, 13.1 million children in the United States were unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.

Childhood hunger is the subject of Maddi’s Fridge (public library), a touching story about two friends—Sofia and Maddi—one with a fridge full of food, the other with only bread to eat. Together, they struggle to come to terms with the implications of Maddi’s empty fridge. The book tackles the thorny subjects of poverty and childhood hunger—and the shame associated with them—with subtle grace and elegance.

Artwork from the book Maddi's Fridge

The story opens with the heroes playing in a park. Sofia gets hungry, so the girls head back to Maddi’s apartment for a snack. There’s nothing in Maddi’s fridge except for some milk and bread. The heartbreaking conversation that ensues exposes Maddi’s secret and opens Sofia’s eyes to a hidden, unfortunate reality of her friend’s life.

Sofia swung open the door of Maddi’s fridge. ‘What have you got?’

‘We have milk,’ Maddi said. ‘I’m saving it for Ryan. He’s still little.’

‘Why doesn’t your mom go to the store?’ Sofia asked.

‘We don’t have enough money.’

‘But what if you get hungry?’

‘We have some bread,’ Maddi said.

‘I guess I’ll go home to eat,’ Sofia said.

‘Please don’t tell anyone,’ Maddi said.



‘I promise.’

Sworn to secrecy, Sofia heads home to her own fridge which is stocked full of delicious, nutritious food.

Artwork from the book Maddi's Fridge

That night at supper, Sofia thinks of Maddi and her empty fridge.

‘Here you go,’ Mom said.

Sofia and Luis each had a plate of fish and rice. Mom had a plate of fish and rice. Even Pepito had his bowl of dog food (with a little bit of fish and rice).

Maddi and Ryan only had some bread and a small carton of milk.

Sofia couldn’t tell Mom. She had to keep her promise to Maddi.

After asking her mother if fish is good for kids to eat, Sofia secretly decides to pack a fish in her backpack and give it to Maddi the next day.

Artwork from the book Maddi's Fridge

Of course, fish doesn’t keep well in backpacks. The resulting smell knocks the girls off their feet.

‘Yuck!’ Maddi said the next day.

‘Oh!’ Sofia said. ‘Double yuck.’

Fish may be good for kids, but fish is not good for backpacks.

Artwork from the book Maddi's Fridge

Sofia eventually manages to sneak Maddi a couple burritos and some other food that keeps in her backpack, but she’s still faced with the ultimate dilemma. Should she keep her promise to Maddi? Or should Sofia tell her mother and try to get Maddi and her family more food than she can fit in her backpack? Eventually she decides to tell her mother. Sofia’s mother packs up food for Maddi’s family, and Sofia’s family delivers it to Maddi’s apartment together.

Artwork from the book Maddi's Fridge

At the end of the story, Maddi confronts Sofia and asks her why she broke her promise.

‘You broke your promise,” Maddi said.

‘I’m sorry,’ Sofia said. ‘Are you mad?’

‘A promise is important,’ Maddi said.

‘You’re more important,’ Sofia said. ‘I wanted you to have milk too.’

Maddi smiled.

‘Are we still friends?’ Sofia asked.

‘Always,’ Maddi said.

Where did the idea for Maddi’s Fridge come from? According to an interview with author Lois Brandt, the story is based on personal experience.

Maddi’s Fridge is a story that has been in my heart since I was about ten. Stories and events stick inside my head until I give them voice on paper. In this case, I couldn’t forget the day I found out my best friend had no food in her home. This wasn’t a temporary ‘Mom and Dad were too busy to shop.’  They had absolutely no food and were days away from their mom’s payday.

A discovery like that changes your world. It changed forever the way I looked at people with less money or resources. These are our friends and neighbors who are struggling for food, housing, and jobs. What do you do when your best friend is in trouble? Maddi’s Fridge tells that story.

The thought-provoking subject matter in Maddi’s Fridge is sure to raise awareness of an epidemic hunger crisis that is largely hidden from public view. Childhood hunger is a serious issue that impacts millions of children living in the United States and around the world. Please join us in making a donation to Feeding America to support a local foodbank in your area.

Parents and educators looking for activities related to the book can download coloring sheets, recipes, and activities on Lois Brandt’s website. Complement with Trombone Shorty, a heartwarming book that touches on issues of poverty and overcoming obstacles.