Ballet Shoes is a fantastic book by Noel Streatfeild. Noel Streatfeild wrote many children's novels which include: White Boots, Dancing Shoes and Theatre Shoes or Curtain Up as it was originally called as well as many others. However, in my opinion Ballet Shoes is the best of them all as it is heart-warming and a beautiful novel and I read it frequently. It is a story that lasts with you forever.
The book does not fall into a certain genre. We could say that it was a novel about learning how to be a theatrical performer. Also trying to live like a family with very little money was interwoven into the story as well as many cases of right and wrong.
This story is about three sisters - Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil. They were not sisters by birth but by adoption. Gum (Great Uncle Matthew) was an avid fossil collector until he fell off a mountain and needed to get a wooden leg, meaning that he couldn't collect fossils any longer. But Gum still carried on exploring, coming back occasionally to bring some unusual presents for his grown up great niece - Sylvia Brown - and her old nurse, Nana. These presents weren't exactly what they expected as they were babies who needed help.
However, Gum left, leaving Sylvia and Nana to look after Pauline, Petrova and Posy. Gum put five years worth of money in the bank, but he claimed he wouldn't be gone that long anyway. But Gum did not live up to his word and he was away for much longer than he said he would be, meaning that the money in the bank eventually ran out. As the house they lived in was gigantic, the family decided to ask for boarders. The boarders that came not only brought money but they also pleased everyone. The first were Mr and Mrs Simpson who had a marvellous car - which wasn't that common as the book was set in the 1930s pre-World War II - this excited Petrova as she loved cars and aeroplanes. Then came Theo Dane who brought along her gramophone that the children loved to dance to. The final pair of boarders were two retired female doctors - Doctor Jakes and Doctor Smith, who used to coach people for exams, specializing in literature and mathematics.
Since there was such a little amount of money Pauline and Petrova had to be taken away from their school as it was too expensive. Sylvia attempted to teach them but she didn't really know how and she was terrible at maths - which was incredibly difficult as Petrova was a genius at that particular subject. So the two doctors and Sylvia came to an agreement that the doctors would teach the children themselves. They wanted to do this because even though they liked retirement they missed teaching.
To also help, Theo, who worked at a school that taught children how to act, sing and dance - The Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training - offered the three girls the chance to go to The Academy to help them with their futures. The Academy also let children - once they had reached the age of twelve - to perform on stage and earn money for it. Sylvia did not want the children to go to the The Academy if they were going to earn money, as she thought it was wrong to earn money from an adopted child. However Nana made Sylvia see sense because Pauline and Posy would probably end up on the stage anyway. (Pauline loved to act and Posy's mother was a ballet dancer and Posy had inherited the love and talent for dancing from her).
So the children went to The Academy, Pauline shone out in all of the acting classes and as expected, resulted in appearing on stage for principal parts numerous times. Posy shone out in the dancing classes and was personally coached by the head teacher of The Academy, Madame Fidola, (who was a Russian ballet dancer). Posy was better at dancing than children much older than her and with a lot more experience than her. Petrova, on the other hand, loathed going to The Academy but she didn't dare tell Sylvia in case she upset her and they needed the money so desperately.
To the children Sylvia was not called by her real name but Garnie, this is because Nana thought it was improper for the children to call her Sylvia. So in the end they decided on "Guardian" but as the children were very young when this was decided they could only say "Garnie" so the name was born.
The story in this book is about struggling through as a "family", trying to cope with very little money and acting and dancing. It is also about how loyal sisters can be to each other and that children can be very responsible, even at a young age.
Every birthday or special occasion the Fossil sisters made a vow: "We three Fossils vow to try and put our name in the history books because it is our very own and nobody can say it's because of our grandfathers."
The three main characters in this book are Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil.
Pauline was the eldest of the three sisters. Gum rescued Pauline when a ship that he was on sank leaving very few survivors. Sylvia decided on the name Pauline as Pauline, like St Paul, was rescued from being drowned.
Pauline showed a talent for being an excellent actress and as soon as she was twelve and could earn money she was getting principal parts in plays.
Pauline was very pretty with blonde hair and blue eyes and she always looked perfect.
Although Pauline was so fantastic at acting, sometimes fame went to her head, thinking that everybody was below her because she had the main part in a play. However she soon learnt her lesson. Pauline learnt a lot about Shakespeare and about how to act from Doctor Jakes.
Petrova was the middle child out of the three. Her father and mother were both Russian and Petrova was born there. Unfortunately both of Petrova's parents died when she was a baby, so Gum took her back for Sylvia and Nana to look after.
Petrova was quite plain with dark hair and eyes. Petrova wasn't as pretty as Pauline or Posy and when Nana first saw Petrova she remarked "We'd better hope this one has brains because I can see who's going to be Miss Plain in my nursery." However, Sylvia always thought she looked more interesting than the other two.
Luckily Petrova did have brains and was the cleverest out of the three sisters. She was excellent at mathematics and when Sylvia taught her Petrova was always far ahead of her. Petrova loved cars, aeroplanes or any vehicle and she often understood how they worked.
Petrova was the only sister who detested going to The Academy. This was probably because she had always acted more like a boy than a girl and also because she wasn't any good at dancing, singing or acting. The only thing that Petrova really enjoyed doing was helping at Mr Simpson's garage. She would spend hours there tending to cars.
Posy was the youngest of the three sisters and also very cheeky. She often spoke before she thought about it and she was often acted spoilt or too ambitious.
Posy's father died when she was a baby and her mother couldn't afford to look after her, so she asked Gum to look after her daughter. She also gave Posy a pair of ballet shoes as she was a dancer herself. Posy was already named by her parents before going into Sylvia and Nana's care.
Posy - just like her mother - was an excellent dancer and she was so fantastic at it that Madame (who was in charge of The Academy) taught Posy everything herself. This was a great honour at The Academy and nobody as young as Posy had ever had this opportunity. Posy often showed off about her ability to dance and this annoyed Pauline and Petrova on many occasions.
SETTING AND ATMOSPHERE
This book is mainly set at Gum's house, Cromwell Road, London and at The Academy.
According to Pauline, Petrova and Posy, Cromwell Road was the longest road in all of London and as they often had to "save the penny and walk" this annoyed them a lot. Gum's house was quite big and was full of the fossils that he collected over the years. Downstairs was reserved for Cook and Clara - the servants. The nursery and the children's bedrooms were where Pauline, Petrova and Posy spent most of the time that they were at home. Nana and Sylvia had their bedrooms and there were individual bedrooms for most of the boarders.
The atmosphere in the house was often quite loud and busy and there was always a few people in the house at a time. The atmosphere of the house was also often quite friendly.
The Academy was three buildings all built together to form one in the middle. There was a pupil entrance, a guest entrance and a staff entrance. Even though the book is often set at The Academy we do not learn a lot about what it is like as a setting or the atmosphere. However, in my opinion, I think that The Academy is quite a busy and loud place where something is always going on.
This is a fabulous book and I would recommend it to any girl from about ten or eleven upwards. Noel Streatfeild is a fantastic author and she made me feel like I was best friends with characters in this book. I give it a ten out of ten.