Old Favorites: Ballet Shoes

With Thanksgiving coming up this week, I was wracking my brain trying to come up with an old favorite that involved Pilgrims, Plymouth, Thanksgiving or even November.  I failed. (Of course, tomorrow, I’ll probably come up with half a dozen.) At any rate, I went to plan B, which was an old favorite involving families.  Then there were too many. Yikes!

Narrowing it down to something I hadn’t done before was the most difficult part. But then I saw a commercial on TV and thought about what else is coming up…performances of The Nutcracker.  And there was the perfect book: Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild.

* * *

Great-Uncle Matthew (Gum for short) was once a famous professor and paleontologist, looking for and locating fossils all over the world. After he loses his leg in an accident, he has to stop his work, but instead, he travels the world, collecting fossils…and babies.

By various means (including shipwreck and revolution) Pauline, Petrova and Posy are three orphans who all end up in Gum’s London home, looked after by Gum’s niece Sylvia and Nana. In appearance and temperment, they’re all very different: Pauline is lovely, blonde and poised. Petrova is small, brunette, and very intelligent, while Posy is red-haired and cheerful.  As they grow, the three girls become close sisters.

When Great Uncle Max disappears on an expedition, Sylvia is in danger of losing their home. It’s obvious that this small family has to come up with a plan to survive. Taking in boarders helps, but it’s just not enough. To help out, Pauline, Petrova and Posy make a vow–“We three Fossils vow to try and put our names in history books because it’s our very own and nobody can say it’s because of our grandfathers”. Their goal to become famous and create a name for themselves begins with ballet lessons. Hey, everyone has to start somewhere!

Three such different girls cannot all have the same talents. Even though they all practice, and practice hard, it turns out that ballet is a stepping stone to other things, each suiting the personality and talents of Pauline, Petrova and Posy. As they go through ups and downs, meet new people, succees, fail, disagree and share their experiences, the girls do start to achieve their goal.

From the floodlights of the stage, to the eye of the movie camera, to the thrill of high flying adventure, these three sisters all shine, once they find their own spotlight. Even though they argue, and fight and disagree, they find that the best part of their vow is that they each have friends and sisters who support them and share their experiences.  Will they become famous? It certainly seems to look that way…

* * *

Originally published in 1937, this story reflects a time when hard work and determination was needed to survive and persevere in the world. Each of the girls figures out what they want out of life, and they set out to get it, usually with their sisters’ help. Even though Sylvia and Nana are their guardians and support system, these girls make it on their own.

I loved Ballet Shoes when I first read it!  The fact that Pauline, Petrova and Posy were doing it on their own was inspiring. Even though each girl had a different rate of success (or failure) and they just kept on going. I loved the ending (which I won’t give away). Obviously, other people liked it too, as the book has never gone out of print. At least one TV miniseries and one movie were made based on the book.

Noel Streatfeild continued with her stories of kids making it big on their own with her “Shoes” series. Some feature sisters, others brothers and sisters, and others friends who band together in some way. Besides Ballet Shoes, I think my favorites were Circus Shoes and Theatre Shoes. Pauline, Petrova and Posy don’t have another book, but if you read the other Shoe stories closely, there are hints of their lives after Ballet Shoes when characters meet or hear about the grown-up girls.

If you have a budding ballerina, or liked either the books or the movies of  A Little Princess or Anne of Green Gables, you should try Ballet Shoes. I think you’ll like it.



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