A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
OCTOBER 15:

  • Happy birthday Barry Moser (Appalachia, Jump! , Hogwood Steps Out) and Katherine Ayres (Macaroni Boy; Up, Down, and Around).
  • In 1764, historian Edward Gibbon observed a group of friars singing in the ruined Temple of Jupiter in Rome. This inspires him to begin work on the now-classic The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
  • “Dear Mr. President…” In 1860, eleven-year-old Grace Bedell writes to Lincoln suggesting he grow a beard. Read Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books by Kay Winters, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, and Lincoln Tells a Joke by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Stacy Innerst.
  • Comedian Lucille Ball’s famous TV show, I Love Lucy, made its debut on CBS in 1951. Read Lucy Goosey by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Ann James.
  • In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Reread Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier.
  • Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch is the inspiration for National Grouch Day celebrated today.

October has been designed Reading Group Month, organized by the Women’s National Book Association. Today we’ll look at a classic book, ideal for mother/daughter book discussions, and tomorrow a new title. I am always interested in the books that people remember from childhood—children read so many books but which ones stay with them into adulthood? When I talk to young women in their twenties and thirties, one title that comes up again and again is our book of the day: Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes.

The daughter of an English country vicar, Noel Streatfeild first distinguished herself as an actress; then she tried a short stint as an adult writer. But she was to make her most important mark on the field of children’s books. Noticing that books for children did not show young people as professionals or pursuing a career, Streatfeild published England’s first career novel in 1936, Ballet Shoes.

In this somewhat misnamed book—because only part of it actually concerns ballet—three adopted orphan girls, Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, live in a large ramshackle house in London. The family takes in a group of boarders to make ends meet, but eventually the girls need to work to help the family. Pauline longs to be an actress; Petrova, a mechanic, and Posy, a ballerina. The novel abounds in exact details of how they go about their professional training, the joys and difficulties that they face, and the financial life of a young performer. You could even use sections of the book to teach math, so concerned is Streatfeild with getting all the financial details exact. Each year on their birthdays, the girls vow to accomplish something so special that it will get their names in history books. By the end, you have no doubt that they will achieve their goal. Ballet Shoes met immediate success in England and Depression Era America when it was published. Because Random House experienced such robust sales, they kept the word Shoes in all the subsequent Streatfeild titles, even if the books had a different designation in England. So The Circus Is Coming was published in the United States under the title Circus Shoes.

In the thirties women and girls who worked outside the domestic sphere could rarely be found in books for children. Hence any adult who wanted more literary fare than Nancy Drew often led young readers to Streatfeild. A wonderful story about orphans who ban together and make a family, Ballet Shoes still works its charm seventy-five years after publication.

Happy 75th Ballet Shoes! You have certainly inspired real dancers over the years, but you have also encouraged so many young women to find their own way and their own career.

Here’s a passage from Ballet Shoes:

The Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training was in Bloomsbury. It was three large houses joined inside by passages. Across the front was written in large gold letters: “Children’s Acad” on the first house, “emy of Dancing an” on the second, and “d Stage Training” on the third. Theo had arranged that Nana and Sylvia should take the children round to see the place and to meet Madame Fidolia on Wednesday afternoon, and that they should start their classes on the following Monday. Since it was a very important occasion, Mr. Simpson said he would drive them all to the Academy in his car. The afternoon started badly. Pauline wanted to wear a party frock, which she said was the right thing for a dancing class; Nana, after a discussion with Theo, had ironed and washed their blue linen smocks and knickers.

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Originally posted October 15, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Dance, Great Depression, History, London
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Ballet Shoes
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COMMENTS

  1. Melanie Kimball says:

    I went through a serious “ballet book” period when I was young, and this was one of my favorites. I read others by her as well: Theater Shoes, Circus Shoes, Movie Shoes. The latter was about the making of a film version of another of my favorite childhood books–The Secret Garden. In all of them, but most significantly, the girls have passion and drive and a love for their chosen profession. I hadn’t really thought about that when reading them at the time, but your post made me realize that so much of what I read was about girls doing what they loved. What a wonderful legacy to leave to the world. Kudos to Noel Streatfeild, long may her banner wave.

  2. I especially love the whole Bluebird of Happiness reference, with happiness being found at home and in their memories of their loved ones. Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books were among my daughter’s all-time favorites that we read aloud.

  3. Monica says:

    It’s amazing how many classics I’ve never heard of. That’s why I love your site.

  4. Anita says:

    Melanie: Yes, these books really do encourage young readers to follow their passion and love — even if their goals seem strange to others.

  5. brandie m says:

    I definitely remember all of Noel Streatfeild’s books, especially loved Theater Shoes.

  6. L. Baran says:

    May I suggest “Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers” by Karen Winnick which also tells the story of Grace Bedell’s letter to Mr. Lincoln. Westfield, NY has wonderful statues of Grace and Mr. Lincoln.

  7. Fantastic, I was so hoping that the “Shoes” book would crop up in the Almanac.

    We only have Noel Streatfeild’s Party Shoes in our home library – but I will have to expand our “shoe collection” to include the rest!

    By the way, one of my favorite children’s book collections (the new Oxford Children’s Classics) has Party Shoes among it titles.

    Read Aloud Dad

    PS Although I haven’t been commenting a lot recently, I never miss to read a Book-A-Day review!

  8. suzi w. says:

    Oh, the Shoes books. I am so grateful that some of them are still in print. I wish Skating Shoes was. Skating Shoes was my favorite of the shoes books (how fascinating that they weren’t all “shoes” books in England), but my favorite NS character is Margaret Thursday from Thursday’s Child.

    My childhood would have been so much poorer without Noel Streatfield. While there are so many books I read as a child that I forgot, her books stayed with me. And I think it was that the kids did real things–they weren’t just pretending to do things, they were out there, skating, acting, traveling. As I write this, pieces of “Thursday’s Child” are flitting through my brain. I may have to get my copy out and reread it soon.

    Thanks for the memories, Anita!! I always learn something new, even with the books I know really well.

    xo,
    Suzi

  9. Anita says:

    Read Aloud Dad: Glad to hear you are a Shoes fan! Many of my readers comment on how much they like your posts — so it is good to see one again.

  10. Anita says:

    Suzi: Thanks for reminding me of Thursday’s Child, another great title.

  11. Genevieve says:

    Rumer Godden’s Thursday’s Children is another terrific book with children devoted to ballet as a profession. The main character, Doone Penny, has tremendous drive and is a very memorable character, and the family scenes are very well done.

  12. Oh how I loved this book. I used to choose titles from the Wakefield Branch of NYPL by those that were rebound in (ugly) buckram, because my experience told me they were always good. And they were. I must have read this a dozen times as a child, taking it out again and again. I didn’t know Noel Streatfeild was a woman until I was an adult.

  13. Rebecca says:

    Oh I how loved this book!!! I can’t tell you how excited I was to see it here – a funny coincidence, since I just reread Dancing Shoes after spending quite a long time with my local children’s librarian trying to figure out what favorite book from childhood starred two girls, one lovely and one plain, named Rachel and Hilary, who were sent to live with a mean aunt. That’s all I remembered, and a green cover. She figured it out, of course, And it was just as wonderful thirty years later… thanks for highlighting it!!!

  14. Shirley says:

    I read this book when I was a child. I remember borrowing it from the local library. I had just joined and had to go and find up to 3 books to use my tickets and Ballet Shoes was one of them. It was one of the first books I read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  15. Bob Kosturko says:

    I’m a bit late to the ballet, but I just have to give a shout-out to Alissa Imre Geis for her utterly charming illustrations. They’re so fresh and vibrant. Just the thing to breathe new life into this 75-year old classic.

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