Is this the ultimate performing arts novel for kids? Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild is a marvelous story, but believe it or not–it’s not the first Streatfeild book I ever read. In fact, it’s not even my favorite. (Gasp! I know–more on that in another post.)
But no doubt about it, though–this story is a winner. Three girls, adopted into the same family, grow up attending a theater school in London, developing their individual personalities and talents on-stage and off, and all the while trying to scrimp and save and find the funds for . . . well, everything. There’s a lot of hand-me-down clothing and Nanny telling everyone to “save the penny and walk” and rushing to auditions and–basically, it’s been charming generations since it was published.
There’s something for everyone in this story, and that’s why it’s a great place to start. Pauline, the oldest, is a Beauty–and let’s face it, in the theater world and film world, looks matter. With Talent and Drive, Pauline is destined to learn her Craft (which happens to be acting) and go on to be a Leading Lady in a big way. Petrova, the middle child, is what would’ve been called a “tomboy” until recently (I’m sure there’s a better way to say this now!). Dark-haired and not much to look at, Petrova would rather take apart an engine than dance any day. She dreams of flying airplanes–an unusual wish for a girl at that time, and maybe even now. If I had to give her a label, I’d call Petrova the Reluctant. I’m going to need some new terms, so this will be my name for the kids in performing books who are performing against their will, more or less, or soon find performing is not for them. Posy, the youngest child, is a red-headed, curly topped Natural. She seems to have been born to dance ballet and has Focus like nobody’s business. In fact, Streatfeild as good as says she’s not fit for anything else. Way to enforce that brainless dancer stereotype, Ballet Shoes!
There is so much to be said about this book that it could nearly have a blog of its own, but what I like best about it is the realistic day-in and day-out of the theater world that it shows. From training to auditions to understudies and first nights, the reader really gets it all (if from a slightly old-fashioned perspective). The children are interesting, realistic and likeable (they are nice, but they’re no angels). In typical Streatfeild fashion, they each discover early on what they feel they are meant to do, and by the end, they’ve each found a way to do it. Having a sort of destiny was a comforting idea to me, as a child reader. I liked to think there were kids out there who already knew what they wanted to be and were working at being it, even at age 10-12.
What are your thoughts on or memories of Ballet Shoes? I’d love to hear them!