Noel Streatfeild wrote Ballet Shoes and Skating Shoes and Theatre Shoes and Dancing Shoes. I’d start with Ballet Shoes first; it’s my favorite. Although Skating Shoes is completely wonderful—but it’s out of print.
—Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail
I’d never heard of Streatfeild or the Shoe Books before I saw You’ve Got Mail (and watched poor Kathleen Kelly struggle to control her tears as she helped a bookseller at Fox Books find the right book for a customer). It was several years before I picked up a used copy of Ballet Shoes in Oxford, and of course I loved it. (Then I saw the BBC film adaptation with Emma Watson, and loved it too.)
I found a copy of Dancing Shoes, under its original title of Wintle’s Wonders, for $1 at Brattle last fall, but had somehow never got around to reading it. Then, recently, I found a vintage edition of Theater Shoes on Etsy, and started reading it the day after it came in the mail. I loved it so much I raced down to Borders to buy Skating Shoes (which is, fortunately, no longer out of print). And I’ve spent a large part of the past week immersed in these stories of dance, family and dreams.
I love the quiet bravery of Streatfeild’s characters – not only the children who must go on the stage or learn to dance, but their older relatives and guardians who must make do with very little in wartime. I love the glimpses into backstage life, the sweet (but not saccharine) family dynamics, the descriptions of pretty clothes (which catch the eye all the more in times of poverty). Most of all I love the hope that permeates these stories. The hope that poor, often orphaned children, who have come from nothing, can learn to act or dance or sing and really make something of themselves.
Kathleen Kelly was right – these books are completely wonderful. And how fitting that, as a fictional bookseller, she introduced thousands of new readers to a beloved series.
Have you ever learned about a book through a movie? (And have you read the Shoe Books?)