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Ballet Shoes for Anna

Ballet Shoes for Anna was first published in 1972. It is now out of print, although the recent (1998) Collins Modern Classic paperback may still be available in shops.


Story | Connections to Other Books | Thoughts | Editions and Availability

Story

Francesco, Augustus ("Gussie") and Anna Docksay live in a caravan with their parents, Christopher and Olga. Christopher Docksay is English, but ran away from home when his father would not let him train to be an artist. He "had a rare gift for getting on to canvas light and heat such as you see and feel in hot countries" and after training in Paris "his name became known and his pictures sold" (Ballet Shoes for Anna, 1972:13). He met and married Olga in Turkey: Francesco was born in Iran, Gussie in India and Anna in Turkey.

Olga's father had been a ballet teacher in Poland, and he teaches all three of his grandchildren to dance. The boys dance quite well, but in Anna there is a special spark. The family are staying with Olga's parents, when Christopher asks the children to take a picture to the next village to be framed. While they are walking home there is an earthquake, and when they get back they find that the whole village is gone.

With parents and grandparents dead, the children are sent to their only living relative - Christopher's brother in England. The children find it difficult to become accustomed to the strange, new country, but they do their best to fit in. However, the biggest challenge of all is to ensure that Anna can continue her ballet training.

Connections to Other Books

There do not appear to be any connections between Ballet Shoes for Anna and other Noel Streatfeild books. (It has no connections to the other "shoes" books.)

Thoughts

(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have not read the book.)

Ballet Shoes for Anna is the last of Noel's books to have a contemporary setting. Noel does not appear to have had a great deal of interest in writing about suburban families. Although she had done so in the Gemma series, the Robinson family were, to say the least, unusually talented; and the suburban openings of The Growing Summer and Caldicott Place were merely a lead in to the families moving to large country houses. By contrast, after a decidely exotic opening, Ballet Shoes for Anna moves to a location that would have been instantly familiar to many of Noel's readers. However, some aspects of the story - such as Gussie's involvement with The Gang - feel as if they have been consciously included because that was what "contemporary children" were supposed to want, rather than because Noel herself was interested in them.

In concept, Ballet Shoes for Anna is not dissimilar from Lorna Hill's 1956 book Rosanna Joins the Wells, in which a girl from Italy is sent to live with English relatives who will not pay for her to have dancing lessons. However, where Rosanna is a traditional Cinderella type, and her English relatives are broadly drawn and unsympathetic, Noel's characters are distinctly more complex. Geraldine Brennan feels that Ballet Shoes for Anna gives "a terrifying portrait of a retired bank manager's philistine household in an Essex suburb" (1995:3). Cecil Docksay is not a caricature, nor is he evil - or even intentionally unkind to the children, though he is certainly not actively kind or welcoming. He simply has a different value system from the children, and is too inflexible to accept that theirs may be equally valid.

However, Ballet Shoes for Anna is not generally considered to be among Noel's best books. The permanent sense of tension in the household, together with the overriding imperative for the children to make money for Anna's lesson, preclude the leisurely character development that was a feature of so many of her earlier books. Angela Bull describes it as "disappointing", and refers to a review by The Observer which "condemned its 'easy snobberies' and 'facile assumptions about virtue and talent'" (1984:237). She suggests that "nearly eighty, Noel saw herself beginning to be patronized as a writer stuck in a groove, outstripped by younger writers with soaring reputations, and blamed for being out of touch with a new generation of readers" (1984:237). Ballet Shoes for Anna was her last attempt to counter this argument with consciously contemporary settings and concerns. For the remainder of her life, she wrote books set in earlier times with which she was more comfortable - and, of course, enjoyed the continuing enormous sales of her earlier books.

Editions and Availability

UK Editions

Ballet Shoes for Anna was first published in 1972, with cover painting and illustrations by Mary Dinsdale.

Collins republished it in 1976 as an "Lion" paperback, still with the Mary Dinsdale illustrations, but with a new cover design. It was reissued several times in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the later 1970s it came out as a "Fontana Lion" paperback with the Betty Maxey illustrations and a (different) photographic cover. This edition continued to be republished into the 1980s, with yet another cover design.

Collins also included it in their 1995 Noel Streatfeild Omnibus (together with Thursday's Child and White Boots .)

A Collins Modern Classic paperback edition was released in 1998.

US Editions

There does not seem to have been a US edition of Ballet Shoes for Anna.

Out of Print

The Collins Modern Classic paperback edition of Ballet Shoes for Anna may still be available in shops. However, it is no longer listed on the HarperCollins website, and can therefore be assumed to be out of print.

In February 2004, second hand copies through online booksellers start in price at 1.50. (Source: Addall Used and Out of Print Book Search.)

 


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© 1972 Noel Streatfeild

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