by Cynthia Leitich Smith | illustrated by Marybeth Timothy | Publisher: HarperCollins | List Price: $5.99 | Pages: 66 | Format: Paperback | ISBN: 978-0-06-442148-5
What do Indian Shoes look like, anyway? Like beautiful beaded moccasins—or hightops with bright orange shoelaces?
Ray Halfmoon prefers hightops, but he gladly trades them for a nice pair of moccasins for his Grampa. After all, it’s Grampa Halfmoon who’s always there to help Ray get in and out of scrapes, and it’s always Ray who reminds Grampa of the joys in life.
In “Indian Shoes,” Ray, who is worried about Grampa’s homesickness, tries to find a way to buy him a pair of old moccasins for sale at the local antiques store.
In “‘Don’t Forget The Pants!'” Ray and Grampa must work together to figure out what to do when—only moments before Nancy Lee’s wedding—they discover that the tuxedo rental shop forgot to include ring-bearer Ray’s slacks on the hanger with his jacket.
In “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?” Ray and Grampa, who are pet sitting for all of their neighbors, must adjust Christmas dinner plans when the electricity goes out in their neighborhood during a Chicago snow storm.
In “The Accident,” Ray is all set to enter the art contest when his ferret, Bandit, starts weaving around the murky, water-filled cup that Ray has been using to clean his brush while painting his entry in watercolors.
In “Team Colors,” a last-minute haircut by Grampa goes wacky and wrong before the big game, but Grampa has a colorful idea to fix things.
In “Night Fishing,” Ray and Grampa finally return to Oklahoma to visit their family and memories along the lake.
This collection of six interrelated short stories is heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny. Cynthia Leitich Smith writes with wit and candor about what it’s like to grow up as a Seminole-Cherokee boy who is just as happy pounding the pavement in windy Chicago as rowing on a lake in rural Oklahoma.
Ray and Grampa Halfmoon traipsed down the cracked sidewalk of a steel and stone city. Ray tracked Grampa’s steps, danced to the rat-a-tat-a-clang of a trash-can band, and skipped beneath the ruffling branches.
“Let’s duck in here,” Grampa Halfmoon began, “and say ‘Morning.'”
When the wind whistled into Murphy Family Antiques, Ray and Grampa whistled in with it. At the welcome mat, Grampa said “Morning” to Junior Murphy. Ray retied his neon orange shoelaces and took a look around the store.
The shop brimmed with treasures: an autographed baseball . . . a Chinese lantern . . . ostrich feathers. . . a basket of antique buttons on a pedestal . . . a tabletop held up by a real elephant leg . . . a moose head mounted high on a wall.
Where are the coats that matched the old buttons? Ray wondered. What happened to the rest of the elephant? Who took the body of the moose glaring down?
Grampa asked, “Do you see that?”
A pair of men’s moccasins waited in a glass box on a pedestal. The card read: Seminole Moccasins, $50 Or Best Offer.
Grampa Halfmoon told Ray, “These put me in the mind of being back home.”
For a long moment, they both looked at the moccasins. But Ray’s mind was mostly on their afternoon plans, and his gaze wandered to the autographed baseball.
“We’d best get a move on,” Grampa said, “to today’s Cubs game.”
Grampa and Ray left the shop with matching grins. They rode the rattling elevated train to Wrigley Field and watched the Cubs take on the St. Louis Cardinals.
From the first inning on, Grampa Halfmoon told old-time Cherokee, Seminole, and family stories. “Every once in a great while, my gramps used to wear moccasins,” Grampa said, “instead of his cowboy boots.” Grampa paused a moment to study the Cubs’ scoreboard. “He used to pitch to me and my cousins, too, and Gramps usually struck us out. Then he’d jump in the lake to cool down afterward, just like us kids. The lakes back home in Oklahoma…those are the prettiest lakes I’ve ever seen.”
Ray frowned, thinking it over. Not far away, Lake Michigan lapped against the shores of Chicago, a fierce blue blanket alongside the park. It was a pretty lake, Ray decided. A lot bigger than the lakes in Oklahoma. More sailboats.
After the seventh-inning stretch, Ray and Grampa Halfmoon ordered hot dogs.
“Now, these Chicago hot dogs,” Grampa said, “they’re dandy, but every now and then I get a hankering for some of that crackle-fried bacon your Aunt Wilhelmina likes to make. You know, that woman fries everything she cooks. I saw her fry a whole turkey once for Christmas, and it was sure enough some big bird.”
Ray bit into his hot dog. He knew all about Aunt Wilhelmina’s cooking. Ray and Grampa drove their pickup down to visit her and Uncle Leonard in Oklahoma once or twice a year. What he didn’t know was why Grampa Halfmoon was thinking so hard today about Aunt Wilhelmina’s crackle-fried bacon.
When the wind carried a home-run baseball into the stands, Ray almost caught it.
Cheers filled the air, but Grampa Halfmoon didn’t make much of a fuss. He was homesick, Ray realized.
Ray wiggled his toes inside the hightops with the neon orange shoelaces. He couldn’t afford a bus ticket to Oklahoma, but he had an idea. Ray thought about it during the last two innings of the game and while riding on the rattling elevated train all the way back to the stop nearest his redbrick bungalow.
Meanwhile Grampa Halfmoon talked about this wild-haired mutt he’d had when he was a kid and how he’d named it Catastrophe. Grampa talked about Ray’s parents, who were killed by a tornado back when Ray was just a babe. And Grampa talked about how he used to take Ray’s daddy fishing by starlight.
At bedtime the wind breathed against the stained-glass pane in Ray’s bedroom window. He dumped jangling money — twenty-eight dollars and sixty-seven cents — out of his jar and onto his woolly blanket.
It was the most money Ray had ever owned at one time, but it wasn’t enough.
Or was it? The sign had said “$50 or Best Offer.” Maybe the best offer would be a little less than thirty bucks. Maybe the best offer would come from Ray.
On Monday after school, Ray marched down the cracked sidewalk. He held tight to his money jar, danced to the rat-a-tat-a-clang of a trash-can band, and skipped beneath the ruffling branches.
When the wind blew into Murphy Family Antiques again, Ray blew in again with it. At the welcome mat, he retied his neon orange shoelaces and said “Afternoon” to Junior Murphy. Then Ray breezed by the table with the elephant leg and the basket full of antique buttons. He paused behind a lady who was carrying a library book.
The lady seemed interested in the moccasins. “Do you know if these are real?” she asked. “Native American worn and Native American made?”
“I could double-check,” Junior Murphy answered, “but it might take a while.”
“I don’t have a while to wait,” the lady replied. “And I don’t walk by this way too often.” She hugged the library book a little tighter. “I’ll tell you what. I could give you thirty dollars for them now, but that’s all my budget will allow.”
Ray shook his head at the moose. Thirty dollars topped his best bid.
Just then the wind rushed in. The door sounded ka-bam! Ostrich feathers fluttered. A Chinese lantern whirled to catch on the moose’s antlers. The autographed baseball splashed into the button basket, toppling the pedestal. Buttons whizzed everywhere!
Ray thought, This is my last chance. “I’ll give twenty-eight dollars and sixty-seven cents for the moccasins,” he told Junior Murphy, “and I’ll pick up every last button, too.”
- In “Indian Shoes,” how does Ray know that Grampa Halfmoon is homesick?
- In “‘Don’t Forget The Pants!'” what are all the ideas that Ray and Grampa talk about in trying to figure out what to do about their problem?
- In “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?” what are all the things that go wrong?
- In “The Accident,” what objects are mentioned that played a big role in one of the earlier stories?
- In “Team Colors,” what experience does Grampa have in cutting hair?
- In “Night Fishing,” whom do Ray and Grampa remember together at the lake?
- What do all of these stories have in common?
- What hints in the stories relate to Ray and Grampa’s Native heritage?
- What makes a short story collection different than a novel?
- Which story was your favorite and why?
Q: What inspired you to write about a grandfather-grandson relationship?
A: My grandfather and I had a very special, close relationship. We would debate everything, get into all kinds of not-too-serious mischief, and stick firmly together at all times. Because that relationship was so positive, I wanted to share that love, those memories with young readers. Though Ray and Grampa Halfmoon are different people, wholly made-up people, with their own personalities and interests, the love in the book is completely real.
Q: Why do you write about Native people who live today?
A: I’m a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. When I was growing up, I didn’t see many books about contemporary Native people. I hope to show non-Native readers that we are still alive today, a part of this society, and I want to assure the Native readers, who see folks like themselves reflected in my stories, that they are an important part of the world of books, too.
Q: How did you find the voices for Ray and Grampa?
A: The voices of the characters and narrator, their patterns and rhythms, come directly from my relations in Oklahoma. Grampa Halfmoon and Ray live in Chicago, but Grampa is originally from Oklahoma and the duo visits family there in the last tale. Ray’s voice has a bit more of a Windy City clip to it, but he’s still influenced by the elder raising him, even in that way.
Q: What is the appeal of a short story collection?
A: Short stories are excellent for emerging readers. They are less intimidating to readers because they are short. It only takes a few pages until they have a feeling of accomplishment from having finished the whole story. And because the stories are interrelated, readers are motivated to continue reading the next tale, to find out what happens to the characters next.