Papa’s Shoes


Short Synopsis 

Papa’s Shoes, is a work of fiction about immigration with a feminist and historical bent. At 99,968 words, Papa’s Shoes is a stand-alone novel with series potential.

Ira Schuman is determined to move his family out of their Polish shtetl to the hope and opportunities he’s heard about in America. But along the way he faces the death of three of his four sons, a wife who does not have the same aspirations as his, and the birth of a daughter, Ava, conceived to make up for the loss of his boys. Ava grows up to be smart, beautiful, and very independent.

Besides having a feisty relationship with her overly-protective mother, Ava falls for the college man who directs her high school senior class play. With the news that she wants to marry a non-Jewish man, Ira realizes that his plan to assimilate in the new world has backfired. Should the young couple marry, he must decide whether to banish his daughter from his family or welcome them with open arms. Even though he won’t attend their wedding, he makes her a pair a wedding shoes. In his mind, the shoes are simply a gift, not a peace offering.


Where I Got the Idea for This Book

While my husband was writing our family histories some twenty-five years ago, he interviewed some of the elders in our family and collected writings by others. I became very intrigued with what my aunt – my father’s sister – wrote about her life as a young girl when she was well into her eighties. That she wrote a whole page describing her friendship – as she called it – with a young gentile teacher named Merrill Faulk. He would pick her up at her family home and take her to school plays and concerts and then out for a bite afterward. She also wrote that her brother (my father) objected so strongly that he got the family to move to Chicago to get her away from this man who was not marriage material for an Orthodox Jewish young woman. And that she still even remembered his name and could describe his looks and the way he dressed after 64 years made me think she must have still carried a torch for him. While in real life she met and married a nice Jewish, had two children, and lived the rest of her life in Chicago, I decided to get her together with her true love.


The True Things in Papa’s Shoes

The immigration story.  My grandfather and father’s family emigrated from a tiny shtetl (village) in Poland to a small town in middle America in the early 1900s. By the way, my mother’s family emigrated from Lithuania, in 1922. So I am a first generation American on both sides. Both families had to pass through Ellis Island and in those days, the immigration authorities kept them there for one week to assure themselves that the immigrants brought no communicable diseases and that they had sponsors and prospects for gainful employment. My families did have sponsors, and both coincidentally took a train from New York to Chicago where they met their sponsors and eventually settled. Other things that were true are:

  • They first settled in Danville IL and then moved to Chicago so that their daughter would have a chance to meet a nice Jewish boy
  • My grandfather was a shoemaker
  • They really lost three of their four sons
  • They had another child – a girl – to make up for the lost sons
  • My dad went to De Paul University night school to get a law degree, then he went into the textile business
  • The Sam character was patterned after my great uncle from Lithuania who started out selling tin ware to farmer’s wives in Kentucky and eventually became a multi-millionaire. In Papa’s Shoes I turned him into a Polish guy who became Ira’s lifelong friend and benefactor.


Early Reviews

“From an insightful storyteller, Papa’s Shoes, is a heartwarming story of courage and love. Author Madeline Sharples has created an epic journey with intriguing twists and surprises along the way. From days of old in Poland to cultural and economic realities in America, this is an awe-inspiring novel about families, generational history, and the incredible power of change. You truly won’t want to put it down!”

—D.A. Hickman, author of Ancients of the Earth: Poems of Time


“Author Madeline Sharples tells the intimate story of an American family, of immigration, tragedy, renewal, and love with grace and the delicate touch of a poet. There’s a raw kind of sweetness in this rich and epic saga.”

—David W. Berner, author of The Consequence of Stars and A Well-Respected Man


“An immigrant family’s braided history – its conflicts, losses, and secrets – come to life in Papa’s Shoes. With loving attention to detail, Madeline Sharples transports readers from a Polish shtetl to the Illinois town where Ira and Ruth settle, and shows us the intimate workings of their

marriage. This family’s triumphant journey to the American Midwest will inspire you long after

you’ve closed these pages.”

—Eleanor Vincent, author of Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story



Many years and many people contributed to the creation of Papa’s Shoes, starting with my aunt, my father’s sister. When Aunt Anne was in her eighties, she wrote about growing up in Sokolow, Poland, Danville Illinois, and Chicago, Illinois. I read through her writing and found a whole page about a young teacher who took her out when she was a senior at Danville High School. That she wrote about him in such glowing terms and even remembered his name and what he looked like, said to me that she must have very much liked (or even loved) this man. Her writing gave me the idea for my book.

Many teachers and workshops were instrumental in inspiring me to become a writer. Mr. Erickson, my seventh-grade teacher, was the first. I also must acknowledge my high school journalism teacher and sponsor of our high school newspaper where I spent a year working on the feature page. Dr. Robert R. Boyle has become a good friend whom I still get together with when I’m in the Chicago area.* I’ve also taken many creative writing and poetry writing classes, most notably with Jack Grapes, Barbara Abercrombie, Ellen Bass, Tresha Haefner, Dorianne Laux, Joseph Millar, Sharon Olds, and most recently Naomi Shihab Nye.

I also want to thank my novel writing instructors at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program. Jessica Barksdale Inclan was helpful and encouraging when I told her my idea in her “How to Write Your First Novel” workshop. She, along with my fellow students, generously provided meaningful and honest comments in a later class I took from her, the Novel III online class. As my work got further along, I took Mark Sarvas’ “Novel Revision Techniques,” class, also at UCLA extension. As a result, and maybe a little overkill, I revised Papa’s Shoes a total of ten times.

And from my many writing friends and contacts I was able to recruit three rounds of Beta readers who worked at three different points in my book writing and revision process:

  • Round one consisted of Heather Friedman Rivera, Madison Poulter, Jason Matthews, and Tony Chavira.
  • Round two consisted of: Erica Jamieson, Jerry Isenberg, Jack Doyle, Heather Baumgarten, and Larry Ziman. Heather especially helped me with Yiddish word definitions and meanings. She gave me the idea to include a Yiddish word glossary.
  • Round three, occurring when my book was almost ready to go, consisted of: Robert Sharples and Elizabeth Isenberg.

I thank you all for your hard work, dedication, and valuable comments that I assure you were mostly incorporated into my book.

I also want to thank my two editors. Michael Robinson did a content edit. He provided ten pages single-spaced suggestions on how to make my book better with such detailed that I had to rewrite the book almost entirely. Thank you, Michael. It was worth it. And at the bitter end, I hired Pat Zylius to do a last copy edit. Her meticulous attention to detail was so important to how my book turned out; I couldn’t have finished this book project without her.

There are several people to thank who participated in producing the cover material. Paul Blieden, my book partner on The Emerging Goddess, took my cover photo – as he did for my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, and Jen Jenkins Dohner, a multimedia artist and homemaker living in Manhattan Beach, CA, created the book’s wonderful cover art design. Both services were so essential to producing a great looking book and getting it out on time.

Blurb writing, another cover essential, was provided by Daisy A. Hickman (author of Ancients of the Earth: Poems of Time (2017), The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone (2015), Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place (2014, second edition, Heart Resides), and Where the Heart Resides: Timeless Wisdom of the American Prairie (William Morrow, ’99, first edition)), David W. Berner, (author of Accidental Lessons – A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed, the novel A Well-Respected Man, October Song: A Memoir of Music and the Journey of Time, There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets, Any Road Will Take You There (Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year), and the novel Night Radio), and Eleanor Vincent – my inspiration for writing my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On. She is the author of Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story Their reviews will happily be quoted on the back cover of Papa’s Shoes.

*I’m sorry to say that Robert R. Boyle died in May 2019. I will miss seeing him the next time I’m in the Chicago area.