Ballet Shoes

by Noel Streatfeild

Paperback, 1993



Local notes

PB Str





Yearling (1993), Edition: 1st Bullseye Books ed, 256 pages


Determined to make a name for themselves, three adopted sisters living in London train for the ballet and the stage and in the process discover that each has a special talent.

Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

256 p.; 5.18 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
Originally published in 1936, this first "Shoes" book by acclaimed British children's author Noel Streafeild - the "Shoes" books are less of a series than a collection of wonderful children's novels, some related, some not, many of which were not "shoes" books at all, in their original British
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forms (Theater Shoes was originally Curtain Up, Dancing Shoes was Wintle's Wonders, Skating Shoes was White Boots, and so on) - is one that I have long been wanting to read. Thankfully, a book-cub to which I belong chose it for their June book-club selection, giving me that long-needed impetus!

The story of three young orphans - Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil - who are ostensibly adopted by Gum (Great Uncle Matthew), but are really raised by Garnie (Great Uncle Matthew's niece, Sylvia) and their nurse, Nana, Ballet Shoes has been described as one of the earliest "career novels" for children, as it follows its young heroines as they seek to make a living in the arts. Pauline, the eldest, begins working as an actress at age twelve (special license required), and Petrova soon follows. Posy, a dancing prodigy and the youngest, studies with Madame Fidolia, the headmistress of The Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, where all three are pupils. As each of the three struggles to find her calling - Pauline is a talented actress, Petrova quietly longs to escape from the arts, and become a mechanic and aviatrix, and Posy is a born dancer - they also seek to help Garnie with the household finances, and to live up to the secret vow that they regularly renew, to get the Fossil name into history.

I really enjoyed Ballet Shoes, which impressed me with its ability to depict the lure of a career on the stage and in the arts, without succumbing to that lure itself. Most of the acting and ballet stories that I have read for young people are so in love with the world of the stage, and of ballet, that they lack (how to put it...?) perspective. Ballet (or acting) is the best and only thing - it is everything. Here, we see that other callings - such as engineering - are just as fulfilling and important. More! We see an acknowledgment that acting and ballet, in the larger scheme of things, are perhaps not that important. Or, put another way, that they are not the most important thing, historically speaking. I found that very refreshing, and was particularly struck by the fact that Petrova's calling is so mechanical, as this was an era in which girls were not encouraged in that direction.

All in all, a most entertaining tale, one that won me over with its engaging true-to-life characters (Posy was such a brat, but without being a monster), its satisfying blend of "making it big" and "keeping one's feet on the ground" (the girls are successful, but still have to worry about money) and its progressive view of the opportunities open (or that should be open) to girls. Somehow, despite my interest in it, Ballet Shoes had always seemed like one of those intensely "girly" books to me: you know, the pastel ones. But although it is very much a book with girl appeal, it is really an orphan tale, a career novel and a family story, all wrapped in one. I'm glad that I have finally read it!
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LibraryThing member thesmellofbooks
A surprising and wonderful book. It starts off slowly, appearing a whimsical but typical tale. There is an unusual realism in the story of three girls living on the edge of poverty with the adults responsible for them. The details of their lives learning theatrical arts raises this above the
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general run. Each girl longs for different things, and the adults must try to balance teaching them how to survive with encouraging their joy in life. There is the unexpected thread of a girl wanting nothing more than to learn about cars and planes, and there is a seriousness around financial responsibility that I haven't often seen in children's books of this vintage. But none of that says what a lovely and fascinating story it is. Very glad I stumbled across it.
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LibraryThing member Stewartry
This was a nostalgic read along with an L.M. Montgomery-focused group on Goodreads; I think I wound up receiving it and finishing it too late to be useful in the discussion, but I was tickled to read it anyway. I have fond memories of Noel Streatfeild, although I don't recall reading this one. It
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was always fascinating to read about children participating in adult worlds; stupid as we all are when we're kids, being grown-up sounds so cool. Little do we know.

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 dependants 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.
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LibraryThing member lycomayflower
I didn't know about the "Shoe Books" when I was a kid; the first I ever heard of them was when Kathleen Kelley overheard a customer asking a dim-witted children's section employee of Fox Books for one in You've Got Mail and then gave a thirty-second blurb on them that proves the movie's point about
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independently-owned shops beautifully ("I'd start with Ballet Shoes--it's my favorite. Though skating shoes is also completely wonderful. But it's out of print.") When I stumbled across a BBC production of Ballet Shoes recently, I decided I was clearly meant to read the book. It's delightful, and the details of 1930s London life and stage work are fascinating. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member GraceZ
I picked this book up expecting to read a couple of chapters and get bored.

Boy was I wrong.

This book was almost as enjoyable as my beloved Betsy-Tacy books. They're just so well written! I wish all children's books had this level of quality. They're about as entertaining for adults as children, I
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think, and written in such a way that children will miss all sorts of little events, (or just won't understand them the way an adult will), while adults will experience the book a different way because of the issues that relate more to them.

I am very pleasantly pleased.

This book also continues my decades theme: 1930s. Although it is obviously rather different from the New York societal/cultural novels and stories of Fitzgerald and McCarthy!
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LibraryThing member emperatrix
Ballet Shoes is the story of three special Fossils--Pauline, Petrova, and Posy--orphan girls adopted by an adventurous fossil collector.

When Great-Uncle Matthew, Gum for short, sets off on his latest adventure, his niece Sylvia and her Nana expect that he will break his word and send more fossils
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to their already cluttered home, but they never imagined that those fossils would arrive in the form of baby girls. Pauline, the eldest, was rescued from a shipwreck and delivered by Gum to the house on Cromwell Road. Petrova was found in Russia, the daughter of a poor man who was unable to care for her; she was sent by post, as the reaction to Pauline's arrival decided Gum against any more personal deliveries. While Posy, the daughter of a poor dancer, is delivered with a pair of dainty ballet shoes. Left to their own devices, Sylvia and Nana do the best they can to raise the girls while their guardian is away, finding ways to keep the girls happy, healthy, and educated with the money left to Sylvia in trust.

When money becomes scarce in the Fossil household, Sylvia decides to take in boarders to supplement the household income, but the ragtag group of strangers soon becomes a family. The girls soon find themselves the object of everyone's concern when they enroll as charity students at the Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, where Pauline and Posy soon find their niche, though Petrova would rather be a mechanic than a dancer. Vowing to put their names in the history books (because it is their own and no one can say it is because of their grandfathers), Pauline, Petrova, and Posy find that sometimes it takes hard work to make your dreams come true.


Ballet Shoes is the sort of book that I would have adored growing up. It has everything that I loved in children's stories--girls facing great odds and coming out on top, orphans (oh boy, did I read a lot of books about orphans), acting and dancing, and the idea that children can learn to be themselves without their parents telling them what to do. This was such a fun read; in many ways the Fossils reminded me of the Mortmains in Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle (one of my favorites), though slightly less dysfunctional. A great read for little girls and little girls at heart.

Gricel @
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LibraryThing member kscarlett01
This is a story about three young sisters who are orphaned. The three sisters enter three different paths based on their interests in order to make a name for themselves. This is a great family story for older children.
LibraryThing member humouress
This is a delightful children's classic that stands the test of time, although it is set in London between the wars, when the queen was still Princess Elizabeth.

Sylvia's Great Uncle Matthew (Gum, for short) has disappeared off on his infamous travels, leaving behind three babies that he picked up
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while on his fossil-hunting expeditions. They are Pauline, Petrova and Posy, who call themselves Fossils, and make a solemn vow to make their name worthwhile by performing a service to their country, as (being adopted) their name belongs to no-one else, and is truly their own. Unfortunately, Gum - having no sense of time - has only provided enough money to last for 5 years, and Sylvia is eventually forced to take the children out of school and to take in boarders to make ends meet.

Even though they have to 'save the penny and walk', the girls have adventures. Their boarders help with their education, including helping them go to stage school, where they all have different attitudes and aptitudes.

Noel Streatfeild has captured the interaction between the adults and children beautifully, balancing stern Nana's proprieties against the children's youthful zeal. I found myself smiling almost the whole time I read this book. Although I could see it from a slightly different perspective as an adult, it captivated me as much as it had when I read it as a child myself. Part of its charm, I think, is that it captures the innocence of childhood in a bygone era.

An excerpt (the children, aged about 6, 8 and 10, are taken to meet Madame Fidolia of the stage school) :

Madame kissed her.
'You are the first compatriot of mine to come to my school. I will make a good dancer of you. Yes?'
Petrova scratched at the floor with her toe and said nothing; she daren't look up, for she was sure Pauline would make her laugh.
'And this is Posy,' said Sylvia.
Posy came forward and dropped the most beautiful curtsy.
'Madame,' she said politely.
'Blessed lamb!' Nana murmured proudly.
'Little show-off!' Pauline whispered to Petrova.

Very well worth reading, and very well worth going back to re-read.
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LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
A long-running favourite of my youth, I was inspired to re-read this when I saw the 2007 BBC version of this I decided to hunt up my copy to re-read. This is the story of three sisters, collected by a fossil hunter (GUM or Great Uncle Matthew) and left with his niece Sylvia (aka Garnie for
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Guardian) and her Nanny and assorted servants. The three grow up, finding themselves very poor. They take in paying guests to make ends meet and these people help the three girls with their education. One of the things that they do to help is have the girls enrolled in a stage school where at least two of them learn skills useful for their future. They go through trials and tribulations and have to make some very adult decisions through the story.

It's a kids' story so some things are skimmed rather than explored in real depth but there is a lot more depth in this than you find in many stories and it's interesting to see the empowering qualities of this even at it's age. I have to wonder did we progress much since this interwar story.
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LibraryThing member Pottery
How can someone have given this a 2 and a 1/2?

Noel Streafeild's books are always delightfully archaic and sweet, warm and well written... this is no different.
I wished I knew the Fossill sisters, wished I could be part of their adventures and dancing and their fascination with GUM. Ahh...
LibraryThing member miriamparker
Pretty orphans?! That's what I loved when I was little. Why do children want to be orphans?
LibraryThing member beatrice_otter
This was one of my favorite books as a child; I still enjoy reading it as an adult. It's a perfect book for girls: it's about three orphaned girls growing up in an adoptive family in London without much money, who work hard, help the family, and fulfill their dreams in a loving, supportive
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environment. The eldest becomes a movie actress, the middle becomes a mechanic/aviator, and the youngest a ballerina--but the joy of the story is in how they get there. Highly recommended--and don't forget to check out the 2007 movie version, as well.
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LibraryThing member ThorneStaff
A charming tale of three girls adopted by an eccentric explorer who mostly collected fossils, but occasionally brought home an orphan instead. When he goes missing, the girls and their guardian must think of ways to make money, and so begins the tale of three different girls finding their passion
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at a school of stage and dance. The characters are realistic and their adventures captivating.
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LibraryThing member CrochetDancer
I was horribly disappointed in this book. First, personally I've been on a hunt for a good dance/ballet related book (adult or children's) and yet again I fail. Second, this is a classic children's story I've heard about for years and it just didn't live up to the hype or my expectations. The story
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was really pretty boring. No idea how a child would get through it. Not a great deal happens, and the story spent way too much time and detail discussing money. I didn't need to know how much money the children earned and where it all went down to the pence. I didn't really connect with any character. I didn't like how Posy was a stereotypical ballerina. I really didn't like the ending. It was very deus ex machina; and all their problems were solved. Finally, my biggest complaint of the book is where is the part about ballet and ballet shoes?! The book is called "Ballet Shoes" and the talk of ballet or ballet shoes covers about a tenth of the book, and that's being generous. Why would you title a book Ballet Shoes and it not be the focus of the story. I really have no desire to read the other two books in the series, though I'm curious to read theater shoes just to see if it is about ballet since ballet shoes was all about acting.
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LibraryThing member katiemullen
Ballet Shoes was probably my favorite book as a child. I used to read it whenever I was bored or needed comforting. Now, I probably can't review it entirely objectively, but it is a wonderfully sweet story of the love among three adopted sisters and their guardian. The girls perform in ballets and
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plays to earn money for their struggling family, and I have always found the portrayal of the children's lives in the theatre to be fascinating.
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LibraryThing member conuly
This was one of my favorite books as a child. And I'm not the only one! Apparently, when it first came out, the author couldn't get spare copies because the store she went to had a. put the books in their own special section and b. was restricting purchases to one per customer.

That's just
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The characters are - although a little overly nice (it isn't until later books (Dancing Shoes, Theater Shoes) that we start seeing a few spoiled rotten children) - mostly realistic. They do argue, they do occasionally misbehave, that sort of thing. As a child, I found the details of their education and stage training to be absolutely fascinating, and I read this book until I had to go buy another copy. And as an adult, I appreciate that even the kid that doesn't fit in, Petrova, who is interested in cars and planes and utterly bored by all her theater lessons, is not left out or ignored. She's less talented than the others (artistically, anyway), but she's still valued.

However, it can be difficult for a younger child to get into this book today. The book spans several years, and it's full of old-fashioned dialog and old British money. We also spend a lot of time paying attention to what the grown-ups are saying. I would suggest that if your kid is not yet in her double digits that you hold off before buying a copy.
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LibraryThing member phoebesmum
Needs no introduction and, if it does, go and get it out of the library. No childhood is complete that doesn't include an annual re-reading of 'Ballet Shoes'.
LibraryThing member nobby1
Probably Noel Streatfeild's best-known book, this is the story of the three Fossil children and their lives at a stage school. Pauline wants to act, Posy wants to dance, and Petrova - well, she just wants to be left alone to read her car manuals. A real page-turner.
LibraryThing member spiphany
Streatfeild's most famous (and often considered her best) book. This was one of my favorites as a child, and my copy of the book has fallen to pieces with too much reading. I've picked up a few of her other "Shoes" books, out of curiosity, but none of them come anywhere close to equalling this one.
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Although this is considered a classic ballet story, its appeal lies in the engaging and well-drawn characters. The original illustrations by Ruth Gervis (Streatfeild's sister) are a wonderful addition to the story.
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LibraryThing member readingrat
A wonderful story told with a touch of quirky humor. Young ballet dancers and stage actors will find much that feels familiar here, but the themes of love, family, caring, and sacrifice combine to create a story that will still appeal to those who have never set foot on a stage before.
LibraryThing member deweyquilt
I enjoyed this book immensely, though it just fell short of perfection. I particularly enjoyed the setting in the big rambling house, the unparalleled kindness of the adults towards the waif-like abandoned sisters, and the edge of glitz and glamour from their involvement in ballet and theatre.
LibraryThing member SMG-LNankervis
This is a WONDERFUL book for anyone aged 9-14
LibraryThing member lizzybeans11
I've had this book since elementary school as I was a ballet dancer and loved everything about it. However, as a child I found this book a little difficult to read on my own. I didn't understand a lot of the underlying societal issues and I was constantly worried for the orphans. As an adult I can
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better appreciate the entire story and can separate the tension in the book from my emotions.
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LibraryThing member hannahj26
This is possibly my most loved book as a child. I read this book so many times that it fell apart and I had to buy another. I even enjoy it as an adult.
LibraryThing member mamashepp
I had to read this after I heard about the books in the movie "You've Got Mail." Very sweet and I wish I would have known about them when I was much younger.




(553 ratings; 4.2)
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