Tag Archives: the red shoes

one fairy tale, two versions: the red shoes


The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Anderson (translated by Anthea Bell), illustrated by Chihiro Iwasaki


This one is a strange fairy tale, as we know. Dark and dripping with remorse. But its progeny alone is iconic! The Red Shoes film. Dorothy’s ruby slippers! (Kate Bush had her Red Shoes too.)


(And lucky for us, Look At These Gems recently posted loads of pictures from the film!)


(click image(s) to enlarge)

I’ve always thought of this story as about the dangers of desire and vanity. How it can control us.

But in rereading this version, I was struck by how the main character, Karen, wore her first pair of red shoes on the day of her mother’s funeral. Then they were taken away, and when she had the chance again for new shoes, she chose red ones again. They’re the red of a princess’s shoes, so yes, they’re luxurious. But might it also be that Karen’s trying to recreate a memory of her mother? Don’t we all have something from childhood we still long for because it connects us to an important time?



Iwasaki’s watercolors almost resemble cut paper, their shifting weights and tones are so pronounced. They’re mesmerizing and this book really is about those illustrations. Sad and evocative, some spare, some blooming over a whole page. Delicate but bursting.

Aren’t they wonderful?




p.s. There’s an art museum in Tokyo dedicated to Chihiro Iwasaki and since I’ll be there in April, I just might have to visit and report back!!


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The Red Shoes illustrated by Sun Young Yoo and written by Gloria Fowler (2008).



This is a retelling . There’s still a girl, Karen. And there are still red shoes.

Other original elements appear as well—a princess, an executioner—but they’ve been weaved to tell a different tale. Not one that curses Karen (Fowler omits all of Anderson’s religious themes), but one that celebrates creativity and beauty and self-reliance. 




In Fowler’s rendering, Karen’s mother is a shoemaker who’s secretly making the girl lovely red shoes.  She makes the connection of the girl to her mother, through the shoes, the heart of the story.

That connection allows Karen to make shoes for a princess after her mother dies, and more shoes after that. She even opens her own shop: “The Red Shoes.” In this version, Karen is a creative entrepreneur! She uses needle and thread to stitch her true calling.




The illustrations are pen and ink, black and white. We must imagine that pop of red, just as Karen imagines her future.


Images via AMMO Books





You  may be interested in my post on two different picture book versions of Hansel & Gretel as well.








infinity and me/red shoes

13633558What first drew me to Infinity and Me was the cover illustration. Opening its pages, it became immediately  clear how special it was.

Gabi Swiatkowska is one of my favorite illustrators, who I was introduced to through My Name is Yoon and its follow-ups by Helen Recorvits.

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.”


Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 2.29.33 PMKate 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.











image: heit007 via Compfight ccimage: cepatrimagnet via Compfight cc

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.



images: 1.  UGG Alloway Glitter from Zappos; 2. Wool Walker Shop‘s wool slippers on etsy. 3. Unique Flavor oxfords on etsy; 4. Aigle welly boots; 5. UPERE wedge sneakers on etsy.




 images: 1. TOMS red glitter shoe; 2. revaline from Joyfolie; 3. Hoy Kids saltwater sandal;  4. Converse Kids All Stars Hi; 5. Adilette play sandals

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