Four Feet, Two Sandals tells the tale of a friendship that blossomed out of a shared desire for a pair of shoes.Lina and Feroza live in Peshawar, in a refugee camp in Pakistan. When relief workers deliver used clothes to the camp, Lina and Feroza each grab one sandal. They meet a few days later when Feroza tries to give Lina her sandal. Lina insists that they share the sandals instead. And from this simple suggestion, they quickly grow to become close friends, companions, and confidantes.
It’s not common to find picture books set in places such as refugee camps, and co-authors Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, and illustrator Doug Chayka, have done a fantastic job. This is a world that will be entirely foreign to many readers, and there are numerous details included to help readers understand it a little more.
For example, Lina’s first description of Feroza includes the following:
Her feet were cracked and swollen, as Lina’s had been when she first arrived in camp.
The next page explains why Lina’s feet had been cracked and swollen when she arrived:
Her old shoes had been ruined on the many miles of walking from Afghanistan to Peshawar, the refugee camp in Pakistan.
Other small points—incidental to the story, but certainly not “small” to those who are living them—that young readers will note as different from their own lives include: that Lina must wash clothes in the nearby stream, that the people in the camp must get water by waiting in line, and that only boys can go to school because the school doesn’t have enough room for everyone.
Doug Chayka’s illustrations are perfect enhancements to the story. An observant reader will notice the brown, sandy, dusty landscape—no trees, no water other than the stream used for washing, no grass. Lina and Feroza wear a shalwar-kameez and head-covering. Men wear the traditional perahan tunban and turban, while women wear a chadur or a burqa.
Once the girls find the sandals, the sandals appear in nearly every picture. And yet, they seem somehow out of place, as though bright yellow sandals with bright blue flowers on top shouldn’t be in a refugee camp. Perhaps that is what Mr. Chayka is trying to convey with his pictures: that sandals like these—just like young girls with so much hope, like Lina and Feroza—don’t belong in a refugee camp. Children deserve so much more.
There are no sandals in the last picture of Lina as she waves goodbye from her seat on the bus taking her away from the refugee camp and off to her new home in America. Mr. Chayka has split the picture in half, with a wonderful reflection of those Lina is leaving behind shown in the bus window beside her. Feroza isn’t in that group. Perhaps that is because Feroza may be coming along soon after and is not merely being left behind.
Karen Lynn Williams has written a number of books for children. She can be found online at www.karenlynnwilliams.com. Her website includes teacher guides for all of her books as well as a link to her blog.
When Khadra Mohammed wrote Four Feet, Two Sandals with Ms. Williams, Ms. Mohammed was the executive director of the Pittsburgh Refugee Center. She drew on her work with refugees in the United States for the story.
Have you read any great books lately?