Friday, February 18, 2011

Book Review: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1936)

We three Fossils vow to try and put our names in history books because it's our very own and nobody can say it's because of our grandfathers.

My boyfriend and I listened to the audiobook version of Ballet Shoes whenever we were in the car during late December and basically all of January, and I'm not sure I can imagine enjoying it in any other format. Reader Elizabeth Sastre had the perfect voice to suit the story, and being able to hear the characters' voices made me love them so much more.

Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil are orphans brought home by Great Uncle Matthew, better known as GUM, who collects artifacts (and babies!), drops them off at home, and goes back out into the world to explore. When he leaves the family for an indefinite amount of time, the three girls, under the care of Nana and Sylvia, GUM's adopted daughter, live frugally, and eventually take up dancing, acting, and singing to help pay living expenses. The quotation at the start of this review is the vow they make on each girl's birthday, which they use to keep them focused on what they really want to do.

I am not a particularly girly girl, so the thought of reading a pink-covered book about ballet shoes was not necessarily readily appealing, but after the first chapter of this book, my mind was quickly opened and I fell in love with the Fossils, and with the fictional world they inhabit. I love that the story follows the girls from birth and gives the kind of detailed backstory that is so often missing from modern children's novels. I also enjoyed the realism of the story, even amidst some of its more fanciful elements. The constant struggle to find enough money, and  the occasional brattiness of each girl as the spotlight shines upon her made the story believable for me, and made me much more invested in all the dance and theater stuff. This book isn't just a cotton-candy filled fantasy for little girls who like tutus; it's a story, peopled with well-crafted characters, about being poor, doing what you can to get by, and hoping for a happy ending.

An added bonus is the fact that many Shakespearean monologues and other plays are referenced in the story, which hopefully sends kids from Ballet Shoes to other great works of literature. I was actually sad to reach the end of this book, and I'm wondering if any other Noel Streatfeild books will be as good, or if I should just read this one again.

An oldie, but goodie, as they say.

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