Four Feet, Two Sandals
written by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Doug Chayka
(Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2007)
Lina and Feroza are two young girls who forge a very special friendship because of a pair of bright yellow sandals. These sandals have been thrown from the back of a truck by relief workers in the refugee camp where they both live, having fled Afghanistan; and each girl has picked up only one of them. At first, Feroza’s Grandma seems to have a point: “it is stupid to wear only one”. Yet they are what cause the girls to speak to each other in the first place. How the girls’ friendship develops can be followed in the way they share their beautiful, precious shoes: first taking it in turns to wear them as a pair; then sometimes each wearing one as they play and work together; then the giving backwards and forwards at the end, when Lina and her family leave to start a new life in America.
Doug Chayka’s illustrations provide insight into the daily life of the camp in Peshawar, on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Patched tents cram together; people wait patiently in line to fetch water; the one school-room is packed with attentive boys. Earthy yellows and browns abound under the glaring sun – but only the beloved shoes and a few water carriers stand out in their bright, synthetic primary yellow.
Young readers will be able to empathise with the essence of the story, that through sharing, both girls are able to enjoy each other’s friendship; and through friendship, some of the fear and loneliness they feel is soothed. By the end, they will also have been drawn into an awareness of the plight of refugees who live in camps. As a note at the end of the book points out, the majority of the world’s 20 million refugees are children. The authors are both involved in working with refugees and have drawn sensitively on their experiences to create a story which will not only draw young children into caring about the lives of children who live far away in refugee camps, but also help them to empathise with children like Lina, who may arrive in their own communities. And perhaps they will look at their own shoes and not take them so much for granted in the future.