Earth Day 2009: Anna Alter and
What to Do with Your Old Red Shoe

h1 April 22nd, 2009 by jules

I invited author/illustrator Anna Alter over for some 7-Imp coffee this morning (remember, too, when she stopped by way back in ’07 when our images were tragically small?) to celebrate Earth Day with some ideas for re-using your old red shoe, as well as your bits of old crayons, used wrapping paper, excess toys, ripped shower curtain, and even more. What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?: A Green Activity Book About Reuse is Anna’s newest title, just in time for Earth Day, and released in March by Henry Holt.

This is a craft book, and it works on every level, seeing as how it has 1) Anna’s appealing menagerie of anthropomorphized animal characters (you know you can’t resist bunnies in swimming trunks and shades), 2) practical ideas for reuse (with precise instructions for projects, step-by-step instructions that also don’t manage to condescend to the child reader), 3) rhythmic, buoyant narrative poetry included at the opening of each spread, and 4) Anna’s cozy, warm, oh-so-inviting, and detailed acrylic artwork. Why am I ennumerating my points this morning? I dunno. Not enough coffee yet? Onwards and upwards, though…

In other words, it makes the idea of recycling and reusing fun for children. And, I’m sorry, but HOLY CRAP and oh chirren (as Haven Kimmel would say), I get scared when I think about the state of our planet and all our bloomin’ JUNK, and it’s way past time to be casual about taking better care of it. (My apologies to the probably ever-so-eloquent Anna Alter for that moment of INeloquence on my part). The book makes a great addition to school units on environmentalism, as well as for homes in which parents are eager to teach their children about their carbon footprint. (Well, we’re not talking specifically about greenhouse gases here, but you know what I mean.)

The book, Anna tells me, also has a web site. “There are a lot of tools for teachers who might use the book,” she told me, “a curriculum guide, activity and coloring sheets, etc. I’m also in the process of putting up a blog (will be up by next week) that focuses on recycling and reuse. I hope it will a place for people to post their own crafty ideas to share. This is the address: http://oldredshoe.blogspot.com/.”

Anna is sharing some art work from the title, a sketch, and some of her own craft photos today, as well as some thoughts on the book and why she wrote it. I thank her for stopping by. Welcome back to Anna . . .

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The waves came in creeping, / stealing, and sweeping--- / they snatched Sarah's flip-flop, / and took it away! / The shoe went afloat, / like a pink plastic boat, / and some lazy old crab / had a ship for a day!I’ve been blogging about this book a lot, so most folks know by now that the idea for this book started when I was a teacher. I spend a lot of time doing art projects with kids and brainstorming ideas for introducing concepts of reuse and recycling to young kids. Little ones may not be able to make a huge impact on our environmental predicament, but I do think they are never too young to learn about personal responsibility and creative problem-solving. I hope this book helps them develop both of those skills in a fun, out-of-the-box kind of way!

The book itself was a lot of fun to make. I am usually a bit more partial to painting than writing, given my visual arts background; I am much more comfortable picking up a pen to draw than to write. When I write, I feel the weight of a library full of genius looming over me, quick to dismiss each idea as frail and meaningless. It takes a lot of perseverance to get my ideas down on paper and craft them into a story. When I draw, it’s completely the opposite; instinct takes over and pulls me deep underwater for hours at a time. When I come back up, it’s like I’ve had a long sleep and have trouble forming complete sentences.


“What can you do with one flip-flop?”
Click on the spread to see it up close.



Anna takes one old flip-flop and makes her own stamp for creating art.

But when I made this book, it was a bit different; I found both the writing and the drawing to be equally satisfying in that it felt like they flowed freely together. Maybe because I’ve always wanted to write poetry. I am always jotting down a line or two in my notebooks in between sketching, playing with words that roll off the tongue. Without a linear narrative structure, I felt more free. Old Red Shoe is not a poetry book, by any means, but I really enjoyed flexing my writing muscles to create the poetry in this book.



“What can you do with a raggedy T-shirt?”
Click on the spread to see it up close.



One of many things Jack decides to do with his worn blanket . . .

The illustrations were also a pleasure; they feel to me like the artwork I have always wanted to make. The book consists almost entirely of tiny little spot illustrations arranged on a page. It was like painting in miniature. I used the tiniest brushes I could find to get down every last bit of fur or feathers or patterns on the animal’s clothes. I tried to use a color palette that recalled times past, but was also bright and cheerful and contemporary.

One review called the book ‘sprightly,’ which made me happy, because that was how I felt when I made it. I hope kids will find the activities inspire the same feeling in them, and help them think about the environment in a different way.



Anna’s tin can lantern


“Now Peter has a glowing lantern to admire when the sun goes down!”


What can you do with empty berry baskets?
“The sun beamed down on the strawberry patch. / Gertrude beamed down on the pile of berries / that sat on her lap / as she sat in the dirt, / one hand in the basket that sat on her skirt. / The sun hung low on the strawberry patch. / Gertrude looked down at her empty green basket. / She wiped off her chin, / her belly was fed, /
then took off for home with her fingers dyed red.”


What can you do with an old calendar?
“When December rolls around, / and the blue sky has faded to gray, / the snow makes our city a playground, / so we run to the hilltop to play. / Jon turns to the calendar’s very last page / and counts down to the thirty-first day. / He’s flipped over June, October, and March, / August, September, and May.”

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If you want to read more about Anna’s art work and the new title, here’s where she has been this week—and will be the rest of this week—to discuss the book:

And there’s also this January ’08 7-Imp post if you want more Anna Art.

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WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH AN OLD RED SHOE?: A GREEN ACTIVITY BOOK ABOUT REUSE © 2009 Anna Alter. Published by Henry Holt and Company, New York. Spreads posted with permission of Alter. All rights reserved.

All other images courtesy of Anna Alter. All rights reserved.

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P.S. (Personal Secret): This post is for Megan. And Drew.





7 comments to “Earth Day 2009: Anna Alter and
What to Do with Your Old Red Shoe”

  1. This is THE. Coolest. Book.
    And I say a great big “HAH!” to her idea that this book isn’t poetry. Oh, but it is, and it flows all together as beautiful ideas and words. This is really lovely and can be enjoyed by people of all ages. We so often think, “Oh, I should…” and never do the research of figuring out how to reuse some things; this book puts all those great ideas within easy reach with simple instructions, too. A big win!


  2. I really love the blend of poetry, art, and helping the planet a bit. And I agree with Tanita: just the title starts you singing and wanting more. Yay, Anna!


  3. I’m so excited to see this book! LOVE her animal characters. Very cool concept, and as Jeannine said, a lovely blend of poetry, art, and helping the planet. The red shoe planter is simply wonderful :) .


  4. Love this blog and particularly liked today’s post! I tried the can idea once and it’s adorable. Now the shoe pots! I referenced it on my site http://www.singlegrrrl.blogspot.com.


  5. This is exactly the sort of book I would have treasured as a kid. I LOVED to make stuff, most especially out of other stuff. And I don’t know how Anna does it, but those animals all look so cuddly. Perfect Earth Day choice.


  6. This book is just so much!
    A thing of beauty, good, crafty ideas, environmental goodness, poetry.
    Sheesh.
    Going to be giving this to a lot of folks for gifts. Yessireebob.


  7. I’m going to get a copy of this book for the library.


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