Middle Grade Book Review: The Wrong Shoes by Caryn Rivadeneira, Illustrated by Graham Ross – 4 stars

This book’s subtitle is ‘A Book About Money and Self-Esteem’ and that’s what I really liked about it: it covers topics of financial literacy and self-esteem in ways that are extremely accessible to its target audience (8-12 years old.)  Peppered with engaging, comedic illustrations from Ross, the book moves along at quick clip and will keep a tween’s interest while imparting some wisdom along the way.  Never condescending, Rivadeneira’s book is structured as a 64 page set of journal entries by two tweens: Marco and Amelia, and follows their journey as they try to find ways to fit in and make money fast!

The Wrong Shoes

True to its title, The Wrong Shoes first focuses on Marco’s dilemma:  he’s being made fun of at school for wearing shoes that were popular last year.  Initially proud and excited about his footwear choice, Marco is embarrassed as a classmate rallies the troops to harrass him about this ‘fourth grade flunky’ shoes.  As all kids and adults can commiserate with Marco’s situation (who hasn’t been targeted in school for some social or fashion misstep?) it’s a good place to start to establish Marco’s urgency in needing money.

Marco’s mother refuses to buy the ‘right’ shoes for him (yeah Mom!)  She doesn’t have the budget for it right now and encourages Marco to solve his own problem.  While she doesn’t minimize Marco’s discomfort (again, yeah Mom!) she empowers Marco by suggesting that he has the means to resolve this issue on his own.

Given this dilemma, Marco enlists his friend Amelia to help him figure out how to earn cash quickly.  His mom sets up an appointment for him with a neighbor she thinks can help.  The neighbor shows the kids how to make a list of things that need to be done in their community and assess whether or not they want to do them and whether or not they believe anyone would pay for the services.  Some of the tasks Marco and Amelia identify are more gratifying than others (hey…$12 for picking up dog poo is not bad!) and they earn 1/2 of what Marco’s needs for the shoes pretty quickly.

The neighbor then points them to the local bank manager who advises them about saving money and interest.  It’s a good lesson…the bank manager helps Marco and Amelia gain strategies for not spending their earned money and helps them understand the (slow) process of earning interest.  Rivadeneira’s explanation of how interest is earned and why it accumulates is spot-on…I’ve never heard it explained in such a kid-friendly way!

Finally, the bank manager introduces them to a local pastor who educates them about the power of charity.  She encourages them to do service work and explains the concept of donating 10% of one’s earnings.  While initially resisitant to the idea (who wants to give away a portion of the money he’s trying to raise to buy shoes?) Marco and Amelia eventually come to understand the ways in which giving assists the community and makes the individual giver feel valuable and responsible.

During their meeting with the local pastor, she introduces the kids to a gentleman who served in the  military and subsequently suffered with some financial hardships/homelessness and ultimately came to work on the staff of the pastor’s organization.  This gentleman consciously doesn’t wear shoes in order to remind himself his gratitude for footwear and stay in touch with his memories of times when he was not fortunate enough to have any.  The interlude with the shoeless gentleman struck me as awkward…I wasn’t entirely sure how it fit into the story.  While it may have been the impetus for Marco ultimately deciding that the ‘right shoes’ were not as important as he originally thought, it didn’t exactly seem to fit with the storyline and seemed a bit ‘forced’ in my opinion.  While gratitude is certainly a valid concept to introduce in a story about money and fitting in, I’m not sure that this vehicle for doing so flowed in the way the author might have hoped.

If I had any other concern about this book, it was only that Marco and Amelia seem gender stereotyped a bit.  She is polite, diligent and responsible.  Marco eats too much, has sketchy manners and is more selfish.  I found myself wondering why the female character always has to be the dependable foil to the boy’s ruffian persona?

Overall, however, I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to introducing it to my 11-year old son.  There is much within it that he already knows but the presentation is engaging and he is likely to absorb more of the ‘lesson’ within than he would getting it only directly from my husband and me.  Financial literacy is so important for children to learn and so often overlooked as something they will simply intuit…I found Rivadeneira’s foray into introducing the topic through the lens of trying to ‘fit in’ very appropriate and extremely valuable.

To get your copy of The Wrong Shoes by Caryn Rivadeneira for you and/or a tween that you know, click the link below:

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