Sunday, November 29, 2009


I have spent my entire career in urban schools. I love teaching urban kids about 95% of the year. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, however, are absolutely heartbreaking. My urban kids watch as much television and see as many commercials as their more affluent peers. Their families don't have the resources, though, to provide the expensive toys and name brand clothes and shoes that they want. The little kids are sure that Santa will bring them. The older kids know Santa won't come, but they still hope for miracles. The financial stress present in most families during this time, is even greater in urban settings. And as a teacher, even a teacher who is not particularly materialistic, I still wish that every child could wake up Christmas morning to a tree of presents and more importantly, a houseful of love.

THOSE SHOES is the first book I will read to kids during the holiday season. Jeremy desperately wants the high top, two stripe tennis shoes that all of his friends are wearing. His grandmother, however, is clear on the difference between needs and wants. Jeremy needs new winter boots, he doesn't need new high top, two stripe tennis shoes. When his tennis shoes fall apart, he has to go to the social worker's office, and select a pair of babyish, cartoon character tennis shoes that are nothing like the two stripe high tops he was hoping for. Later, he finds the longed for shoes at a thrift shop; he buys them, but they are too small, and they give him blisters. He finally gives his special high top two stripe shoes to another little boy that needs them.

I can't change my kids' lives. I don't have the money to give them the things they want or even sometimes the things they need. I can't fix their lives- the deep hurt of absent parents, or substance abuse, or homelessness. I can, however, give them places to talk and make sense of their lives. I can help them understand that family is the people that love you and care about you, and whether that comes from actual parents, grandparents, or coaches, or teachers, or the school lunch lady, it still counts. I can help them to understand that as little as they have, they can still give to others. And for those reasons, THOSE SHOES is the book I will read aloud tomorrow…

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