A children’s classic that remains an enjoyable read almost eighty years after first publication. Recommended for girls between the ages of around eight and twelve.
Ballet Shoes tells the story of three adopted orphans – Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil. Brought to 1930s London as babies by an eccentric explorer (Great Uncle Matthew, otherwise known as Gum), the girls have a comfortable life until the family begin to run out of money. Luckily they are all given places at the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training and soon start to earn their own way as child performers on the stage.
First published in 1936, Ballet Shoes has stood the test of time remarkably well and remains an enjoyable read almost eighty years on. Given its considerable age, however, it is not surprising that elements of the writing are now dated. The book has a significantly slower pace and a much more traditional style of storytelling than modern readers will be used to. There are also a couple of places were a little editing may have made it more accessible to twenty-first century readers. For example, I found it particularly hard to maintain my interest reading five whole pages of the script of the The Blue Bird and I had to struggle to resist the temptation to skip ahead.
Despite this, the story retains its appeal because of the strong and well-drawn characters. The world of the three Fossil sisters may be very different from the experience of today’s readers but it is easy to identify with Pauline, Petrova and Posy. Each of the girl’s personalities are distinct and a child reader is likely to understand Pauline’s temper tantrum at the theatre, Petrova’s misery at having to do something she hates, and Posy’s determination to follow her dream without thinking of the implications for anyone else. The interaction between the three girls is also realistic and I liked the way they don’t always get along.
The plot resolution is perhaps a touch too tidy for me as a modern adult reader but I’m not convinced that the target audience will feel the same way. I remember being delighted by the ending when I first read (and re-read) this book as a child and it does have one of the best last lines of any children’s book – I wonder… if other girls had to be one of us, which of us they’d choose to be? In my younger years, I wanted to be Pauline (the pretty and successful actress) but, as an adult, I’d definitely choose the plain and practical Petrova.
Overall it is easy to understand why this became, and remains, a children’s classic. I believe it will continue to delight girls between the ages of around eight and twelve.
If you enjoyed this and would like to read another story set in this era (but written far more recently) try Murder Most Unladylike or Arsenic For Tea both by Robin Stevens.
Publication Date: July 2015
Review first published on The Bookbag