Monday, April 20, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - What Can You Do With An Old Red Shoe?

Last week was National Environmental Education Week. Earth Day is a mere two days away. Even though I've been spending the month celebrating poetry, nature and the environment have been much on my mind. Today I'm sharing Anna Alter's green activity book that focuses on reusing household items in creative ways. I've been following the development of What Can You Do With An Old Red Shoe? for quite some time now, as Anna wrote about the stages of development on the Blue Rose Girls blog. In the summer of 2007, Anna began writing about the process of developing the art for the book. She shared how the artwork was created from sketch, to laying down the first washes, adding color, layering pen and ink outlines, more layers of color, and finishing touches. It's a fascinating process to learn about, and one that makes me appreciate even more the work that goes into the creation of a book. Here is an example of the process from sketch to finished illustration.
You can read more about the creation of Jack the bunny at Painting in Progress, where Anna talks specifically about each step and includes additional images of the creation of this illustration.

I mentioned that the posts about the creation of the artwork began in July of 2007. In January of 2008 Anna shared that the artwork was complete, save for the jacket. In July Anna shared images from the proof of her book. By January of 2009, Anna was already working on ideas for a sequel! At long last, on March 31st, the date of official publication arrived. Phew!

Anna's hard work, long hours and persistence paid off, because What Can You Do With An Old Red Shoe? is a wonderful combination of poetry and crafting for kids. Here's how the book begins.
This book is all about the ways in which you can reuse and recycle. Each project introduces an art activity that reuses materials you can find in your home. Some of the activities require the help of an adult.

Reusing is a fun way to reinvent worn items. It's also a great way to help conserve our natural resources (like the trees used to make paper) and create less trash to store in landfills. By finding new ways to use old things instead of throwing them away, we can help to keep the environment clean and healthy. If we share in the responsibility of taking care of our world, we can all enjoy it together!
There are a total of 12 activities for recycling old materials, 8 of which require some form of adult assistance. Materials given new life include a flip-flop, bits of old crayon, a worn blanket, empty tin cans, and more. Each double-page spread begins with a poem. Here's the one from the page that asks "What can you do with bits of old crayon?"
Trina is an artist
who doesn't like to stop.
She's colored the walls in her art room,
the bottom to the top.

The walls are one big canvas
and never look complete.
She's worn out all her crayons—
a great artistic feat.
After this readers will find a list of materials that are needed for the project. In this case Trina gathers:
  • Lots of used crayons
  • An old metal bowl or pot (used only for crafts)
  • An ice cube tray
Next there are illustrated, step-by-step instructions for carrying out the project. The directions are clear, concise and simply written. For this project adult help is needed to heat the oven and to pour the hot, melted crayons into the ice cube trays. This is one of my favorite activities from the book, and one William and I tried over the winter break. The book hadn't been released yet, but Anna wrote about making crayons on her blog, so we decided to try it. The process worked beautifully! Here's a picture of what her finished crayons looked like.
The completed image of Jack the bunny (seen above) can be found on the page with the question "What can you do with a worn blanket?" Here's the poem that begins this activity.
Jack's blanket was stained,
it was damp,
it was done—
a mere ghost of a blanket
made pale from the sun.
The fabric had worn,
a soft gauze to the touch.
Jack gave it a squeeze
for he loved it so much.
Here's what the first half of the spread looks like.
Alter then shows/describes how Jack's worn blanket can be used to create a handkerchief and a patch for his old jeans. Here's what the second half of the spread looks like.
At the end of the book readers will find tips for kids and grown-ups on reuse and recycling. The final page contains information on hand sewing stitches for the projects using the worn blanket and raggedy T-shirt.

Alter has created a terrific web site to support the book at You can read about how the book was created, download coloring and activity sheets (under free stuff), and find some fabulous teacher resources and activity ideas for using this book in the classroom.

This book is a terrific choice for simple, creative art projects at home and in this classroom. The materials needed are easily accessible and the steps are not complicated and do not require extraordinary amounts of time to complete. Kids will enjoy giving new life to worn materials and may even dream up their own crafty ideas for old stuff as a result of working through the projects in this book.

I'm crazy about this book, as is my eight-year old. We've had a great deal of fun in the last month trying out the projects. You'll be happy to know that Anna is already hard at work on sequel. The kazoo activity looks like it will be a blast! I hope you check out this book and try some of the activities with your budding artists. You won't be disappointed with the results. Recommended with enthusiasm!

Book: What Can You Do With An Old Red Shoe?
Author: Anna Alter
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: K-5
ISBN: 978-0805082906
Source of Book: Copy received from publisher.

If you've read this far you now have a chance to win a copy of What Can You Do With An Old Red Shoe?. Leave your best recycling craft idea in the comments before midnight tonight. Three lucky winners will be chosen at random on Tuesday morning.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. This week our host is Karen at Mommy's Favorite Children's Books. Do stop by and see what others are sharing in the world of nonfiction today.

All images and artwork ©Anna Alter. All rights reserved.


  1. Oh, I want this book. Frankly, making new crayons -- if you don't use your small ends in candles -- is a fabulous idea.

  2. Last Christmas we made 3D ornaments out of old greeting cards and gave them as gifts. They were really cute. Toilet paper tubes can be used for a variety of crafts by turning them into cars or rockets- pretty much anything.

  3. This book looks wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing it. I could see many of the ideas being ones we could implement in classrooms, as well as at home.

    We save birthday, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, whatever cards and reuse the pictures for other activities, decorations, new cards, etc.

  4. someday I'd like to make a play mailbox station with an old cardboard box and save all of my fed ex envelopes for "mailing" through the slot and receiving in a flipout bin. I also love seeing creative birdfeeders made from all sorts of household items.

  5. This does sound like a fabulous book! And I've just added it to my wish list of books for my future classroom...

    I use old food containers for craft storage all the time - the large parm. cheese container you can get at bulk stores such as Sam's are great for pipe cleaner storage.

    I am saving old milk cartons for classroom mailboxes to incorporate into a writing center. As many have mentioned, re-using gift cards are great for so many projects!

  6. I'm a children's minister and the children pick up all the bulletins left in the sanctuary on Sundays. We cut them up into various shapes and use them to create collages on cards we send to homebound members.

    Leslie (leslielovesbooks AT gmail DOT com)

  7. Old red shoes or boots make great flower planters for geraniums or petunias in the summer. You can paint designs on them first if you wish to.