Ballet Shoes

Cover of Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. Cover by Cath Kidston.
Art by Cath Kidston. Click through to read a preview on Amazon!

Title: Ballet Shoes

Author: Noël Streatfeild (What an unfortunate spelling!)

Nutshell: Pauline, Petrova, and Polly are not exactly siblings. They are all orphans who were collected by the very eccentric man they call Great Uncle Matthew (Gum, for short.) In the course of his 1930’s English Gentleman’s habit of exploring the world and bringing home assorted bits of it, he picked up these three girls and sent them home to his niece, Sylvia, who, with the help of Nana, the cook, the maid, and assorted boarders, must somehow fashion a living for the girls. The girls are Sylvia’s delight, but she despairs of finding the money to educate them, now that Gum has gone missing. Then one of the boarders suggests that the girls might be able to go on scholarship to The Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, and in a few years time, earn a bit of money from stage performing.

This unlikely method of earning money is nonetheless met by delight from the girls and reserved willingness from Sylvia and Nana, and the girls are enrolled in Madame Fidolia’s Academy, where they will have lessons not only in acting, singing, and dancing, but also in hard work, doing your best, and finding your dreams.

Read-alikes: When I thought of books similar to this one, I came up with the Chronicles of Narnia, Louisa Alcott’s books, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books, the Series of Unfortunate Events, the Boxcar Children, the Emerald Atlas and the Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. I think I would collect these books under the genre “Silbing Adventures”, and they tend to read very similarly in character interaction and plot motion, but only the Alcott’s and Burnett’s books read really closely to Ballet Shoes in terms of theme and style.

Ramblings: This is just such a cute book. It was written in the 1930’s, and has all the cozy feeling of English books from the period. I think all the rain in England is what makes their children’s books all so cozy. It’s plot isn’t quite the usual that we’re used to these days. It goes from small incident to small incident, and only at the end do you realize there was much plot beyond “Here is the life of some interesting people.” It’s like the Little House books that way.

After I read this book, I was inspired to do more sewing and making do. There is a lot of text regarding the girls’ clothing, since they need to look well for auditions, but they barely have enough money to keep warm, never mind having nice frocks. So Nana is forever coming up with clever ways to dress the girls. These children’s books about poor people have the strange tendency to make poverty sound slightly adventuresome. I think because the people in them treat life like a bit of an adventure. “How will we eat? Cleverness!” “How will we buy clothing? Cunning!” I’m fond of some good cleverness and cunning.

There isn’t much to say about this book, because it’s such an understated little thing. But that’s the best thing about it. It’s delightful and rich, but not dramatic or grandiose; a pleasant way to spend a rainy afternoon with a cup of tea.

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