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This tree is made, not grown

Trees are a regular sight at St. Jacobs Country Gardens, but last Saturday saw the unveiling of a much less common variety, a tree that doesn’t grow from a seed or in a pot.

The tree in question was festooned with shoes – high-top sneakers, flip-flop sandals and pink high heels hung down from the leafy branches. This shoe tree starts with one person tossing his or her old footwear into the sky to catch on an out-of-reach branch. Typically, that pair of shoes’ story ends there, unseen and invisible to passersby. But on rare occasions, that first pair of shoes triggers a shoe-tossing movement.

Conestogo author creates a children’s book telling the story of The Shoe Tree
Conestogo author creates a children’s book telling the story of The Shoe Tree

A shoe tree is the foundation of a new book written and illustrated by local author Della vanDokkumburg. The Conestogo resident gathered friends and family to help launch the children’s picture book on the weekend, a story about a family that immigrates to Canada and begins a new tradition of hanging old shoes on a young maple tree.

“The story of The Shoe Tree is one about a whole bunch of things,” explained vanDokkumburg. “It’s a story about immigrants, and about family and about tradition, things which I think a lot of people can identify with. And it’s also about Canada. Canada is made up of lots of different shoes. It’s a country that keeps growing just like the tree does, and it keeps filling up with more and more people from diverse backgrounds.”

The theme of immigration is especially poignant to Della; her father immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands by boat in 1954 and her mother immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands in 1955. Her daughter arrived in Canada from China by plane in 2005. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book are headed to Pier 21, Canada’s Immigration Museum.

VanDokkumburg began writing the story more than 10 years prior to this summer’s release date. The first draft took only a week to craft, but the author’s days began to fill with house work and volunteer work and the project was put on hold.

“Every once in a while I would haul it out, touch it up and rewrite it,” she explained. “But it was only at the beginning of this year when I really started to get into it seriously.”

This is not the first attempt that the mother of four has made at writing. She has created several stories for her children and her nieces and nephews and has attempted to have a few manuscripts published by large publishing companies, only to have them turn down her ideas. So after much careful consideration, she decided to self-publish and with the support of her community, has created a book that is entirely locally made.

“The more I thought about it, the more excited I became at the idea of taking ownership of the book from start to finish,” said vanDokkumburg. “Writing it, then finding people to help me polish it, then illustrating it, finding a printer,  and choosing the type of paper to print it on. I would much rather spend my energy getting to know people locally who can help with it than writing to publishing companies and waiting for rejection letters.”

The author and illustrator has printed 1,000 copies to start, and is hoping that local book stores will come on board and help her in promoting the story. The book is also for sale on her website (www.conestogopress.com) and is being sold for $10. If her project is a success, vanDokkumburg plans to publish a companion book entitled Great Grandpa Skates.

“I am hoping that kids will like it, and maybe teachers will buy one for their classroom as well. If it doesn’t go well, I know what my family will be getting for Christmas,” she said with a laugh.

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  1. So so sorry. I got under the wrong title. The tree is apparently real. Comments from others who were present confirmed that. Margaret

  2. Attended your reading at Wellingstone Christian Homes. I have not heard of the shoe tree… I was only 4yrs old when we immigrated here to Canada. So there’s not much memory, only snipits. Parents didn’t always share because? after the war and their hardships? But thoroughly enjoyed the reading. Margaret

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