René Colato Laínez’s new picture book, My Shoes and I, is a Latino immigration story that touches on the yearning of a family to be whole, the hardship of border crossings, and a child’s resiliency through difficulties.
The story opens in El Salvador, with a young boy named Mario opening the Christmas present that his mother sent him from the United States: a new pair of shoes. Mario is elated as he tries them on, and they instantly become his most treasured friends as he embarks on the biggest adventure of his life: immigrating with his father to the United States.
Throughout the story, Mario tenderly cares for his shoes while they, in turn, care for him. They are his source of strength and comfort as he endures long bus rides over several borders, getting chased by stray dogs, harsh weather, long hikes, and other mishaps. Mario’s affection for his shoes is endearing: in true child-like innocence, he pretends they are race cars, submarines, and volcanoes that help him through each part of his journey. During the final (and somewhat scary) river crossing into the US, Mario pretends that he is a horse carrying his trusty shoes to safety on his back. Mario happily reunites with his mother in the end, which is made even sweeter when one learns that the book is based on the author’s own immigration story.
Dense, earth-toned illustrations by Fabricio Vanden Broeck add great visual appeal. The paintings, which appear to be done on wood panels, imbue a nice texture that captures the roughness of the terrain and grittiness of travel perfectly. The human characters are rendered with care (especially in the final scene with Mario embracing his mother) but through Vanden Broeck’s visual storytelling, the yellow shoes are the real star of the show. While gradually becoming worse-for-wear with each turn of the page, the shoes still retain their happy yellow brightness throughout the story.
Both sweet and scary at times, My Shoes and I would be a great addition to libraries and homes everywhere.