Malusi, also known as Songololo, goes with his grandmother to help her with her shopping for the day. He's the youngest and used to getting hand-me-downs, so when his grandmother buys him new red shoes, it's like the best thing to ever happen in the world. I understand Songololo; when your grandmother does something special for you, you cherish it. My grandmother used to fight the McDonald's workers when they gave out those Teenie Beanie Babies in Happy Meals in order to make sure that we never got the same one twice. It was wonderful. Granted, during those weeks we had to eat McDonald's breakfast, lunch, and supper, and believe it or not, kids can get sick of fast food.
My first impression of this book was that it was incredibly dated. I could probably attribute that to the fact that the copy I checked out from the library was falling apart and had a stamp on the first page reading "Withdrawn from Library" with a big red X. But moving on...
The illustrations really set it apart from more current picture books. The illustrations are surprisingly detailed watercolors and the facial features of the characters are wonderful. However, only the last few pages include any pictorial background. Instead, the majority of the pages feature only the characters and text against a white background. It really threw me off that the characters were drawn to fill the pages and nothing relied on background images. The colors are also fairly dull when compared to the vibrant, eyecatching colors used today, probably out of necessity to make people buy books. Even though it made the book feel dated, it was refreshing to see such a strong focus on the characters, allowing a child reader/listener to connect with them while the story occurs.
The content was semi-dated/surprising as well. While walking to the bus stop with his grandmother, Malusi kicks a beer can down the street. I've never seen a picture book with a picture of beer before in my life. Littering? Sure. Beer? No.
I think the only thing that would trip up kids is some of the terminology. The story takes place in South Africa and the story was written in 1985, so the language is sometimes tricky. The sneakers that Malusi longs for in the store window are actually referred to as "tackies." Kids are intuitive and can most likely figure it out by virtue of the fact that he's pressed up against a window display full of red sneakers. The term "Songololo" isn't explained until the second to last page and I think it adds to the story. Songololo ends up just being a special name the grandmother has for her grandson, but learning of their long-lasting special connection late in the story just solidifies the strength of their relationship readers witness in the book. I looked up "songololo" to see if it had any significance outside of a special nickname, but it just means "millipede." The perils of using Google: they always show you a preview of image results when you look up something. Ew.
The best part of the book that kids probably won't understand or notice, are the ridiculous clothing styles of the other characters (again, it was the 80s). My favorite: a woman crossing the street wearing a jacket that says "I <3 Elvis" across the back. Just. Awesome.