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.

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