Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Ballet Shoes is the first in the "Shoes series" by English author, Noel Streatfeild. Published in 1936, the book has become a children's classic and although not every book of the "Shoes series" is currently in print, the books do appear to be making a comeback.

I first heard mention of Ballet Shoes in the film You've Got Mail, when the lead character, Kathleen Kelly, mentions it while in a bookstore. At the time I assumed Ballet Shoes was a story about... well... some ballet shoes, but I was wrong.

The story begins when Matthew Brown, a professor of geology, is traveling on one of his fossil finding expeditions and ends up rescuing a baby girl from a shipwreck. On a whim he decides to adopt the girl and brings her home to his grand-niece, Sylvia. The baby is named Pauline. Not long after, Professor Brown (a.k.a. Great Uncle Matthew, a.ka. GUM) finds and adopts another orphan, this time a Russian baby girl. She is named Petrova. And then a few years later, Posy is added to the family, after her mother (a dancer) leaves her in the care of the Professor. The girls, GUM and Sylvia become a family, but not for long. Shortly after Posy joins the family the professor departs on a lengthy expedition, which will mean his absence for no less than five years. He leaves enough money with Sylvia to cover the household expenses for five years and promises to return before it runs out… Unfortunately five years passes and it appears GUM is not going to return.

One thing leads to another and soon the sisters are attending the "Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training" with the goal that each girl, when she turns 12, might begin to earn money to help support their make-shift family. Thus begins the adventures of Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil.

Ballet Shoes is set in the 1930s, during a time that is very different from today. And yet, the story of the Fossils is timeless enough that I believe it can be read and enjoyed as much by children and adults today, as it was 70 years ago when it was written.

I liked Ballet Shoes. It’s a cute story, but I must admit there were a few moments while reading that I found myself a little bored and impatient to finish the book. I think I might have enjoyed this book more had I been younger when I read it, perhaps in the 8-12 age range (the ages of the girls in the story). That being said, I hope to share it with my daughter when she is that age. The book, at 232 pages, is a decent length for a children’s book, but it is well written and could make for a fun and easy read-aloud too. The copy I read was borrowed from my local library, but I plan on purchasing my own copy to add to my daughter's library.

Ballet Shoes does have a sequel, Theatre Shoes, which I have added to my "To Be Read" list. For more information about these books or to find out which books in the "Shoes series" are available in print check out this link.

Two interesting side notes:

Ballet Shoes was adapted to film in 2007 staring Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Lucy Boynton (Miss Potter), Emilia Fox (Pride & Prejudice), and Eileen Atkins (Cranford) to name a few familiar faces. I haven't seen the film yet, but have requested it from my library. The movie trailers look promising and as I enjoyed the book I am excited to watch the movie when it arrives.

Last, as I was reading Ballet Shoes I was reminded of some of the adventures in English theatres that Julie Andrews includes in her autobiography, Home. If you have any interest in learning about the life of a stage actress in the 20s and 30s, this is a great book to read.


Rebecca Reid said...

I already have Julie Andrew's Home on my list to read! Glad to know it's interesting.

I also was curious to read Ballet Shoes, thanks to You've Got Mail. Thanks for the review.

Carrie said...

I saw a shoe book the other day and wondered if it was from this series but couldn't remember the author's name. I THINK it was this book that I saw so I was glad to see your review of it.

The movie also sounds curious.