Noel Streatfeild read-along, anyone?

March 3, 2013 @ 8:46 pm | Filed under:

Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild The other day I asked Jane to hunt up our copy of Noel Streatfeild’s Dancing Shoes for Beanie in relation to something we were discussing. At the time I couldn’t remember whether the event I was recalling happened in Dancing Shoes or Ballet Shoes, or possibly even Theater Shoes. It didn’t matter which, because it turned out what I was really wanting was to reread all the novels myself.

I haven’t started yet, but I’m so in the mood. Streatfeild’s writing is delicious and occupies a unique niche in children’s literature: the behind-the-scenes lives of children in the performing arts, in London, in the mid-20th century. (An extremely prolific author, she wrote a great many books about other subjects, but the only Streatfeild works I’ve read are her “Shoes” books—and not even all of those. Party Shoes, for example, is still on my TBR list.)

The cover at left is from the mid-90s reissue, which is when I was introduced to Streatfeild’s work. I missed them, somehow, growing up. During the year I spent at Random House after grad school, my boss, the brilliant Stephanie Spinner, was in charge of bringing the three Shoes books mentioned above back into print. These were the editions with the Diane Goode covers like the one pictured above.

Theater Shoes by Noel StreatfeildAll we had to work with were out-of-print editions from the archives. I was offered the job—freelance, during my off-hours—of typing two of the manuscripts into Microsoft Word. I was either saving up for my wedding or freshly returned from my wedding (I left Random House for HarperCollins in the summer of 1994, just a few months after Scott and I got married), and the eight bucks an hour I was offered for the typing gig felt like a windfall. I remembered reading that Hunter S. Thompson honed his writing skills by typing out novels by Hemingway and Fitzgerald. There was something thrilling about continuing this practice of literary apprenticeship, and I enjoyed the hours I sat up late at night, typing onto my Mac Classic, wrapped up in these charming stories I’d never read before.

Streatfeild is a good writer to study under. Her prose is rich, wry, vivid, never treacly, laced with humor. She conjures up wonderful old London houses and populates them with memorable personalities, including adults who treat children with great respect. (Some of governesses and tutors seem straight out of Charlotte Mason’s teacher’s college at Ambleside, and I smile, sometimes, at the influence this trio of novels must have had on my ideas about education.)

Anyway, I’m in the mood for a nice Streatfeild binge and I wondered if any of you would like to join me? Which of her books is your favorite—Shoes or otherwise?

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26 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Beth says:

    I love Ballet Shoes, and I also like Traveling Shoes and I have a guilty fondness for Movie Shoes because Jane is just so awful.

    Did you know that they are only Shoes books in America? Most of them have separate names in Britain — Circus Shoes and Traveling Shoes and some others for certain.

  2. Jeanne says:

    I’m in. My favourite is Ballet Shoes and I’ve never read it to my ballet loving daughter. Now’s my chance. I have a lovely non fiction book edited by Streatfeild called The Years of Grace. Have you read it? I love the Painted Garden as well. Don’t know what it’s called in the US. We’re in Australia.

  3. Sarah says:

    I read them while growing up and re-read them to the girls. We still have ” Beavers” at our house which generally is a pause in the weekend where we all gather to have a homemade snack. They happen more often in the winter and in front of the fire. They always include some baking. I love that this piece of literature has had such an impact on our family. I am sure my grandchildren will grow up having beavers.

  4. sarah says:

    Thanks for reminding me about these books. We only have Dancing Shoes and for some reason, I don’t think it has ever been read all the way through. It gets passed over every time. Looking forward to putting it on our “Lunch Box” list after The Long Winter is over.

  5. Mama Squirrel says:

    We used The Fearless Treasure for homeschool reading a couple of years ago, but I’m mixed on it, for the same reasons as this review gives: . She does a wonderful job in it evoking several settings from the past; but the overall idea of the book (mysterious man, some kind of a time-lord or hypnotist or something, you’re not just sure what, with ideas about the past and future greatness of England) is a bit nebulous. My girls were just so-so on the book.

    But Ballet Shoes has been a favourite for years. We own the ’70’s miniseries version on DVD.

  6. Maureen E says:

    I would love to! I’m a huge Streatfeild fan…though there are simply too many Shoes books and I haven’t read all of them. Ballet Shoes and Theatre Shoes are probably tied for my favorite, but really I just love all of them.

  7. Dianna says:

    I would love to read along! I have Theater Shoes and Dancing Shoes sitting unread on my shelves. I have read Ballet Shoes and Skating Shoes (White Boots), as well as all four Gemma books, and I have thoroughly enjoyed all of her work that I have read. I am sad that I didn’t discover Streatfeild’s books until I was an adult, but I will make sure that my daughter gets the pleasure that I never did.

    I think Ballet Shoes has been my favorite so far—I guess it’s well-known for a reason. I would also like to read some of her autobiographical books (such as A Vicarage Family sometime soon.

  8. Kemara says:

    I read all of the Shoes books growing up, and I still have some older paperback copies. I wish they’d reprint every one!

    My favorite has to be Ballet Shoes, but a very close second is Circus Shoes, about a brother and sister who run away to find their uncle who is a clown with the circus. The girl learns acrobatics, and the boy learns horseback riding. At the very end of the book, they are allowed to stay. As a kid I thought this was awesome!

    Let’s see if I can remember all the Shoe books I read: Ballet, Movie, Circus, Theater, Dancing, Skating. I think the only one I’ve never read is Traveling Shoes.

  9. Jen Robinson says:

    My favorite is Ballet Shoes. I read all of them that I could get my hands on as a kid, but Ballet Shoes is the one that sticks in my mind as magical.

  10. Theresa Gonzalez says:

    So, I started reading Dancing Shoes aloud to my daughter today. Very awkward moment when it started talking about Cora going to pick up her dead sister-in-law’s daughter Rachel, but not being responsible for Hilary because she was adopted. That they would just put her in a home. Yikes! I had to do some pretty quick on-the-fly editing so as to avoid having my adopted daughter’s feelings seriously hurt. So, just a heads-up for anyone considering reading this story aloud to an adopted child. You may want to either edit, or explain ahead of time about past views on adoption. This was in chapter 1 or 2. I wonder if there are any more surprises in store for me?

  11. Liz says:

    Don’t forget Tennis Shoes! It was my second favourite after Ballet Shoes, but slightly ahead of White Boots (Skating Shoes). Oh, I must read these again…

  12. Melissa says:

    Do try to find some of Streatfeild’s other stuff–especially her fictionalized memoirs. A Vicar’s Family is delightful, especially since the sisters aren’t perfect. On Tour is about her life as a traveling, somewhat mediocre actress. I think there’s one other, that I haven’t been able to find.
    I also recommend When the Sirens Wailed, which is WWII London Blitz.
    Saplings, another WWII book, is high on my to-read list, but it’s hard to find. Persephone has republished it, and it will probably be a part of my next order.
    Don’t get me wrong–I adore the Shoe books and read most of them as a kid. But her life was so interesting, that it’s certainly worth checking out some of her “grown up” books. In fact, I think my love (and respect) of Streatfeild as an adult only got going after reading On Tour and A Vicar’s Family.

  13. Melissa Wiley says:

    Melissa, will do—I put several things on interlibrary request this morning. Happy to find so many in the system.

    Delighted there’s so much interest, y’all! Let’s start with Ballet Shoes, since it’s the first Shoes book & perhaps the easiest Streatfeild to track down. From there, perhaps Dancing, then Theater, then we’ll see what else we can come up with. We definitely need to add some non-Shoes titles to the list.

  14. divina says:

    I just put the three books you mentioned on hold at my local library and can’t wait to read them. Thanks for recommending them and having a read-along.

  15. Samantha says:

    Me, me, me! This sounds like fun. It’s been ages since I read any Streatfeild books. My favorites were always the Gemma books, but I was fond of Dancing Shoes and Theater Shoes, as well as the ones that were set in the English countryside in summer time… the titles escape me, though. Ballet Shoes was never my favorite, but maybe it’s time to reacquaint myself with it and give it another try.

    I’m kind of partial to the versions with the Diane Goode covers, for two reasons: those were the versions I had growing up, *and* Diane Goode illustrated the covers of the Betsy-Tacy high school books that I received when I was 15.

  16. Miranda says:

    Oooh I would love to (re)read some of these! I have definitely read Ballet Shoes, and The Painted Garden (aka Movie Shoes) although I can remember very little about it. Have just discovered this blog and now there is a read-along, hooray! My books are arriving from the UK any day but in the meantime I will just have to head down to the library.

    Thank you for this and, while I am commenting, the wealth of delight in your archives…

  17. Barbara says:

    Skating Shoes is my favorite overall I think, although I also love Ballet, Theatre, and Dancing. Just reread several of these when I was visiting my mom recently. My other favorite of her books is “The Children on the Top Floor”. It’s a charming little story about a TV personality who, after a broadcast saying he envies those who will wake up on Christmas morning to the “patter of little feet”, finds himself the unexpected “parent” of 4 babies who are left on his doorstep overnight. It is now out of print, I believe, but worth tracking down

  18. MomVee says:

    Skating Shoes (White Boots) is wonderful.

  19. Louise says:

    I’ve only read Ballet Shoes and Skating Shoes. My edition of Skating Shoes is terrible – typos and missing words all over the place, so despite my love for skating, I finally had to throw it out. Can’t have a book around that makes me cringe whenever I read it! But I love Ballet Shoes. And I do want to read the rest – as well as those fictionalized memoirs mentioned above.

    I owe my discovery of Streatfield to You’ve Got Mail. True story!

  20. Melissa Wiley says:

    It’s a charming little story about a TV personality who, after a broadcast saying he envies those who will wake up on Christmas morning to the “patter of little feet”, finds himself the unexpected “parent” of 4 babies who are left on his doorstep overnight.

    Ha, I love this premise! Gotta track this one down for sure. 🙂

  21. Fanny Harville says:

    I haven’t read any Shoes books since childhood, and can’t even remember for sure which I’ve read. Would love to read along — I’ve been meaning to get back to them!

  22. Lori B says:

    I first read Ballet Shoes with my oldest as part of a mom-daughter book club over ten years ago! I fully intended to read more, but was having a hard time tracking them down. I see that Book Depository has many (all?) of them, so I’ll have to put in an order! Saplings is also one of the Persephone reprints that I’ve been collecting, so it will be mine eventually 🙂 And I just realised that my 12yod has never read Ballet Shoes (though she’s seen the TV series), so maybe it could be an afternoon read aloud for us…

  23. Amy Corley says:

    Louise, I was going to share the same thing about You’ve Got Mail!! That is where I first heard about these books, and though I have always wanted to read them, I haven’t done so. And now I am homeschooling my two daughters and I think I need to join you all in reading Ballet Shoes! I will request it from the library tomorrow 🙂

    Melissa, this may be my first comment here, but I’ve been reading your blog a long time (since before you moved to SD…I live just north of you in Riverside). I have been meaning to tell you that our whole family read aloud The Prairie Thief…and it was a big hit! I bought the book at a Barnes and Noble in Boston (I kept checking and checking at our BN here, but they weren’t stocking it…) and read it during my trip there; my husband, who is a literature professor at Cal Poly Pomona, read it to our girls (10 and 8) and my 12 year old son read it on his own.