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The Blue Shoe

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A Tale of Thievery, Villainy, Sorcery, and Shoes

Written by Roderick TownleyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Roderick Townley
Illustrated by Mary GrandPreAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Mary GrandPre


List Price: $6.99


On Sale: October 13, 2009
Pages: 272 | ISBN: 978-0-375-89417-6
Published by : Knopf Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
The Blue Shoe Cover

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Far away, in a remote mountain village, there is a cobbler's shop. And in the window there sits a shoe. Not just any shoe, but a jewel-encrusted blue shoe. When the shoe's largest jewel goes missing, the cobbler's assistant, Hap, is blamed and banished to the dreaded Mount Xexnax. Legend has it that no one has ever returned from Xexnax, but Hap Barlow isn't just anyone, and legend is about to be rewritten.

Perfect for middle graders, The Blue Shoe has the feel of a modern classic. You'll read the first page and grin, and then chortle, and then heave a happy sigh as you settle in for what will clearly be a great yarn. Told with a bit of a wink, this quirky gem is full of heart, and utterly winning.



Not long ago, in the sunny mountain village of Aplanap, famous for its tilted streets, cuckoo clocks, and Finster cheese, there stood a small shoemaker’s shop. And in the window of that shop was a shoe that fit nobody.

Of course, since it was only one shoe, it was doubly useless.

Yet everyone who learned of this shoe was seized with the desire to own it. Curious travelers with hard money winking in their pockets came from as far away as Doubtful Bay. But the shoe was not for sale.

You’re thinking this must have been a remarkable shoe.

People lined up outside the shop just to look in the window. Even the town’s mayor (whose name is far too long and important to write out here) felt tempted by it. He was an impressive man, but not an easy man to impress. Passing in his carriage, he’d have the coachman slow down so he could catch another glimpse of the famous object, with its sapphires, opals, and moonstones flashing in the sun.

Did I mention the shoe was covered with precious stones?

Precious and semiprecious, and a few (like the beads of Murano glass) merely beautiful. And all of them blue. Blue of every description, from palest aquamarine to clearest azure to dramatic cobalt to assertive navy to deep-thinking indigo.

A blue shoe.

The shoemaker--I should say this right away--was a simple man, nothing remarkable about him at all. Every-one called him Grel, which was his name, or as much of it as anyone bothered to remember.

Grel was neither very short nor very tall. He wasn’t particularly thin, nor exactly fat. Neither ugly nor handsome. He had a beard (now threaded with gray), but most Aplanap men wore beards. He was poor, but not poor enough to be arrested.

Did I mention that the poor were arrested in Aplanap? They were. Well, beggars were arrested. You could be poor all you wanted and you’d be left alone. But if hunger forced you into the streets to beg for a coin, large men would come and cart you to jail, and from there, they’d ship you to the north side of the next mountain, a peak so tall its top was perpetually covered in snow and surrounded by swirling clouds.

There were many superstitions about this mountain. It stood in plain sight, and yet you couldn’t see the top of it. At night, it was even more mysterious, because the peak pulsed with a dull orange glow. No doubt the light came from the campfires of the beggars condemned to live there, but you know how people are. They’ll believe anything. Some said the mountain was really a volcano. Others claimed that trolls hopped about among the crags and spent the nights forging weapons over a great fire. Still others believed the ancient myth about Xexnax, the goddess the mountain was named for. The glow, they said, came from her kitchen, where she roasted the poor doomed souls who’d been sent there.

Whatever the truth, you didn’t want to end up on that mountain.
It was a good thing Grel had Hap Barlo, a young boy he’d taken in as an apprentice. A slim thirteen-year-old with nimble hands and likeable eyes, Hap was smart in ways that Grel was not--quick with numbers, sharp at business. More than once he’d saved his absentminded master from ruin.

They were never far from ruin as it was. Cobblers were always needed but badly paid. Grel and the boy often lived on crusts, although they could usually indulge in a slice of schnitzel on Sundays, sitting at a little table in front of the shop, with Grel’s dog at their feet. The dog’s name was Rauf, since that was the only word the creature knew. Rauf sometimes spoke his word to the passing cats, but he lacked conviction, and the cats paid no attention.

On summer evenings, Rauf would lie contentedly in the dust, one eye closed, the other watching his master and a few old friends playing a game of Plog after the day’s work was done. There was something reassuring in the clack of wooden pieces on the game board and the smell of pipe smoke spiraling over Grel’s head.

As far as the rest of Aplanap was concerned, Grel might have been invisible. Even regular customers would have a hard time placing him had they seen him outside his shop, without his work apron, walking the tilted streets. Grel didn’t mind. He had no desire for recognition. He cared about his sleepy dog, his alert young apprentice, and his art. For he was an artist among cobblers. He might seem vague as he pottered about his shop or rummaged around looking for his glasses, but when it came to work, his concentration was unmatched. The idea of tearing the stones off the fabulous shoe and selling them would never occur to him, any more than he’d tear out his own eyes, especially since, long ago, with excruciating care, he had placed the jewels there himself.

Grel often thought back to that rainy evening when a weirdly tall stranger, his face shadowed in a cowl, had slipped into the shop at closing time. What struck the shoemaker at once were the man’s eyes, which glittered with a cold blue fire. Wherever they alighted, they lowered the temperature by ten degrees.

“What can I do for you, sir?” Grel said.

“Ye make shoes, don’t ye?”

Grel did not understand at first. The man had a strange accent, a nasal tone, and a voice that started with a grumble in his throat.

“Shoes, you say?”

“Shoes! Shoes! Ye are deafen?”

“Shoes! Yes, the finest.”

“Then make me one!”

“Make you?.?.?.?one shoe?”

The stranger ignored him. He pulled out a sketch and laid it on the workbench, smoothing its creases with his skinny hand.
One shoe. That’s what he wanted. And he paid in advance. Grel watched the heavy coins clink on the wood.

“But that’s too much!” he faintly protested.

The man’s eyes held him. “Ye complain I pay too much?”

“But it’s only one shoe. I should charge you half as much, not?.?.?.”

I mentioned, didn’t I, that Grel was not a sharp

More coins clinked on the wood.

“Thinken me,” said the stranger in a dark voice, “ye’ll earn every groat.”

Grel shook his head. It was ten times what he generally received for his work. And only one shoe! What could be simpler?

From the Hardcover edition.
Roderick Townley|Mary GrandPre

About Roderick Townley

Roderick Townley - The Blue Shoe

Photo © Wyatt Townley

Nobody wants to know how hard it is. They want to know what fun it is. So let’s skip the hours—days—months—staring at a computer screen trying to understand what the plot needs to find its way forward, what the characters want and what they have to overcome to get it. Skip the feeling that this is way too hard for you, that you should have stuck to the easy stuff, the books of poetry, literary criticism, journalism, the hundreds of articles you thought were so difficult. They were a snap compared to writing a really good children’s book.
I’ve now written six. You’d think it would get easier. Ha! The latest is called The Blue Shoe, subtitled A Tale of Thievery, Villainy, Sorcery, and Shoes, an off-center fairytale that ends up being funny while dealing with issues of greed, prejudice, and the cost of loyalty. As with all my novels, the idea came from a bedtime story I told my wife, my best first editor, slave driver, and muse.
Now at last, here’s the book on my desk, spanking new, printed in blue ink, with pitch-perfect illustrations by Mary GrandPré of Harry Potter fame, and I realize that somehow it all came together.
I also realize that it was, actually, after all, and in fact, fun. Fun to get to know my characters, from the villainous mayor with a hairy wart on his forehead to the hero, a young thief named Hap, and his irrepressible friend, Sophia.
Even the writing problems had their fun side. For instance, there’s an enslaved race of trolls who live in the mineshafts of dreaded Mount Xexnax, and they speak their own language. Naturally, I had to learn that language. “Hwaet! Ic commin am!” cries the troll guiding the ferryboat to shore. (“Hey, I’m coming!”) Readers with fancy educations will recognize the mangled combination of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English.
The truth is, I conspire to make things hard, too hard, for myself—as if a book is worth writing only if it strikes me as quite impossible. I paint myself into a corner and then see how I will get out of the room. Call it the Houdini complex.
I guess that’s my own definition of fun.

About Mary GrandPre

Mary GrandPre - The Blue Shoe

Photo © From the author

For as long as I can remember, I have felt a strong connection to animals. I enjoy learning about them, caring for them, and of course, when ever possible, drawing them. That’s why illustrating The Carnival of the Animals was such a joy. It was great fun figuring out what each animal should look like based on how the poems described them, and listening to the classical music while I drew each one helped a great deal. I believe animals all have unique personalities and abilities, and if we are observant, we can learn a great deal from them.
The first animal I ever truly connected with was my dog Skippy. He was a mix of rat terrier and Jack Russell. He was white with black spots. I was eight years old when we found him at the animal shelter in Bloomington Minnesota, the town I grew up in. The day we got him, we surprised my mom when we went to the grocery store where she was working as a cashier. We went through her checkout line to buy Skippy’s first bag of dog food. Needless to say my mom was not very happy with us that day, and I don’t recommend ever surprising a parent that way with a new pet . . . but the good news is, she ended up loving Skippy as much as the rest of us did.
Skippy and I had a very special relationship. At times it felt like we were actually talking to each other, especially when he would jump up into my lap, tilt his head and point just one ear up. It was as if he was just waiting for me to suggest something we could play together. One of our favorite things to do was to play hide-and-seek. There was an old oak tree that was perfect for climbing in the back yard. Well, no matter how often Skippy and I played hide-and-seek, I would always use the tree as one of my hiding places. I remember climbing up as high as I could go, while Skippy was wandering around in the front yard. After positioning myself comfortably in the highest branches, I would call, “SKIPPY. . . COME AND FIND ME!” Then I would hear the jingle of his dog tags, and wait and watch for him to come around to the back yard. I had a good view, peeking through the green clumps of leaves. As he got closer, I would call again and he would come running to the tree, never looking up, just circling the base, looking confused. Then he would run and sniff and snoop under bushes, behind the shed, or on the swing set. Finally, after a few more calls and more searching, I would quietly sneak down to the lowest branch and then jump to the ground, yelling, “HEEEERRRRE I AMMMM!” He would come running, so excited to see me, seeming so surprised that I had been hiding in the big oak. The funny thing is, no matter how many times I hid in that old oak tree, he never looked up to see me there. He never remembered that I always hid in the tree . . . or did he?
Today I wonder if Skippy always knew. Perhaps he was just letting me stay there while he pretended to hunt for me in other places? Skippy knew how to be a good sport and how to play with vigor. He taught me how to find enjoyment in the little things.
I hope you enjoy meeting the characters in The Carnival of the Animals. Perhaps you too will make a special connection.

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