‘Ballet Shoes’ is about three sisters, who have all been adopted by an eccentric old man, and left to his niece while he travels around the world. So I guess they’re not really blood-related, but they grow up together, forming an unbreakable bond with each other, and with their guardian/mother, Sylvia. Sylvia’s nurse, Nana, is also a constant in their upbringing.
The story starts when the girls are in their early teens, and their household is running out of money, their Uncle long presumed dead on one of his many travels. They are soon going to lose the house they’ve grown up in, and the money put aside by the Uncle before he went travelling is running out. But these women are competent and smart, and so they advertise for lodgers, taking in a variety of colourful characters.
These lodgers change the family’s lives in a myriad of ways. The girls have recently had to leave school because it was becoming too expensive for Sylvia to manage, but two of the lodgers are retired teachers, and so they offer to teach the girls. Another lodger, Miss Danes, offers an even better solution to their current predicament: dancing.
Through Miss Danes the girls are enrolled at a local dancing school, run by the formidable Miss Fidolia. Here, they take part in singing, dancing and acting lessons, as well as occasionally putting on shows to earn the school- and themselves- chunks of money.
This book is all about the girls coming of age, and explores the way in which family ties lead people to do things they don’t want to do. This shows how sisters will always look out for one another, no matter how dubious their blood.
One of the reasons I loved this book so much as a child was because of the characters. The three girls- Pauline, Petrova and Posy- make this book what it is, and they are so interesting and vibrant.
Pauline is the oldest– kind and smart, but also vain and arrogant. She will do anything to get the chance to act, and finds the glamorous life of movies stars exhilarating and enchanting. This book is set around the 1920s/1930s, and so this was a time when Hollywood was growing, and so I can see why this glamorous world would appeal to Pauline.
Petrova was my favourite of the girls. She is sarcastic and funny, and would rather be fiddling with engines than singing and dancing up on a stage. She is shy and smart, and she wants to be just like Amy Johnson, the famous pilot. And yet she goes along with acting and singing on the stage in order to support her family. I liked her relationship with Mr Simpson, and their bonding over engines and cars was brilliantly written.
The youngest sister is Posy. She is precocious, bold and brave, doing anything it takes to fulfil her destiny of becoming a world-famous ballet dancer, and taking many risks and chances along the way. Her fearlessness often causes problems for the family, but I loved how strong and determined her character was. All these sisters have their faults, but they are united in their aim to help their family, which was lovely to read.
Overall, this book is such a great read, and the world and characters created by Streatfield were a thing of beauty. There’s also a fantastic film version of this book, starring Emma Watson, and so that’s definitely worth a watch! As I remember, it’s very close to the book.
What do you think of my review of ‘Ballet Shoes’ by Noel Streatfield? Do you have any childhood classics that bring up feelings of nostalgia for you? Would you re-read them now?
Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below 🙂
Happy reading x
Picture credits here