Noel Streatfeild and the Shoes Books

When I was growing up, I loved our library. I had a dream of reading every book in "my section," middle grade and Young Adult. (I often read beyond my years.) However, I soon abandoned this goal because there were certain books that I wanted to read again and again. Noel Streatfeild was one of my favorite authors. Recently I decided to revisit these books and see if they still held up.

Before I dived into the books again, I read a little bit about the author. To my surprise, Noel Streatfeild was a woman. I always had imagined her as a kind, yet dashing man. She had worked as an actress for ten years before writing her books. She hated her first book, Ballet Shoes, written in 1936, because she thought it came too easily to her. She imagined that something that effortless could not be valuable. (Ha!) And it wasn't always the Shoes series. When Random House bought some of Streatfeild's books, they renamed her books.

I was able to check out three of Streatfeild's books from my library, Ballet Shoes, Theatre Shoes, and Dancing Shoes. To my wonder and great relief, I still think these books are terrific, although my analytical brain does keep saying to me, “But they're all basically the same story.” Orphans are taken in. They begin attending a school for theatre and dance. In these books, children discover and strengthen their creative gifts. But I ultimately don't care that the books cover similar terrain. If my library had all of her books, I would read every single one of them again. At some point, I will probably have to buy the rest of them.

In these stories, the children encounter obstacles. What if you have to go to this school and it doesn't suit you? Do you have the strength and perseverance to figure out how to make this time enjoyable? What if you're a spoiled child, always told that you deserved everything, and the orphan who lives in your home turns out to be more talented and popular than you? What if you land the dream job, and you almost throw it away by letting success go to your head?

These children grow up quickly. At the age of twelve, they can obtain a license and start working as actors and dancers in the Christmas season and during summer. Oftentimes, in these books, they need to get these jobs, not only to satisfy their creative aspirations, but to help keep the household afloat. At sixteen, the children graduate from school. They can study in another field or devote themselves completely to a profession in the arts. They are self-possessed and caring in a world where the stakes are high. I love these books.