One Shoe Two Shoes – Caryl Hart and Edward Underwood, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019
One Shoe Two Shoes draws on a long tradition of children’s rhyme and illustration to create a memorable and appealing world where they will want to return again and again. Using bright colors and familiar words to make the simplest elements funny and exciting, Caryl Hart and Edward Underwood invite comparisons to some of the most inventive authors and artists for children. Their mice racing in roller skates and hiding in wooden clogs recall Leo Lionni’s paper collage creatures and P. D. Eastman’s dogs, as well as some of the classic mid-century Golden Book artists. At the same time, characterizing the book’s style as “retro” does not quite do justice to its particular attractions.
There are several characters in One Shoe Two Shoes: a hapless dog, mice, people, and the shoes themselves. The dog, who will both fetch and stretch when commanded by an owner portrayed, like all the people in the book, only from the torso down. Children listening to the story will share the dog’s perspective. He is constantly surprised by a playful and clever set of mice. Sometimes they nest quietly in the footwear, but in other scenes they pop out of boxes or raucously ride skates. While the dog seems taken aback by the mice’s stratagems, he is not upset and continues to eat, run, and sleep, even if it is with one eye open. Children will appreciate his flexibility.
The faceless people also seem friendly, a varied cast of characters with different shoes to fill. There is the dog’s owner, wearing striped socks and brown oxfords. There is another person, maybe his twin, in jeans and a fisherman’s sweater. A woman in a black floral dress and red high tops totes a bag of croissants, French bread, and a scone.
Then there is the schoolgirl who could be an older Madeline, wearing white socks and Mary Janes and carrying a stylish red book bag. Underwood has invited into the book representatives of the human world to anchor the animal’s adventures; they provide an element of realism within the fantasy of mice acting out on purpose and eluding everyone’s control.
Then there are the mice, and the shoes. The mice are spry and adorable. They might just want to rest in a bedroom slipper, but they definitely enjoy creating an amusement park ride out of a shoebox, taking turns sliding down the cover while their friends wait patiently in line.
Underwood’s shoes themselves move through the book in a fantastic parade. Note that no comma in the title slows them down. They move in singles and in pairs; classic cowboy books, whimsical flip-flops, but also “artsy shoes” splattered with Jackson Pollock-like splashes of color and shoes with laces so long that they are connected to one another in a delicately whirling tangle.
Hart’s text keeps the book moving as quickly as the mice. Simple rhymes, counting, and brief descriptions of action and shoes (“Green pumps/with yellow spots,” “Pitter Patter/Sniff/Lick/SCATTER”) are all integrated together. The book is artfully designed by Goldy Broad, with letters alternating in size and level on the page, emphasizing the quick movements and pace of the all involved, from shoes to people. One Shoe Two Shoes is a perfect fit for young readers.