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What first drew me to Infinity and Me was the cover illustration. Opening its pages, it became immediately clear how special it was.
The illustrations are beautiful, imaginative, exquisite and as inventive as the story itself, by Kate Hosford. I adore a picture book that tackles a sophisticated subject and specifically, how this one does so. I also appreciate that the main relationship in the book is between a young girl and her grandmother. Sweet and special, again.
image: Lerner Publishing Group
A lot happens to Uma on the very first page spread:
*She gets a pair of red shoes, which she’s excited about, so much so she can’t sleep.
*She looks up at the sky and its stars and vastness and thinks about the idea of infinity.
The next day, Uma asks around about that big big number. Everyone at school has a different explanation for how to think about it. Some of the characters in the book use music and even macaroni noodles to visualize infinity. Eights napping on their sides and neverending racetracks. But in the end, Uma has her own infinity aha moment. It clicks when she’s with her grandmother, with whom she shares immeasurable love.
Because you know who’s the only person who eventually notices Uma’s special red shoes? Yup, her grandma.
“Right then I knew —
my love for her was as big as infinity.”
Kate Hosford knew her illustrator friend, Gabi Swiatkowska, “would be able to find a way to illustrate infinity and would create the most beautiful red shoes.” Kate was right.
Red shoes have been in the spotlight before of course. In “The Red Shoes” fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, a little barefoot girl is fixated on a pair of red shoes. “But nothing in the world could compare with red shoes!” They’re a symbol, in part, of obsession. Obsession is one of the themes in the ballet and film of the same name as well. Just as our Uma becomes obsessed with the idea of infinity when she gets her pair.
Then there are the famous ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz, the ones that belong to the Wicked Witch of the West and are then worn by Dorothy. They mark the beginning of Dorothy’s magical time in Oz during which she discovers friends and power, and it’s those ruby shoes that eventually bring Dorothy home.
(Hey, even Ariel in the original Footloose wears red western boots at the moment her life begins to change.)
And while all these examples have a dark and dangerous side (sometimes very dark, Mr. Christian Andersen!), the shoes are still rare, special. They possess magical powers and signify a new phase, a transformation.
Uma’s red shoes signify her own journey of growth and discovery in Infinity and Me. The author Kate Hosford likes the color red. But beyond that, she says she needed a small physical object to counterbalance Uma’s overwhelming thoughts about the abstract concept of infinity. (Genius storytelling!) Also, she thought of the shoes as physically and emotionally grounding Uma and the story. (Genius again!)
About the resolution of the Uma’s story, Kate says:
“The shoes ended up taking on a Wizard of Oz quality, in that they lead her home and lead her to solve her story problem. I had not intended to do this consciously. However, perhaps subconsciously, I knew that the shoes would have to take her home again.”
Here are some red shoes for you or yours. They just might mark a new journey or discovery of your own. Or simply take you home.