Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes (1936)
Bonnie and Paul Zindel’s
A Star for the Latecomer (1980)

I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up. My best friend and I practiced the five positions (complete with leaping and twirling in and out of them) on the couch in her family room coached by a library book that I borrowed from the school library and we read everything ballet-focussed that we could get our sticky little hands on.

Another that I distinctly remember borrowing repeatedly from the library was Veronica Tennant’s On Stage, Please. I adored it and borrowed in whenever I had the chance (although there must have been a lot of competition because it wasn’t often there for the plucking) There was another shelved in the same corner of the library, that was part of a series of books about artsy girls, and I read and re-read the ballet book in that series as well.

I never discovered the other Streatfeild books either, because why would I read about ice-skating or the theatre if I could read about the ballet? Or, in this case, re-read Ballet Shoes for the umpteenth time? (However, I’ve recently learned that the Fossil sisters make an appearance in The Painted Garden, so I will need to mend my un-Streatfeild-reading ways.)

Without a doubt, my copy of Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes is the singularly most battered and worn book on my kidlit shelves. Not for practical reasons, but simply for the idea of children being ballerinas and even earning for their performances: so charming, so enticing.

And for the overall cozyness of it, like this description of the meal that they had in the middle of their lessons with Doctor Smith and Doctor Jakes:

“They took turns to get it ready. Sometimes it was chocolate with cream on it, and sometimes Doctor Jakes’ ginger drink, and once it was ice-cream soda; and the things to eat were never the same: queer biscuits, little ones from Japan with delicate flowers painted on them in sugar, cakes from Vienna, and specialities of different kinds from all over England.” (52)


Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery actually calls attention to a lot of Paul Zindel books that I also enjoyed tremendously, but I thought Bonnie and Paul Zindel’s A Star for the Latecomer would make a good companion for Ballet Shoes, for the Shelf Discovery Reading Challenge, rather than re-read The Pigman (or its sequel) or My Darling, My Hamburger (also re-read many, many times to all appearances).

The spine of my copy of A Star for the Latecomer is on a characteristic slant revealing my attachment to it but funnily enough it is not so much a ballet read really. It’s more about Brooke’s struggle to balance her own desires and ambitions with her mother’s, which is hard enough under normal circumstances, but her difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that her mother is dying.

Her ballet work is satisfying on one level, but even more demanding emotionally than physically: “The music started to play. All I thought about was the sound of the music, and somehow the dance came back to me automatically, as though I wasn’t remembering it at all, as though my body was moving by itself.” (126)

So in addition to the issues more commonly explored in ballet stories (e.g. friendship vs. competition, childhood freedom vs. training schedules, art vs. practical career choices), there is far more focus on Brooke’s internal struggle to reconcile her personal needs with family demands, to achieve independence in the face of her mother’s tenuous situation. It’s more like your average teenage story, complete with a romantic subplot, with a side-order of ballet, rather than a ballet story with a side-order of family drama.

Nonetheless, it appealed to my love of dance and the arts in general and I re-read it with others (like Landis’ The Sisters Impossible and Edward Stewart’s Ballerina, which was clearly intended for a much older audience) and imagined myself in toe shoes with every page-turn.

Anyone else bit by the ballet bug as a young reader?