Sunday, February 5, 2012

Book Review: Theater Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1944)

Theater Shoes is Noel Streatfeild's fifth book for children, and it was originally published with the title Curtain Up in 1944. Though it came out eight years after Ballet Shoes, it is essentially a sequel, focusing on the same dance academy at which Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil studied in the 1930s. The main characters of this story, Sorrel, Mark, and Holly Forbes, are the grandchildren of a famous actress and also the beneficiaries of scholarships funded by the three Fossil girls, (who are now quite grown up and doing very well for themselves, despite the hardships of World War II.) Favorite characters from Ballet Shoes, including Madame Fidolia, Miss Jay, and Winifred, figure heavily into this story as well, but the Forbes children are very much their own personalities, and their yearning for their father who is missing in action, their uncertainty regarding their strange grandmother, and their rivalry with stuck-up cousin Miranda are the driving forces behind the plot. Though there are many similarities to the formula used to write Ballet Shoes, this book is also its own entity, with its own strong characters and narrative voice.

This book was not historical fiction when it was published, as much of it takes place in 1943, just one year before its publication, but it reads as such today. References to bombing in London, to coupons used to buy things, and to the military men for whom the children perform concerts embed the story firmly in the time period and actually do quite a nice job of illustrating World War II England for today's children, in terms they can understand, and in a way that makes the historical events mentioned accessible and interesting. I think this book is also a bit more believable than Ballet Shoes. Ballet Shoes reads more like a fairy tale, with all these improbable twists and turns leading the Fossils to great fame. The Forbes children are more down-to-Earth, and their experiences more realistic, and more likely. Sorrel, especially, felt like a very real girl with real flaws and concerns. It was easy to put myself in her place and imagine the world of the academy, and Miranda's snobbery, from her point of view. Mark, too, was an interesting addition to the story, because he introduces a male point of view and represents a segment of the population - male dancers - which is often ignored by children's fiction. Of the three, only Holly seemed a bit flat, almost as though she provided comic relief and not much else.

Another thing that made reading this book so enjoyable was that I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by Elizabeth Sastre. She also narrates the version of Ballet Shoes which I listened to and I can't imagine anyone else doing a better job. She introduces these subtle nuances of personality just in the voices she uses for each of the characters. Her accent is also very easy to understand, but immerses the listener completely into the way English is spoken in England, which is important to the overall appreciation of this book.

This is one of the older books I've blogged about, but it's one of the ones that holds up the best. The drama between Miranda and Sorrel reads like many tween novels being published today and definitely zeroes in on the kind of friendship stories girls in the middle grade age range love to read. It's also a great choice for girls who are not yet into romance and dating, but instead like to read about girls having life experiences, spending time with their families, and working hard at becoming better performers.


  1. I'll add this one to my queue. Sounds charming.

  2. I love, love, love all of the shoe books - you definitely need to read more!