In the new picture book Red Shoes by Karen English with illustrations by Ebony Glenn, two little girls from across the world are connected by a single pair of red shoes!
For this guest post, Karen and Ebony interviewed one another about their experiences writing and drawing, their connection to the story, and more!
Ebony Glenn: What inspired you to write Red Shoes?
Karen English: Years ago I read an article in the New York Times entitled, “How Susie Bayer’s T-Shirt Ended Up On Yusuf Mama’s Back.” I think ‘Mama’ is the last name. The concept intrigued me.
So, eventually, I did a little research into the very lucrative business of used clothes and how the best of discarded clothes winds up in Eastern Europe, the next best in Asia, the not so good—in Africa.
I don’t know how accurate that is, but it whet my appetite enough to write about a pair of beloved shoes winding up on another little girl’s feet, thousands of miles away. Because I’m Muslim, I wanted that little girl to receive the shoes as a gift for fasting half of the month of Ramadan (every other day). And, I wanted them to be purchased. The second hand clothing industry in Africa cuts into the local clothing business. So I didn’t want the little girl’s aunt to be a part of the problem.
KE: When did you know you were an artist?
EG: Ever since preschool I’ve wanted to be an artist. I know many people do not get to fulfill their childhood dreams, but I’m very grateful that I was able to fulfill mine.
EG: Have you ever been to Ghana before?
KE: Yes. I desperately wanted to see the motherland, but not as a tourist and not for a week. So I enrolled in a six week program that North Carolina State sponsored along with the University of Ghana in Legon. I didn’t know I’d be the only adult and the rest would be college kids (oh well…). I got to live in all kinds of situations: on campus; with a host family, hotels… Nobody drove me to campus when I lived with the host family, so I had to take a tro tro every morning and afternoon, after walking and walking to get to the pick-up spot.
Now I go to West Africa every year in January. My husband is from Senegal, so we go to visit his friends and family.
KE: Which illustrators do you admire and why?
EG: I can literally draft an entire page of illustrators whom I admire, but at the moment I am a fan of fantasy author and illustrator Jean-Baptiste Monge. Somehow, he’s managed to truly capture magic within his illustrations, and I cannot help but find all of his work spellbinding.
EG: What led you to write children’s books?
KE: I started writing when I was seven. My mom called my stories “The Miss Flouncy Stories”. They represented my first attempt at writing for children.
KE: SCBWI was such an important organization in my path to becoming a published writer. What was the most important advice you got from SCBWI?
EG: There are so many great tips I’ve received from SCBWI, but the one that resonates with me the most was stated by author Elana K. Arnold who mentioned the importance of embracing our quirkiness. At her presentation at one SCBWI Conference, I admired how her many different interests fueled her imagination to write so many books. Her speech encouraged me to do the same for my craft, and to not be afraid to think outside the box.
EG: What is your favorite book of all time?
KE: Sarah Phillips by Andrea Lee
KE: What is one misconception people can have of your work as an illustrator?
EG: I believe illustrating children’s books requires one to use his or her imagination, creativity, and our unique view on life in order to create images to captivate children, so it really gets under my skin when people assume illustrators (or anyone working in the children’s book industry) are immature. Just because a person creates art for kids does not mean that he or she suffers from “Peter Pan syndrome.” Rather, I think we’re just better able to reconnect with our inner kids.
EG: Is there a theme/message you’d like for children to take away by reading Red Shoes?
KE: YES. That as human beings, we are all connected (the pandemic has also shown us that.) We are one humanity.
KE: How much time, on a daily basis, do you spend thinking about your art?
EG: Every day! Not a day has gone by where I do not think about my artwork. If it’s not illustrating, then it’s either decorating my home, making crafts, or experimenting with something new to keep my creative juices flowing.
More about Red Shoes:
Red shoes glowing--
Perched on a pedestal in the shop window
as if on a throne.
"I want those, Nana," Malika says, as they pass the shop.
"We'll see," Nana says with a wink. "Looks like you could use a new pair."
Malika is delighted when Nana surprises her with a beautiful new pair of red shoes! And with a click-clack-click and a swish, swish, swish, Malika wears her wonderful new shoes everywhere she goes. But one day, the shoes begin to pinch Malika's toes. And alas, they don't let her forget that her feet have grown! Soon Malika and Nana are off to the Rare Finds Resale Shop, where the shoes can be resold -- so somebody else can enjoy them!
Who will be the next to wear the red shoes? Malika wonders.
Then Inna Ziya buys the shoes, and readers follow the shoes all the way across the world to Ghana in Africa, where Amina, another little girl, who has fasted her first time for Ramadan is about to get an amazing gift! Click here to learn more!