Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild

This was a nostalgic read along with an L.M. Montgomery-focused group on Goodreads; I think I wound up receiving it and finishing it too late to be useful in the discussion, but I was tickled to read it anyway. I have fond memories of Noel Streatfeild, although I don’t recall reading this one. It was always fascinating to read about children participating in adult worlds; stupid as we all are when we’re kids, being grown-up sounds so cool. Little do we know.

In Ballet Shoes the focus is on three little girls who have each been separately orphaned and adopted by a peripatetic anthropologist (say that five times fast) – who has dropped each of them off into the care of his sister and his housemaid in their massive museum-like home and taken off on a new voyage. The voyage he is on as the book begins has lasted quite a bit longer than his dependants expected, and straits are growing dire. Boarders are taken in, which helps matters, and as the girls approach the age at which they can legally earn money on the stage, they enter a school where they will learn to dance and to act.

In many ways books like this and the Arthur Ransome children-messing-about-in-boats books were and are as alien to me and my childhood as the most outré SciFi. Self-reliant children setting out and having adventures – inconceivable. Here, though, the children have an awareness of the family’s financial situation that is, I think, rare; the aunts hide the worst of it from them, but they do know that if their almost criminally negligent Gum doesn’t manage to find his way back, and soonest, there will be some extremely uncomfortable consequences. Things have changed even since this book was written, to the point that in most of the first world today having to send three small children out to work – even at something theoretically as much fun as theatre and dance – would be extreme. But I think as a child it was captivating to read about it. Here are kids not too unlike me who if they had to could fend for themselves. They’re doing something so very much cooler than going to boring primary-colored elementary school every day, and earning money. Reading a book like this as an adult is, as mentioned, an exercise in nostalgia – certainly not a reminiscence about or wistfulness for an unjaded time when I had adventures like the children in the book (that never happened), but when I saw only the excitement of the adventures and none of the dangers or tedium.

Stupid adulthood. It’s not fair that we spend our childhoods fighting to be treated like adults, only to discover on getting there that … it kind of sucks.

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One Response to Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild

  1. Helen says:

    Omigosh I had not thought of this wonderful book in ages! I read it in the late forties in England and as the dreamer I was convinced Dad I should have dance lessons. They were not successful in curing my two left feet :) but the book was a favourite ♥

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