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Ballet Shoes Paperback – November 23, 1993
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From the Inside Flap
In the tradition of Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Little Princess come Noel Streatfeild's tales of triumph. In this story, three orphan girls vow to make a name for themselves and find their own special talents. With hard work, fame just may be in the stars! Originally published in 1937.
About the Author
Noel Streatfeild was born in Sussex in 1895 and was one of three sisters. Although she was considered the plain one she ended up leading the most glamorous and exciting life! After working in munitions factories and canteens for the armed forces when WWI broke out, Noel followed her dream of being on stage and went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she became a professional actress. She began writing children's books in 1931 and Ballet Shoes was published in 1936. She quickly became one of the most popular authors of her day. When she visited Puffin exhibitions, there were queues right out of the building and all the way down the Mall. She was one of the first winners of the Carnegie Medal and was awarded an OBE in 1983. Noel Streatfeild lived in London. She died in 1986.
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In Ballet Shoes the focus is on three little girls who have each been orphaned and separately 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 dependents 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 - unheard of. 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 as theoretically fun as theatre and dance - is 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 bright boring elementary school every day, and earning money to help their family. Reading a book like this as an adult is, as mentioned, an exercise in nostalgia - not a reminiscence about or wistfulness for an unjaded time when I had adventures like the children in the book, but when I saw only the excitement of the adventures and none of the dangers or tedium.