Friday, March 28, 2008

The Ballet Shoes

Finished Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. People who saw me reading it asked, "Isn't that the book from You've Got Mail?" The answer is yes. When Kathleen Kelly has to close her children's bookstore she wanders into the children's section at the big, bad Fox Books megastore and overhears a woman asking a clerk to help her find "the shoe books." He is clueless and Kathleen steps in and tells the woman the author, several titles, and says "I'd start with Theater Shoes. It's my favorite, but it's out of print!" and she bursts into tears. The scene is poignant because it illustrates not only the death of the independent children's bookstore, but the disappearance of all the specialized knowledge that went with it.

Ballet Shoes was Streatfeild's first book, originally published in 1936. A wacky old paleontologist rescues a baby from a shipwreck. He adopts her and secures his widowed niece, her daughter and the daughter's nanny to live in his house and look after the baby Pauline. In his travels collecting fossils he picks up two more babies over the years, Petrova and Posy. He leaves on an expedition and does not return. Meanwhile the babies grow into little girls and the money he leaves for their care begins to run out. The girls eventually enroll in the Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, to study performing arts in order to gain employment as children. They enroll for free and pay the academy a percentage of their earnings in return for their training. The girls take "Fossil" as their last name. The three Fossils support the family and learn quite a lot about the theater and themselves.

Works that they perform in include Alice in Wonderland, Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Richard III.

This book was hard to get into at first, but once they began performing and living paycheck to paycheck it became quite compelling. Each of the shoe books seems to feature orphans who must train and perform in order to survive in London. The books have a different cast of characters each time. Ballet Shoes was a fun read. I really felt the excitement of the characters as they went to auditions. I think I'd like to read other books in the series some time in the future.

Two Little Knights of Kentucky

Finished Two Little Knights of Kentucky by Annie Fellows Johnston. This is one of thirteen novels in The Little Colonel series. Originally published in 1899, the edition I have is a reissue by Applewood Books (who also did the vintage reissues of the original Nancy Drew books). It feature numerous illustrations and fun little inside cover flaps that have a paper doll and outfit one can cut out.

The Little Colonel series was extremely popular at the beginning of the twentieth century, but has fallen into obscurity. Set in the south, after the Civil War, the stories are very gentle, old fashioned and moralistic, but the portrayals of children and the scrapes they get into are very realistic. The stories are warm and sweet. This one in particular features children acting with concern for those less fortunate than themselves and taking integrity and honor very seriously.

My daughter very much enjoyed The Little Colonel when we read it aloud a number of years ago. Two Little Knights of Kentucky is the only other book in the series that I've seen in print. All of them are available for reading online. I hope to read them all some day.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Andy and the Lion

Finished Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1939. This is a simple picture book, very little text with expressive, possibly hyperbolic, but charming illustrations. Andy goes to the library and takes out a book about lions. He reads it very intently. Meanwhile a lion escapes from the circus and ends up with a large thorn in his paw. Andy stumbles upon him on his way to school and helps him by removing the thorn, then they part ways. Later in the story, while at the circus, one of the lions breaks free and runs ferociously into the audience heading right for Andy. Then suddenly they recognize each other and have a happy reunion. This reminded me a bit of Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, where Lyle is reunited with Mr Valenti his old Vaudeville partner. Also, something about the style of the drawings reminded me a little bit of Robert McCloskey's work.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown

Finished Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace. This is the fourth book in the Besy-Tacy series. I read the other three to my daughter when she was much younger. Betsy, Tacy and Tib are now twelve, old enough to go downtown and have various adventures. Betsy visits the new Carnegie Library. She's has read all the books her family has at home, so her parents suggest that she visit the new library. She goes one Saturday, applies for a card and has some pocket money for lunch at the drugstore.

A number of plays come to Deep Valley. The first is Uncle Tom's Cabin. I found this ironic since I was reading Uncle Tom's Cabin myself at the time. Rip Van Winkle also comes and all the girls are able to participate in the performance. Other literary works mentioned are The Pickwick Papers (funny, I'm reading this right now too) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The series is set at the beginning of the twentieth century. Tib gets a ride in the first horseless carriage in town. These books were written and published in the 1940s and 50s. As the characters grow in age the reading level of the books advances. The illustrations were done by Lois Lensky. Lensky won the Newbery Award for Strawberry Girl in 1946. The Betsy-Tacy illustrations are simple line drawings. Lenski's illustrations for her own book are softer, more detailed charcoal drawings.

These books are based on Maud Hart Loevlace's own childhood. Deep Valley is modeled after Mankato, MN where there is a Betsy-Tacy Society and the houses that Maud (Betsy) and Frances "Bick" Kenney (Tacy) lived in have been restored. Portions of the restoration were performed by PBS's show "Hometime."

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Finished Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. A best seller from 1939, it has recently been made into a film. I haven't seen the film yet. This is a Cinderella story of a shy, down on her luck spinster who is sent to the wrong address for a job interview. This mistake changes her entire life in one day. It's a charming, funny, fast-paced read. The edition I read is a reissue by Persephone Books. It includes the original line drawing illustrations. This is a fun, rainy day book.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Seven Simeons: A Russian Tale

Finished Seven Simeons: A Russian Tale by Boris Artzybasheff. It won the Caldecott Honor in 1938. The illustrations are very intricate colorful line drawings. They remind me of Fabergé Eggs. For a picture book the text is dense and lengthy. It's not a book that a small child could read independently. The story is interesting with plenty of surprises. I had to request an interlibrary loan of this book. It came from a junior college in Jackson, MI. They must have a good children's literature program.