Written & illustrated by Anna Alter
Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt
What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? is a neat package of poetry and “green” craft activities for kids. It’s an excellent vehicle for introducing children to the concept of recycling. It shows how objects we’d usually toss into the trash can be made into things that can be reused in creative and different ways. For example, an old red shoe can be reinvented as a planter; a favorite raggedy T-shirt can be transformed into a pillow; and a ripped shower curtain can become an artist’s apron!
Each craft is described on a two-page spread. The step-by-step directions are clear and concise. Anna's spot illustrations will help children to visualize the process and the finished product. A short poem introduces each craft project.
The back matter of the book includes suggestions for ways both kids and adults can support reuse and recycling. It also has some hand-sewing tips.
NOTE TO READERS: I having a special giveaway—three copies on What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? All you have to do to be eligible to win a copy of the book is to leave a comment at this post!
Elaine: Tell us what inspired you to create a book like What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? for young children?
Anna: Back when I was teaching I did a lot of art projects with my kids; I was a preschool teacher, so art was part of every day at school. I think making art should be an essential part of everyone’s education. I grew up with two parents who were both artists (my mother is a painter and my father was a photographer for many years), and so it was a big part of my childhood and a big part of the reason I became an artist. So, needless to say, I did a lot of art with my students when I taught. But after awhile I started to get frustrated with how much waste this would create, teachers and students alike filled the trash bins quickly. My biggest pet peeve was when kids would scribble a couple of times on one side of a piece of paper, then throw it directly in the trash.
I started to seek out recycling activity books, to find ways to nurture the budding artists in my class without throwing so many things away. I searched far and wide and found many great books with art projects that talked about reuse. But I noticed that there did not seem to be a lot of books that were aimed directly at kids that invited the child reader to really think about where their materials come from, and where they go after they are finished with them. So I decided to make a book that did all those things. I wanted to introduce simple, kid-friendly activities in a way that invited kids to think about reuse in a creative way.
Elaine: Can you describe the format of the book?
Anna: I designed the book to be used as a tool. Each page introduces a character with a short poem that tells you about their predicament. I chose to use poetry to introduce the characters for two reasons. The first is that I wanted the characters to be fun and silly and relatable, and I thought poetry would be a great way to accomplish all those things in a succinct way. The second reason is that I have always loved poetry, writing it and reading it, and was anxious to include some in one of my books!
After each character is introduced, a question wanders across the page, “What can you do with (an object that is in the poem)”, inviting kids to come up with their own answer to the question. When I do school presentations I hold up an object, such as an old red shoe, in front of the audience and ask the same question—what can you do with this instead of throwing it in the trash? Kids always have very inventive answers. I’ve heard everything from turning the shoe into a house for mice to turning a flip-flop into a tiny surfboard. It’s a lot of fun to hear their ideas.
Next the book presents my ideas for reusing each object, with illustrations of the character in the poem carrying out the steps. I really wanted the book to draw kids in, and I think having a character perform each task helps make the projects come alive. It also once again sets the stage for kids to come up with their own ideas; if Ruby turns her old shoe into a planter, what could YOU do?
Elaine: Can you tell us about the website that you developed especially for What Can You Do with an old Red Shoe?
Anna: I’ve put together the website for the book with teachers and educators in mind. The site has a curriculum guide, coloring and activity sheets, and a peek into the process of creating the book. I’ve also just launched a blog attached to the site. It will be a place to post additional fun recycling crafts I come across and also, hopefully, it will become a place for educators, parents, and kids to share their own ideas. I’d like it to be an ongoing conversation about reuse and recycling as it relates to kids and crafting. You can find the blog here.
Elaine: I know you’re planning a sequel to "Red Shoe." Would you tell us about it?
Anna: I am working on a proposal for a sequel to the book. This time I am putting together a book about recycling art activities you can do at parties, with groups of children. When Old Red Shoe was finished I was chatting with my editor (mother of three children) about a follow-up, and she brought up how elaborate and expensive children’s birthday parties have become. It seems to be a trend to throw you child’s party at a venue (such as a gym or restaurant) where you invite the kid’s entire class, and use a lot of disposable favors and paper products. The parties can be over stimulating, expensive, and create a lot of waste. Our idea is to create a book that invites families to throw green kid’s parties that use a lot of creativity, but not a lot of money. Each project in this book asks the partygoers to bring an object with them that they will reuse in an art activity at the gathering.
Elaine: You have another book coming out soon. What is that book all about?
Anna: My next book is called Abigail Spells, and will be out in the end of April. It is a story of friendship about an enthusiastic speller who enters a spelling bee. At heart it’s a story about how friends help you cope when you don’t get what you want, but it is also about excitement for learning and the joys of spelling. Abigail spends much of the book spelling everything she sees (the words are spelled out in all caps so that kids can practice their own spelling). I hope that kids will relate to Abigail’s quest for glory at the spelling bee, her disappointment when things don’t go her way, and her good fortune at having a best friend to help her get through it all.
Anna is very handy. Here are a couple of her handmade creations--cat "warmies" and t-shirts.
Some places where you can join Anna this spring. All events are free and open to the public.
1. Celebrate the release of What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? Come join in the fun! Anna will give a presentation about how the book was made, read and sign books, and run an art activity from the book. Make your own old red shoe planter!
April 22nd at 3 pm
2. Learn about What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? at the Wenham Museum in coordination with the exhibit Soul of the Shoe; artists interpreting how shoes are shaped by our culture. She will read the book and do a presentation about how it was made, followed by a craft activity.
April 23rd at 10:30 am, craft activity
Book signing will follow at 11:00 am
3. Anna will be giving a presentation about how she made What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?, running a recycling art activity and signing books at Olivia Browning in Charlestown.
10:30- 12:00 Preschool program and art activity
1:00-2:30 Elementary program and art activity
20 City Square, Charlestown, MA 02129