Welcome to another edition of Berg’s Book Club where you join Berg the Polar Bear and myself as I review my recent reads. This week, it is Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.
Some of you may remember that I am attempting to participate in the Popsugar reading list of 2018. I admit it looks like I am not going to exceed in reading all 52 books in this prompt but one of these prompts I used for Ballet Shoes. So what prompt did I use it for?
A childhood classic you’ve never read.
Before I start the review, I’d like to say I liked this book and would recommend it as a children’s book, or for one of the prompts on the PopSugar reading challenge.
I struggle to write reviews on books I liked … because there is hardly anything that could be improved, but let’s see where this gets us, right? 😉
Berg is dressed in a tutu and pumps… he doesn’t look too pleased about it, but I’m sure he’ll get over it.
Ballet Shoes is about three girls, Paulina, Petrova and Posy, who are adopted by Great Uncle Matthew (or Gum) and his great-niece, Sylvia (or Garnie) after Gum discovers them orphaned on his travels. After he leaves Posy, the youngest, in Sylvia’s care, Gum travels for a good many years.
The first years of the girls’ lives run smoothly but Sylvia begins to run out of the money Gum gave her in his absence and their lives start to change.
I found the progress and development of the plot slow for my taste but Streatfeild’s book did contain a plot which could keep me entertained and engaged. It’s a change, as I am sure you’re aware if you read my previous book review, Good Kings, Bad Kings.
When the girls first went to school, they realised they had no real surname and decided to invent one – kind of. Gum writes to the children and calls them his “little fossils”, so the girls decide to use Fossil as their surname. They also vow to add their name to the history books. I think this is quite sweet and something little girls will definitely do. I mean, I wanted to be Rapunzel until I was like 12-13. I had ridiculously long hair then…
So, when Garnie has to pull them out of school for lack of money and then sent to a dance school, the girls are obviously disappointed.
Who heard of a dancer in the history books?
However, they do not want to offend Garnie and ballet is the only job a girl can do from the age of 12 at the time this book is set. So the girls wish to help out with running the house and the only way they can do that is by training to perform on the stage.
But this, as any good book does, encourages the protagonists to grow and develop their character.
I liked the characterisation of the three protagonists. Each of the three girls are unique and stand out.
Paulina has a talent for theatre, Petrova likes meddling with engines and is good with maths and Posy takes after her mother with a skill in dancing.
Petrova has stage fright and is able to get over it with the support of her sisters, Garnie and the household renters while Paulina goes through a phrase of stage fright and cockiness. Posy, on the other hand, knows she is the best dancer in the world.
I think this is one of few issues I have trouble overlooking in this book.
When Paulina was becoming big headed after playing a lead role in a play, she was disciplined and ultimately learned the lesson the hard way. Through the prospects of being replaced for her attitude. She began to appreciate her work and position more.
However, while some of Posy’s antics are funny and harmless, she has this attitude throughout the book that she is the best ballet dancer in the world and is irreplaceable. While I know she is the youngest, I don’t understand why she is not taught that it is wrong as Paulina was. In this respect, Posy is the only character that does not grow… or at least change, as a character.
I believe it may have been intentional but I don’t know, she just seems too cocky and self-assured to me for her own good. I mean there’s confidence and then there are the drama queens, right?
But aside from this, the characters are strong and unique. The girls develop and grow, they are determined to do their bit to help Garnie and sacrifice sentimental items, their vows and their dreams in the process.
Paulina, as the eldest, felt she needed to sacrifice the most. Most of the money she made and also her dream to work on stage. When it was clear that they were to lose the house and Posy would not relent on being taught by the ballet director, she decided to sign a contract she was offered to become a movie star so that they can earn the money for Posy to go.
Other characters, including the minor characters, such as Mr Simpson and the two doctors, are equally well developed.
Gum develops from being an explorer searching for fossils to hoarder, to one that collects orphaned children.
Sylvia goes from being naive and living the life of luxury to one who knows hardship and has gained wisdom.
Nana goes from strick and distant to kind and loving.
The other issue is the ending of the book, again, because of Posy.
Posy was able to see her favourite ballet dancer and director (I forget his name) as a treat if she behaves in school while her favourite teacher is absent. So she goes to the performance of his.
At the end of the book, she expects Garnie or Nana to travel to another country (they must find the money somehow!) so that she can be taught by him.
At that point, Gum returns with the magical solution.
Personally, I would have liked to see Posy punished at least once before she got her reward.
I think my favourite character might be Pauline. Her ability to give and never be selfish and while she did complain when she was younger, the older she got, the less she complained.
This book is a lovely read and I believe children will love to read how three girls tried to put their name in history books. The characterisation was great, each character felt unique, but I really think Posy ought to have been punished.
I noticed at the end of the book that it is a series and while I thought it was good, I don’t feel invested enough to read the other three. There is a trilogy I recommend but I’ll speak about that another time 😉
Join me next week, where I will discuss disability in popular British TV Show, Downton Abbey.
And please join Berg’s Book Club