Noel Streatfeild •
Ballet Shoes •
Noel Streatfeild’s classic novels have lost none of their freshness in the years since publication. The metaphor of footwear—traveling shoes, circus shoes, theater shoes—for ways of life is particularly apt, as each book lets readers explore how it feels to walk in someone else’s shoes. Was there ever a kid who didn’t dream of becoming a famous actor or athlete, dancer or acrobat?
Great-Uncle Matthew, affectionately known as GUM, has acquired three orphans in the course of his fossil-hunting expeditions, and even gives them the surname Fossil. During Gum’s prolonged absences the girls are looked after by his niece Garnie (short for Guardian), who enrolls all three in ballet school. But at least one of them is horribly miscast: Petrova longs to become a car mechanic or an airplane pilot, while Pauline prefers acting to dancing. Only Posy merits special classes and the personal attention of Madame, their expat Russian instructor.
Streatfeild doesn’t create soppy goody-goody types, but kids who get angry, jealous, confused, lonely—just like their real-life counterparts. Nor are their circumstances idyllic: Poverty and the threat of losing their home lend urgency to the girls’ career ambitions from an early age. And ballet is hard work, no matter how gifted you may be.
One of the pleasures of the Shoes books is that the Fossils reappear later in the series as grown-ups, a thread of connection from one generation to the next. Diane Goode’s sprightly illustrations add immeasurably to the appeal of the stories.
I don’t know if Great Britain has a higher than average number of clergymen per capita, but Streatfeild is yet another writer who was raised in an English vicarage, as were the Brontë sisters, Virginia Woolf, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, among other literary notables.