Noel Streatfeild

Ballet Shoes is the first and best novel in Noel Streatfeild’s 10-book-long series about the lives of British child actors in the first half of the twentieth century. (Only a few of these books had “Shoes” as part of their original titles, but they've since all been renamed for easy identification.) Ballet Shoes is the story of three adopted sisters--Pauline, Peterova, and Posy--who, after their guardian’s disappearance, enter the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training in hopes of eventually earning their living on the stage. The novel is a richly entertaining mix of two fine traditions in British children’s literature: the boarding school novel (okay, the sisters do not actually board at the academy, but it plays such a large role in their daily lives that they might as well live there) and the riches-to-rags-and-then-back-to-riches story.

Ms. Streatfeild didn’t act professionally until she was an adult, so the adventures in her Shoes books are not autobiographical. They were inspired by the stories of child actors that she had worked with. She also wrote a series that I’ve never seen called the Gemma books (they're apparently widely available in the UK) and several romance novels under the improbable name “Susan Scarlett”. Never read one of these either, but I hear they’re pretty mediocre.

Note: Interestingly, Ms. Streatfeild, who wrote so enthusiastically about children at a "trade" school, was apparently a real hellion during her own school years, and was actually expelled from one genteel ladies' academy.


Everywhere for Ballet Shoes, Theatre Shoes, and Dancing Shoes, online for the rest of the series, and England for the Gemma books.

Other Recommendations:
Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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Posted by: Julia


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