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Shoes #1

Ballet Shoes

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An alternate cover edition for this ISBN from 1993 can be found here

Pauline, Petrova and Posy are orphans determined to help out their family by attending the Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training. But when they vow to make a name for themselves, they have no idea it's going to be such hard work! They launch themselves into the world of show business, complete with working papers, the glare of the spotlight, and practice, practice, practice! Pauline is destined for the movies. Posy is a born dancer. But practical Petrova finds she'd rather pilot a plane than perform a pirouette. Each girl must find the courage to follow her dream.

233 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1936

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About the author

Noel Streatfeild

125 books540 followers
Mary Noel Streatfeild, known as Noel Streatfeild, was an author best known and loved for her children's books, including Ballet Shoes and Circus Shoes. She was born on Christmas Eve, 1895, the daughter of William Champion Streatfeild and Janet Venn and the second of six children to be born to the couple. Sister Ruth was the oldest, after Noel came Barbara, William ('Bill'), Joyce (who died of TB prior to her second birthday) and Richenda. Ruth and Noel attended Hastings and St. Leonard's Ladies' College in 1910. As an adult, she began theater work, and spent approximately 10 years in the theater.

During the Great War, in 1915 Noel worked first as a volunteer in a soldier's hospital kitchen near Eastbourne Vicarage and later produced two plays with her sister Ruth. When things took a turn for the worse on the Front in 1916 she moved to London and obtained a job making munitions in Woolwich Arsenal. At the end of the war in January 1919, Noel enrolled at the Academy of Dramatic Art (later Royal Academy) in London.

In 1930, she began writing her first adult novel, The Whicharts, published in 1931. In June 1932, she was elected to membership of PEN. Early in 1936, Mabel Carey, children's editor of J. M. Dent and Sons, asks Noel to write a children's story about the theatre, which led to Noel completing Ballet Shoes in mid-1936. In 28 September 1936, when Ballet Shoes was published, it became an immediate best seller.

According to Angela Bull, Ballet Shoes was a reworked version of The Whicharts. Elder sister Ruth Gervis illustrated the book, which was published on the 28th September, 1936. At the time, the plot and general 'attitude' of the book was highly original, and destined to provide an outline for countless other ballet books down the years until this day. The first known book to be set at a stage school, the first ballet story to be set in London, the first to feature upper middle class society, the first to show the limits of amateurism and possibly the first to show children as self-reliant, able to survive without running to grownups when things went wrong.

In 1937, Noel traveled with Bertram Mills Circus to research The Circus is Coming (also known as Circus Shoes). She won the Carnegie gold medal in February 1939 for this book. In 1940, World War II began, and Noel began war-related work from 1940-1945. During this time, she wrote four adult novels, five children's books, nine romances, and innumerable articles and short stories. On May 10th, 1941, her flat was destroyed by a bomb. Shortly after WWII is over, in 1947, Noel traveled to America to research film studios for her book The Painted Garden. In 1949, she began delivering lectures on children's books. Between 1949 and 1953, her plays, The Bell Family radio serials played on the Children's Hour and were frequently voted top play of the year.

Early in 1960s, she decided to stop writing adult novels, but did write some autobiographical novels, such as A Vicarage Family in 1963. She also had written 12 romance novels under the pen name "Susan Scarlett." Her children's books number at least 58 titles. From July to December 1979, she suffered a series of small strokes and moved into a nursing home. In 1983, she received the honor Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). On 11 September 1986, she passed away in a nursing home.

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5 stars
14,479 (40%)
4 stars
12,013 (33%)
3 stars
6,890 (19%)
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705 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,596 reviews
Profile Image for Carre Gardner.
Author 4 books71 followers
January 19, 2012
Remember the scene in "You've Got Mail" where Colleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) is sitting in the children's section of the newly-opened Foxx Books, and a customer comes in looking for the "Shoes" books by Noel Streatfield? The clerk has clearly never heard of them, but Colleen has, and she tells the customer that "The Ballet Shoes" is definitely the one she should start with...

This is that book.

In the twenty-first century, a particularly cynical reader might accuse the book of containing certain tropes that have become so common as to be considered cliche these days: The plucky British orphans; the valiantly struggling relation; the general bonhomie of the outside world, which makes everything somehow bearable; the happy ending.... Yet note that I've awarded this an unequivocal 5 stars. That's because, sugary it may be (and is) but darn it, there are just some days when you're in the mood for sugar. And plucky British orphans. And happy endings. And if you happen to be in such a mood on the day you read this book (or listen to the audiobook version, as I did,) then you're in for a five-star treat.

Makes you believe the world is jolly good at that, old chum. Pour me another cup of tea.
Profile Image for Alwynne.
558 reviews537 followers
December 31, 2022
An intriguing mix of conservative and sneakily subversive, when it first appeared in 1936 Ballet Shoes was a huge success, department stores like Selfridge’s devoted entire sections to displaying and selling copies. Its publication was perfectly timed to tap into a depression-era craze for ballet and modern dance, fuelled by popular films starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, or featuring Busby Berkeley’s glorious dance sequences. Since then, it’s never been out of print. The title, and numerous fairy-tale qualities, may make this sound potentially fluffy and sentimental. But it’s actually a marvellous recreation of England in the 1930s focusing on the everyday lives of the impoverished middle classes. There are numerous references to Britain’s troubled empire, as well as the aftermath of WW1 and the Russian Revolution glimpsed through encounters with figures linked to the city’s large numbers of Russian refugees. One central character Sylvia’s a prime example of the so-called “surplus women” linked to the losses of the war, while her staff are a Downton-like group of faithful retainers headed up by the resourceful Nana, formerly Sylvia’s childhood nurse. Streatfeild also manages to smuggle in a thinly-veiled storyline that’s attracted a growing queer following. At the centre of the piece is a shabby house in London’s Cromwell Road not far from the Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s overseen by Sylvia supported by Nana, they’re unexpectedly joined by three orphan children collected by Sylvia’s eccentric Great Uncle Matthew on his numerous travels overseas. The girls, Pauline, Posy and Petrova, become the Fossils, named after Matthew’s extensive collection. When Matthew fails to return from an expedition Sylvia, desperate for money, advertises for lodgers and slowly the house becomes a community along the lines of Armistead Maupin’s famous “logical family”.

The main plot follows the three children as they try to find ways to earn money and help Sylvia with her dwindling finances. They’re supported in their efforts by Sylvia’s tenants including retired, female academics Dr Jakes and Dr Smith, affectionately-drawn bluestockings. Although it’s never explicitly stated, it’s glaringly obvious Dr Jakes and Dr Smith are a couple, backed up by the book’s original illustrations featuring them together, Dr Jakes sporting a hairstyle and outfit that perfectly imitates popular portraits of Radclyffe Hall. It’s not clear what’s behind Streatfeild’s inclusion of Jakes and Smith, although she was a huge fan of The Well of Loneliness. But Streatfeild’s sexuality has been a subject for speculation for some time. She’s frequently coded as “flamboyant and eccentric”, while a wealth of biographical material suggests her most intense relationships were with women. Other aspects of the story are less ambiguously autobiographical, directly building on Streatfeild’s earlier acting career. Through happenstance, Pauline, Posy and Petrova enrol at a school for drama and dance, it’s quickly clear that Posy’s destined for a career in ballet and Pauline the stage, while Petrova who’s far more interested in cars and planes, dreams of a future as a pilot. Although there’s a definite fantasy element to their stories, Streatfeild grounds the Fossils in reality, providing a blow-by-blow account of the experiences of aspiring child actors, as well as the burden placed on girls and women striving to make a name for themselves independent of traditional patriarchal structures. It’s a great story, there are some grating references but there’s also a strong feminist slant - although reading it as an adult meant I was no longer bound up in daydreams involving a future as a ballerina and far more interested in what Streatfeild reveals about English culture and society. My edition was a vintage Puffin paperback illustrated by Ruth Gervis who was also Streatfeild's sister.
Profile Image for Cora Tea Party Princess.
1,323 reviews802 followers
July 18, 2016
5 Words: Classic, Christmas, talent, family, dance.

This is one of my FAVOURITE books ever. I read it year on year, often more than once, and I never get bored. How could I?

Ballet Shoes follows the Fossil sisters and their journey through life as they try to get their name into the history books because of who they are.

It's a book that always makes me smile, that could cheer me up on the most miserable of days. And it has this kick-ass thread of girl-power throughout, a discreet hint of feminism that makes you root for Petrova.

And this edition? It's gorgeous. I think I have about 5 copies of this book and this one is by far the most beautiful. And Christmas-sy.
Profile Image for Kressel Housman.
970 reviews222 followers
January 15, 2015
The story of Pauline, Petrova, and Posy will be in my heart for life, even though I must confess that was introduced to these charming and unforgettable characters from the 1975 British television version. That kind of ruined me for the book; all I'd do was nosh through my favorite scenes. Only when I was in my 20's did I read it cover to cover when I introduced its pleasures to a girl I was tutoring.

Pauline, Petrova, and Posy are three adopted girls being raised in London in the 1930's. Because of the Depression, they get training to earn money as performers on stage. Pauline turns out to have a flair for acting, and Posy turns out to be a ballerina of rare genius. Petrova hates the stage, and goes along with it only because she has to. Her dream is to learn to fly an airplane.

It's a very different experience to love this book at age 10, read it at age 20(ish), and think about it at age 40. As a girl, I dreamed of being Posy, but I identified with Petrova, if only because of her Russian background. In my 20's, I was struck by how selfish Posy was about her art. But now in my 40's, and as a (professional?) writer, I understand that inspiration IS selfish. When you have something to create, it just takes over your life.

But all this reminiscing has given me other thoughts, too. For one thing, I think the ending has a really positive message to girls, especially starry-eyed ones who dream of the glamor of a stage career. There's a difference between being famous and making history.
Profile Image for Cathy.
919 reviews59 followers
June 29, 2013
Thank you, Kathleen Kelly, for alerting me to the existence of this book. This was really cute and heartwarming.

And I think it's probably time I watch You've Got Mail again.
Profile Image for Calilibrarian.
34 reviews9 followers
February 24, 2008
I had two career goals as a little girl--I would be a ballerina...or a librarian, heh.
Well I started ballet at three and continued through college, but alas never made it to the big stage. I am a librarian though so go figure.
I loved these books so much as a child. All of her series that I read I should say, but especially ballet shoes. This is a fascinating vanished world.
Profile Image for Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore.
745 reviews163 followers
May 2, 2019
Professor Mathew Brown or Great Uncle Mathew or Gum, lives with his niece Sylvia and her nurse Nana, and from time to time takes off on expeditions from where he brings back fossils, adding to a huge collection which has to be thinned down from time to time. One day he decides to travel by sea rather than land, and from three of these voyages brings back three little babies, either orphaned or whose parents are unable to take care of them, and these three little girls are Pauline, Petrova, and Posy (who comes with a pair of ballet shoes her mother gave her). They take on the surname Fossil, for that is what ties them together. But while Pauline dreams of being an actress, and Posy can be nothing but a dancer (she is one), Petrova is happiest with cars and engines. Gum hasn’t returned from his latest expedition for long nor has been heard from, and money is tight, so Sylvia decides to take in boarders, and this leads not only to the children making new friends, but also entering the Children’s Academy of Dancing, where Pauline and Posy are happy, and Petrova simply does all that is required of her so that she can begin earning and support the house as soon as possible (that is at age 12, when no other option would be available to them). We join them on their journey at the academy as their train to hone their different talents, begin their careers on the stage, and try to get their names into history books!

What a charming and lovely story this was. I loved all the characters—the three girls are all very likeable, and even when they have their difficult moments or sulks, they essentially remain nice girls; Nana is sensible, yet not too strict; Sylvia is also very young and must struggle to keep things going. The boarders—the Simpsons, a couple back home from Malaysia, Theo, who teaches at the Academy, and the two doctors (of literature and mathematics, respectively)—are very likeable too, and one loves how all of them begin to become a big family, though each of them lead their own lives. The girls’ time and experiences at the Academy reminded me very much of the other series from the 1940s that I’ve been reading, The Blue Door series by Pamela Brown. The hard work that goes into training and into the roles themselves, the fact that success can go to one’s head very easily and fall from it can be truly hard, and of course, the joys that little successes and opportunities can bring. This was a really gentle and sweet story which I truly enjoyed reading. The lovely illustrations by Ruth Gervis add a lot to its charm. Loved it!
Profile Image for Anny.
77 reviews45 followers
April 2, 2015
This is probably the first book ever where I cannot say 'The book is better' straight away. First of all, it is clear that the book is for children and the film is for the grown ups. But the beauty remains in both.

Pauline, Petrova and Posy are sister by 'accident' as they were all adopted by a wealthy and nice uncle Matthew (whom they called Gum, because Great Uncle Matthew. G.U.M.). After he brought the youngest Posy home, though, he disappeared. There was enough money in the bank for a couple of years, but it was not enough and soon, they ran short of it. The sisters were all talented. Pauline could act and recite and Posy wasn't very far from being a professional ballerina. And Petrova was incredibly clever, although she was interested in cars and engines instead of performing arts. As the girls grew up, they decided to act for money, so they could support their poor household. They have made a vow regularly, because they believed they could achieve great things. And because their names were unique, no one could say it was because of their grandfathers. But the way towards their dreams isn't always easy.

It is fairly obvious that some changes were required, so the film could be a family-friendly one. So that parents would not be too bored. But to be honest, I liked the change. I enjoyed the relationship and the mild romantic tension between Garnie and Mr Simpson and I really missed that in the book. But I do understand that children might really not find that very interesting. On the other hand, I'm really sad the part with the Blue Bird play wasn't in the film as I think it could have been done in a really nice way.

To conclude, I would say that the book is probably as good as the film, but it's still leaning towards the statement that the film is a little bit better. But it is a purely subjective view, because I'm very sensitive towards films like this...and come on, this one has even got Emma Watson in it!

Profile Image for Era ➴.
215 reviews505 followers
January 16, 2021
This book was literally the only thing I read my third grade year.
November 2, 2019
When I was in my first grade, a teacher took our class to the children's library next to school to be registered. I couldn't believe so many books could exist in just one place. After 2-3 years it turned out that this was not enough, so I got my card in the adults' library next to mine and, unfortunately, my old librarian got offended.

This teacher discovered a totally new world to me. I would be before the doors at 8 am waiting for it to open at 9 or wait for about 2 hours and find out it was Sunday, and they didn't work. I didn't even reach the return dates, and librarians were always trying to give me 3-4 instead of 1 or 2 books. They were just fetching my card without asking my details. They were even letting me dig the closed sections as they shortly got lack of any suggestions.

And I wish these librarians could recommend me this book when I was little. I wish all the librarians were like Kate from You've Got Mail (well you can't read this book without thinking of her sitting in the Fox bookshop).
Recently I found quite a lot of books I should have read while a teenager or younger. I now have a good collection of "missed" books.

It was just a right book in every way. Right message, right characters, right plot. Everything was perfect. Some books just create the Christmas mood, even if they are not entirely about Christmas.

And I hope there is at least one librarian somewhere who hands this book to every child she meets and says "you'll love it".
Profile Image for Mary Durrant .
347 reviews122 followers
May 7, 2020
A wonderful reread of a childhood favourite.
Just perfect!
Profile Image for Trish.
1,880 reviews3,383 followers
January 1, 2020
I first came across this author when Noel Streatfeild was mentioned in one of my all-time favourite movies, You've Got Mail. It prompted me to get at least two books (this one and the one I read last year). Then, I discovered that I had actually already known this story as I had seen a movie adaptation with a young Emma Watson some years ago. Now, I'm correcting the error of not having read the source material yet.

The story is that of three young girls, a few years apart, who have been taken in by Mr. Matthew Brown (Uncle GUM). Pauline is the oldest and was lost at sea after her and Uncle Gum's ship sank. Nobody knows what's happened to her parents. Petrova, the second-oldest, is the daughter of Russian high-borns that fell on hard times after the Revolution and died. Posy, the youngest, is the daughter of a dancer who couldn't take care of her.
While Uncle Matthew is on a years-long voyage, the girls and Sylvia (Uncle Matthew's niece) and Nana fall on hard times financially until even turning their home into a boarding house hardly is enough to keep the little family going. But even children can help in such situations. In this case, they enter the Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training.
Pauline is a talented actress, Posy a magnificent dancer - only Petrova is too practical and would rather fly a plane than perform in any sort of way.
This is the story of how they found their place in the world.

The book was written in or around 1936 and the age shows in some opinions (especially with Nana). But it's still a charming little book full of very likeable characters (unlike some in the other I've read) and the days and months and years fly by while we follow the girls as they practice and try to make a name for themselves.
From fossils-filled houses, to magnificent stages in theatres and even Hollywood, this reading journey was fantastic and made me feel all warm and cozy inside!
Profile Image for Melody Schwarting.
1,406 reviews81 followers
November 7, 2022
Ballet Shoes was one of my all-time favorites as a child. My library had the book on audio and I listened to it on my little boom box constantly. I can’t express how burned into my brain is: Children’s Acad | emy of Dancing an | d Stage Training. I studied classical ballet as a child and teen and Ballet Shoes inspired me--I remember going to see the film with my classmates and teachers. Re-reading this book brought back all those special memories, and remembering how much of an impact my teachers had on my life, interests, and personality, though I don’t dance anymore.

The world of Ballet Shoes is cozy and kind, and even though it’s a bit of a horror to think of a twelve-year-old feeling like she needs to meaningfully contribute to household expenses, the girls have a lot of helpful, trustworthy adults to help them along the way. I’m wondering now if the reason Rumer Godden’s A Candle for St Jude fell so flat for me is because I was subconsciously expecting a Streatfeild world. Yet, the ballet in that one is better. In Ballet Shoes there is more of Pauline’s acting than Posy’s dancing. I would love to get a chapter about Posy’s private lessons with Madame.

I loved Streatfeild’s other Shoe books, but nothing beats Pauline, Petrova, and Posy. Petrova gave me a longstanding affection for STEM heroines, though I never relate to them in that interest. Maybe she’s why I love math in novels (yet I stumble in real life, alas). I always found Pauline a bit insufferable, but her character growth is quite nice, and she is much softer than I remembered. Posy is my favorite, of course, though she really got stiffed by the film. Lucy Boynton played her very well, but the ballet is awful and they should have used a double who could actually get over on her box, for the sake of her ankles if nothing else!
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,028 reviews330 followers
December 7, 2020
I'm fond of all Noel Streatfeild's books, but this one, being the first I read, has a special place in my heart. It introduces Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil, orphans who are adopted by an eccentric geologist who then disappears for years, leaving the girls in the care of his niece Sylvia and her old nanny, Nana. When the money he left Sylvia runs out, they decide to send the girls to stage school.

The story and characters are lively and memorable, and Streatfeild describes the girls' training and their dreams and goals with warmth, humor, and a realism which makes the book come alive. I've probably read it twenty times or more, and I find it delightful every time.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,845 reviews5,003 followers
August 24, 2008
One of my two favorite of Streatfield's "Shoes" books. A children's novel from the 1930s about three adopted sisters, poor but talented, who attend a dance and stage school in London. They have a guardian who turns her home into a boarding house to make a living, and most of the other characters live there.
Profile Image for Abigail.
7,088 reviews181 followers
March 16, 2020
Originally published in 1936, this first "Shoes" book by acclaimed British children's author Noel Streafeild - the "Shoes" books are less of a series than a collection of wonderful children's novels, some related, some not, many of which were not "shoes" books at all, in their original British forms ( Theater Shoes was originally Curtain Up , Dancing Shoes was Wintle's Wonders, Skating Shoes was White Boots , and so on) - is one that I have long been wanting to read. Thankfully, a book-cub to which I belong chose it for their June book-club selection, giving me that long-needed impetus!

The story of three young orphans - Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil - who are ostensibly adopted by Gum (Great Uncle Matthew), but are really raised by Garnie (Great Uncle Matthew's niece, Sylvia) and their nurse, Nana, Ballet Shoes has been described as one of the earliest "career novels" for children, as it follows its young heroines as they seek to make a living in the arts. Pauline, the eldest, begins working as an actress at age twelve (special license required), and Petrova soon follows. Posy, a dancing prodigy and the youngest, studies with Madame Fidolia, the headmistress of The Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, where all three are pupils. As each of the three struggles to find her calling - Pauline is a talented actress, Petrova quietly longs to escape from the arts, and become a mechanic and aviatrix, and Posy is a born dancer - they also seek to help Garnie with the household finances, and to live up to the secret vow that they regularly renew, to get the Fossil name into history.

I really enjoyed Ballet Shoes, which impressed me with its ability to depict the lure of a career on the stage and in the arts, without succumbing to that lure itself. Most of the acting and ballet stories that I have read for young people are so in love with the world of the stage, and of ballet, that they lack (how to put it...?) perspective. Ballet (or acting) is the best and only thing - it is everything. Here, we see that other callings - such as engineering - are just as fulfilling and important. More! We see an acknowledgment that acting and ballet, in the larger scheme of things, are perhaps not that important. Or, put another way, that they are not the most important thing, historically speaking. I found that very refreshing, and was particularly struck by the fact that Petrova's calling is so mechanical, as this was an era in which girls were not encouraged in that direction.

All in all, a most entertaining tale, one that won me over with its engaging true-to-life characters (Posy was such a brat, but without being a monster), its satisfying blend of "making it big" and "keeping one's feet on the ground" (the girls are successful, but still have to worry about money) and its progressive view of the opportunities open (or that should be open) to girls. Somehow, despite my interest in it, Ballet Shoes had always seemed like one of those intensely "girly" books to me: you know, the pastel ones. But although it is very much a book with girl appeal, it is really an orphan tale, a career novel and a family story, all wrapped in one. I'm glad that I have finally read it!
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,554 reviews2,534 followers
April 18, 2021
(3.5) I was glad to have an excuse (the 1936 Club blogger challenge) to read this beloved children’s classic. Like many older books and films geared towards children, it’s a realistic fantasy about orphans finding affection and success. Great-Uncle Matthew (“Gum”) goes hunting for fossils around the world and has a peculiar habit of finding unwanted babies that are to be raised by his niece, Sylvia (“Garnie”), and a nursemaid, Nana. He names the three girls he has magically acquired Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, and gifts them all the surname Fossil. When Gum goes back out on his travels, the money soon runs out and the girls’ schooling takes a backseat to the need for money. Sylvia takes in lodgers and the girls are accepted to attend a dance and theatre academy for free.

Every year, the sisters vow to do all they can to get the Fossil name in history books – and this on their own merit, not based on anything their (unknown) ancestors have done – and to get as much household money for Garnie as possible. Pauline is a gifted actress and Posy a talented dancer, but Petrova knows the performing world is not for her; she��d rather learn about how machines work, and operate cars and airplanes. While beautiful blonde Pauline plays the lead role in Alice in Wonderland and one of the princes in Richard III, Petrova is happy to stay in the background as a fairy or a page in Shakespeare productions.

I found the social history particularly interesting here. The family seems upper class by nature, yet a lack of money means they find it a challenge to keep the girls in an appropriate wardrobe. There is much counting of guineas and shillings, with Pauline the chief household earner. Acting in plays and films is no mere hobby for her. The same goes for Winifred, who auditions opposite Pauline for Alice but doesn’t get the part – even though she is the better actress and needs the money to care for her ill father and five younger siblings – because she’s not as pretty. Pauline and Petrova also notice that child actors with cockney accents don’t get picked for the best roles. The Fossils sometimes feel compassion for those children worse off than themselves, but at other times let their achievements go to their heads.

At a certain point, I wearied of the recurring money, wardrobe, and audition issues, but I still found this a charming book about how luck and skill combine as girls dream about who they want to be when they grow up. There are also some cosy and witty turns of phrase, like “She was in that state of having a cold when nothing is very nice to do … she felt hot, and not very much like eating toffee, and what is the fun of making toffee unless you want to eat it.” I daresay if I had encountered this at age seven instead of 37, it would have been a favourite.

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.
Profile Image for Olivia.
698 reviews117 followers
February 8, 2019
I picked this up because it was my partner’s favourite book as a child, and I can see why.

It’s a very sweet tale. Not enough drama, tension and danger for my past and younger self, but a sweet and uplifting book, that I think many children would still appreciate these days.

Definitely a book for younger readers and an uplifting one at that.
Profile Image for Aurora.
49 reviews86 followers
March 5, 2021
This is a lovely story, very charming and very British. If I’d read it as a child I know I would have adored it. But as an adult I find the writing a little too simple and straightforward to get fully immersed in. Despite colorful backdrops, like theater productions of Alice in Wonderland and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and a wonderful cast of quirky characters - the storytelling itself falls a little flat. It’s simply missing that sprinkle of story magic that would put it up there with other children’s classics like Anne of Green Gables, Peter Pan or Astrid Lindgren's books for me.
Profile Image for Luisa Knight.
2,727 reviews685 followers
August 31, 2022
Booklovers everywhere have all drooled over the little book shop Kathleen Kelly owned in the delightful movie, You've Got Mail. We've relished the thought of working among such an atmosphere of twinkle lights and children's literature. And what a selection she had too. Whoever was in charge of choosing the books to be highlighted in the movie did a pretty top-notch job! Have you read them all? Notable mentions are The Betsy-Tacy books and The Shoe Series.

"Noel Streatfeild wrote Ballet Shoes and Skating Shoes and Theatre Shoes and Dancing Shoes. I’d start with Ballet Shoes first; it’s my favorite. Although Skating Shoes is completely wonderful—but it’s out of print." —Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail

If you haven't read this fun series, it's about time you did. Ballet Shoes probably should be read first but the stories are all pretty individual, with different characters in each; the only thing linking them are "shoes" and the characters in the first book being referenced once or twice in a couple other titles. So if you or your child has a favorite recreation and there's a shoe for it, you'd be fine just starting with the one you're excited about the most.


Ages: 8 - 14


Children's Bad Words
Mild Obscenities and Substitutions - 6 Incidents: drat, stupid, stupidly, *ss (referencing a donkey)
Name Calling - 12 Incidents: stupid, show-off, Posey-Pretty-Toes, cruel little devil, goblins, fool, Cock-eyed critics, idiots

Religious & Supernatural - 3 Incidents: Two girls are rehearsing a play that has a graveyard scene where two children hope to see/speak to ghosts. "You can never tell what's magic." "If there was anything that was sacred in the family, it was the savings books. The walk to the post office on Saturday mornings was more sure to happen than church on Sunday."

Violence - None

Romance Related - 4 Incidents: Double-breasted in reference to a uniform. Not sexual. A girl comes into the room "with nothing on but a bathmat." It is noted that a girl has a rather "big behind." "Posy, even with nothing on, and dripping with water, was quite amazingly like Theo."

Conversation Topics - 1 Incident: Smoking, cigar, cigarette and pipe are mentioned.

Attitudes/Disobedience - 24 Incidents: A student, in annoyance about a ballet costume, says "I wish I were a savage and wore nothing." Two girls decide to "teach (another student) not to get cocky" and call her "Posy-Pretty-Toes." She cries. A girl "loathes" when another girl kicks her, and then states that she doesn't mind it. It is noted that "She spoke as much as if she meant it as she could."
A girl "sulked." She also decides that she will not be "nice and helpful, and run round fetching and carrying for other people's rehearsals...". A girl states that she is not going to come to class anymore. In the next paragraph, this makes the teacher "angry" and it says that the teacher hates "disobedience." A girl becomes very "conceited." A girl accuses others of being "hateful" and slams the door on them. It is stated that a character is becoming more "conceited every day" and expects people to work for her. A girl says that part of her ballet costume is "stupid." The stage manager responds, "Stupid or not, you're to wear it." A student is angry and "completely lost her temper."
A girl wonders whether or not she had been rude or "showing off" but it says that inside she knew she had, and was "ashamed." She apologizes for being disobedient and says she won't do it again.
Girls unjustly blame another girl even though they know she's innocent. A girl thinks that if she doesn't dance everyone who came to watch will just "go home." Her peers "snub her" as she "could not be allowed to say things like that." A girl puzzles over two different people, and why she believes one of them to be conceited but not the other. A girl gives "an angry jab at her porridge."
A girl is "red with bad temper." A girl claims to love (ballet) but it is stated that later she considers the statement and says "it was a lie really... but in a way it was true." It is stated that a child "liked to gossip." Children argue, then feel ashamed, then it is stated that "feeling ashamed made them more cross than ever." When a girl finds out her teacher is very sickly, she is concerned about her lessons and not her teacher. Two ladies are "horrified" that their ward is "selfish and hard-hearted". It says: "It was all very well to be ambitious, but ambition should not kill the nice qualities in you." The girl's carrying her ambition too far is expounded. It is stated that a child "of her age was not to be allowed to dictate what she would, or would not, do." A student is "furious."
A girl tells another how "naughty" a classmate is being.

Parent Takeaway
Although this report shows 24 "incidents" for "Attitudes/Disobedience," the majority of these are all lessons the girls work through and learn from. On the whole, the main characters are very loving towards each other, wish to work hard to help with the bills and want to make their guardians proud. Posey, the youngest girl, is, in several instances, an exception as she cares more for ballet and her achievements than people sometimes. This book is not just about ballet, but theater, motorcars and other interests as well, so can be appealing to any girl.

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Profile Image for Sara.
564 reviews168 followers
May 22, 2015
Every child should have the joy of reading this book. I am so sad that most of her books are out of print and very difficult to find. I'm very glad that this one and a couple others are available. This book is charming and wholesome and funny and full of good lessons for young children. I would buy every single Streatfeild Book that came into print. And I would buy multiple copies so that my children could have their own sets.
Profile Image for Renee.
25 reviews
April 5, 2020
I heartily recommend this for little girls of reading age, especially those who like dance. There are numerous other books...Theater Shoes, Dancing shoes, Skating shoes, and more. Read Ballet before Theater. Enjoy with your girls.....This is the books that Meg Ryan mentions in the movie "You've Got Mail"
Profile Image for Alexa.
2,118 reviews11.1k followers
June 17, 2019
3.5 stars. Such a delight! I enjoyed seeing how this simple tale of three adopted sisters would unfold.
Profile Image for Carol Bakker.
1,147 reviews77 followers
August 13, 2022
Isn't life grand? Here I am, a 60-ish person, raised in a literary home, having read classics by the bushel, and I keep discovering books I missed in my childhood!

This was a charming story of a loveable (but irresponsible) avuncular professor who bundles up unwanted babies, brings them home to his niece, then travels to nether parts for his next geological dig. Actually Gum (Great-uncle Matthew) hardly reckons in the story. The three orphans — Pauline, Petrova, and Posy — are the girls whose fortunes and misfortunes we follow.

I listened with my granddaughter for a while, but the necessary setup of the narrative in the opening chapters didn't twirl her skirts.

Favorite quote:

There is no doubt a new dress is a help under all circumstances.
Profile Image for Julia.
302 reviews10 followers
March 27, 2021
This book passed me by as a child but it was one of my daughter’s favourites growing up and I’m glad I’ve now read it. I really enjoyed the story of the Fossil sisters and the elusive Gum. Really likeable characters; nana was my favourite with her no nonsense approach and comic one liners. Some of the sisters got too big for their boots occasionally, but that all added to their characters. An all round lovely book.
December 13, 2020
When I was in my first grade, a teacher took our class to the children's library next to school to be registered. I couldn't believe so many books could exist in just one place. After 2-3 years it turned out that this was not enough, so I got my card in the adults' library next to mine and, unfortunately, my old librarian got offended.

This teacher discovered a totally new world to me. I would be before the doors at 8 am waiting for it to open at 9 or wait for about 2 hours and find out it was Sunday, and they didn't work. I didn't even reach the return dates, and librarians were always trying to give me 3-4 instead of 1 or 2 books. They were just fetching my card without asking my details. They were even letting me dig the closed sections as they shortly got lack of any suggestions.

And I wish these librarians could recommend me this book when I was little. I wish all the librarians were like Kate from You've Got Mail (well you can't read this book without thinking of her sitting in the Fox bookshop).
Recently I found quite a lot of books I should have read while a teenager or younger. I now have a good collection of "missed" books.

It was just a right book in every way. Right message, right characters, right plot. Everything was perfect. Three sweet sisters and a warm family.

I loved every character, but my favorite was of course Posy.

Some books just create the Christmas mood, even if they are not entirely about Christmas.

And I hope there is at least one librarian somewhere who hands this book to every child she meets and says "you'll love it".
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