Barefoot Bea, Heather Neilly and Ruth de Vos, Yellow Brick Books, 2019
From the publisher: Barefoot Bea hates wearing shoes. She sniffs her nose at a sandal, looks aghast at a gumboot and won’t suffer a sneaker. But when Bea’s parents decide to take radical action, their dynamic daughter comes up with an ingenious solution!
I grew up in rural Tasmania. Despite being an introverted, bookish child, who was happiest holed up in my bedroom with a stack of fantasy novels beside me, I was also a country girl at heart. I lived in jeans and jumpers and flannies; makeup-free and frizzy hair scraped back in a practical bun (until I got sick of it and chopped it all off). And, given the choice, no shoes. This predilection, one day, literally, came back to bite me.
Or, should I say, sting me.
Second to my reading nook, my favourite place was anywhere outside, preferably on a farm and, in particular, the farm where my beloved Nan lived.
I spent long summers there, running barefoot around the paddocks, being careful to avoid the many cow pats, which I believed to be the worst of the hazards I might encounter.
How wrong I was.
One day, playing backyard cricket with my cousins, my naked foot chanced upon a nemesis far more dastardly than the humble cow poo.
See, I did not know it at the time, but I have an allergy to bee stings.
And it was summer, in Australia.
And I know it wasn’t the bee’s fault.
And I know – I know – that my clumsy clodhopper meant the end of that bee’s existence. I’m sorry for that.
I also know that that tiny insect meant the end to my idyllic summer, as, after receiving the medical attention I needed, I spent the rest of it with my enormous elephant foot stuck in a bucket. I had no choice but to go barefoot, then, for the next month – none of my shoes would fit.
I’d like to say it taught me a lesson. It didn’t. I still prefer to go barefoot, wherever possible.
But I do have a phobia of my daughter running around with no shoes on, on her own gran’s farm. Even though that’s what she’d prefer.
Maybe it runs in the family.
It was the theme of shoe eschewing that first attracted me to Barefoot Bea. A child who rejected sandals and boots and sneakers was a child after my own heart.
It was the gorgeous, funny, lyrical words that made me fall in love with this book.
It is hilarious, the rhyme is perfect and its protagonist could be a young me, right down to her messy hair and no-nonsense fashion sense.
And the themes – about rejecting convention and being your own kind of girl – spoke loudly to my heart.
Bea is an adventurous free spirit – strong both physically and in temperament. Her parents are at their wit’s end, having tried almost everything to encourage their daughter to pop on some shoes – like me, they are worried about her safety. The world is full of sharp objects (and bees) and their daughter is precious.
Finally, they chance upon a shoe shop that just might be the answer to their prayers, run by a shopkeeper who is confident in their abilities to finally turn Bea into a shoe-lover.
Will she succeed? Will Bea find the perfect pair of shoes – and if she does, will she be able to hold on to her individuality?
Spoiler alert: She does.
Illustrator Ruth de Vos has created a marvellous character in Bea – her cheeky, fearless spirit shines through on every page. I cheered for her, and wanted her to triumph – while also empathising with her parents. Strong-willed children and miraculous and energy-draining in equal measure.
This is a wonderful story for parents to share with children – it works wonderfully read aloud – and the colourful pictures will captivate children from the very young to more mature.
All readers will come away from this story completely in love with Bea.
And perhaps wishing to be more like her.
Which is a wonderful thing – she’s a fabulous role model for celebrating your uniqueness. But, kids, please listen to your parents when they tell you to put your gumboots on, before you run off to the paddocks.
Sometimes – just sometimes – your parents know what they’re talking about. Sometimes, from painful experience …