Ballet Shoes was first published in 1936 and is still
in print. According to Katharine
Gunn (1985:23), it was originally subtitled A Children's
Novel of the Theatre. However, by 1946 (perhaps earlier) the
subtitle had been changed to A Story of Three Children on
the Stage. In many editions, this subtitle appears on the
title page, but not on the cover; and in some cases it is omitted
EXCITING NEWS!! On 20 July 2007, the BBC announced a
major new dramatisation of Ballet
Story | Connections
to Other Books | Photographs | Background
| Awards | Thoughts
| Editions and Availability | Other
Ballet Shoes tells the story of Pauline, Petrova and Posy
Fossil, who were adopted as babies by Great Uncle Matthew (or
"Gum"). Pauline was the only survivor from a shipwrecked
boat, Petrova the orphaned child of a Russian couple, and Posy
the daughter of a widowed ballet dancer. They are looked after
by Gum's great-niece, Sylvia, and her old nurse, Nana.
When Gum goes away on an extended journey, money becomes tight,
and Syliva decides to take in boarders. Two of the boarders, Doctor
Smith and Doctor Jakes, take over the education of the children
(much to the relief of Sylvia, who had been teaching them herself
when she could no longer afford to send them to school.)
Doctor Jakes tells Pauline that "the three of you might
make the name of Fossil really important, really worth while,
and if you do, it's all your own." As a result of this, the
three sisters make a vow: "We three Fossils vow to try and
put our names in history books because it's our very own and nobody
can say it's because of our grandfathers."
Another boarder, Theo Dane, is a ballet teacher at The Children's
Academy of Dancing and Stage Training. After seeing Posy dance,
she arranges for the head of the school, Madame Fidolia, to train
them free of charge. This means that as each child reaches the
age of twelve, she will be able to work professionally on the
Pauline soon shows talent as an actress, while Posy is clearly
a gifted ballerina. Petrova, however, would rather spend time
working with Mr Simpson (another of the boarders) in his garage.
As the story progresses, first Pauline and then Petrova reach
the age of twelve and get parts in various plays, while Posy becomes
more and more focussed on her dancing.
(The M'audition Pieces
article gives details of the speeches Pauline and Petrova recite
at their auditions.)
Connections to Other
Ballet Shoes has a number of connections to other Noel
Streatfeild books and short stories.
"What Happened to Pauline, Petrova and Posy" is a short
story in which we are told "a little about the way things
turned out for the three girls".
Another short story, "Coralie", features Doctor Smith
and Doctor Jakes, and has Pauline in a peripheral role.
In Curtain Up, Pauline,
Petrova and Posy arrange for three children to have scholarships
to The Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training. Although
the three Fossils do not appear in person, they do write letters
to the scholarship holders. Madame Fidolia and Miss Jay appear
at the school, as does Pauline's friend Winifred, who is now a
In The Painted Garden,
one of the characters has been a student at the Children's Academy,
and meets Pauline and Posy in America.
One of the characters in Apple
Bough trains under Madame Fidolia at the Children's Academy.
Aside from this, Ballet Shoes has no connections to the
other "shoes" books.
Ballet Shoes is very firmly located in London. Below are
some photographs of what the locations look like today.
By the end of 1935, Noel Streatfeild had published four adult
novels, all of which featured children, as well as a set of short
plays for children. Then, in early 1936, Mabel Carey, the children's
editor for J. M. Dent & Sons publishing, proposed that she
write a children's novel about the theatre.
Although she agreed to this, it does not seem that Noel was particularly
interested in this new line of work: she saw herself as an adult
novelist, not a writer for children. When writing the book, she
actually used her first adult novel
- The Whicharts - as a starting point. She adapted the
setting and basic character types, but focussed exclusively on
the characters' childhood, and developed the story in a far more
positive, and less cynical, manner.
As with some of her adult works, Noel's extensive knowledge of
the theatre world grounds Ballet Shoes very thoroughly
in reality. However, she also managed to "recapture ... something
of the thrill with which [as a child] she had watched Lila Field's
Little Wonders" (Bull:
1984, p. 135).
Mabel Carey suggested that a suitable illustrator for the book
might be Ruth Gervis - not realising that Ruth was Noel Streatfeild's
elder sister. Angela Bull
(1984: 136) feels that the sisters' "collaboration on Ballet
Shoes was perfect, Ruth's drawings imprinting for ever on
the readers' minds the definitive versions of pretty, blonde Pauline,
dark-haired Petrova with her shy half-smiles, and lively little
136). Ruth's original drawings for Ballet Shoes are now
held by The
Centre for the Children's Book.
On its publication, Ballet Shoes received universal praise
from the critics, and the first edition sold out quickly. In Beyond
the Vicarage (1971: 92), Noel tells of trying to buy copies
for friends who were demanding them. (Dent had been unable to
supply her with extra copies.)
Deciding everybody who wanted one should have a copy for Christmas,
Victoria [Noel's name for herself in Beyond the Vicarage]
went to Hatchard's in Piccadilly. ... However in the children's
department she learnt some surprising news. "Oh, no,"
said the saleswoman, "we don't keep Ballet Shoes
up here. It has its own department downstairs."
It proved to be quite true. At the far end of the shop there
was a trestle table on which were piled copies of Ballet
Shoes. Two girls were in charge.
"Twelve copies please," said Victoria.
The girls looked shocked.
"Oh no, madam. Every customer is restricted to one copy."
There were people around, so Victoria whispered.
"But I wrote it."
The girl looked at Victoria as if she was some weird monster.
Then she went into a huddle with the other girl.
"Under these circumstances," they said, "you
can have two copies."
1936 - Runner up for the inaugural Carnegie
Medal (won by Arthur Ransome for Pigeon Post.)
1948 - Listed by the Library Association as one of a number of
"books which should always be in print".
1991 - Library of Congress Children's Books of the Year
(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have
not read the book.)
In spite of its title, Ballet Shoes is not really a "ballet
story" - not when it is compared to the "Wells"
and "Drina" books of Lorna Hill and Jean Estoril (Mabel
Esther Allen). There is only one occasion where we see an actual
ballet class (and the main focus of that is Posy's mischief),
only a few mentions of ballet movements and other technicalities,
and there is only one passing reference to an actual ballet production.
Furthermore, Posy is the only one of the girls whose thoughts
we are never shown. Pauline and Petrova are the two major perspective
characters, and we are occasionally given insights into Sylvia
and Nana, but we never know what Posy is thinking unless she tells
In fact, the subtitle - A Story of Three Children on the Stage
- gives us a better idea of what the book is "about".
Not the art of ballet, nor even really the art of acting - though
in fact it contains more about acting than about ballet - but
rather about "children on the stage". We may not learn
much about ballet, but we learn a great deal about auditions,
about the law surrounding child performers and about life backstage.
It is also, like all of Noel's children's
fiction, a family story. Cadogan
and Craig view this as its most important aspect, describing
the work as a "family story story with a theatrical bias"
(1976:286). Despite their different talents, the Fossil sisters
have an intense loyalty to each other, and to Sylvia and Nana,
and much of the driving force of the novel is the need to earn
enough money to keep the family going. Pauline and Petrova are
both willing to make sacrifices for the family (Petrova by not
telling Sylvia how much she hates acting; Pauline by taking up
a film contract, rather than the stage career she desires). Posy
has the extreme self-centredness of most of Noel's dancers, and
it would never even occur to her to compromise her own career,
but we nevertheless feel that the family unit is very important
Noel Streatfeild and her sisters are not the only children who
have been fascinated by the lives of "child stars",
and by taking the knowledge she gained from her years as an actress,
and wrapping it up in an engaging tale of three children who "come
alive" to readers, Noel has created a story that appears
to have timeless appeal.
Ballet Shoes and The Whicharts
Ballet Shoes begins very much as a rehash of Noel's first
adult novel, The Whicharts -
indeed, the opening of the two books is almost identical:
The Whichart children lived in the Cromwell Road. At that
end of it which is furthest from the Brompton Road, and
yet sufficiently near it to be taken to look at the dolls'
houses in the Victoria and Albert every wet day, and if
not too wet expected to "save the penny and walk".
Saving the penny and walking was a great feature of their
"Our Father," Maimie the eldest would say, "must
have been a definitely taxi person; he couldn't have known
about walking, or he'd never have bought a house at the
far end of the longest road in London."
The Fossil sisters lived in the Cromwell Road. At that
end of it which is furthest away from the Brompton Road,
and yet sufficiently near it to be taken to look at the
dolls' houses in the Victoria and Albert every wet day,
and if not too wet expected to "save the penny and
Saving the penny and walking was a great feature of their
"Gum," Pauline, the eldest would say, "must
have been a very taxi person; he couldn't have ever thought
about walking or he'd never have bought a house at the far
end of the longest road in London."
However, Ballet Shoes is not simply a retelling
of The Whicharts. For one thing, it covers a much shorter
time span, finishing when Pauline is still only fifteen, rather
than following the girls into adulthood.
The most significant difference between the two
books, however, is mood. Ballet Shoes is not only "bowdlerized
... tidied, and moved a few rungs up the social ladder" (Bull,
1984: 134) - it also takes a much more optimistic and romantic
view of the world. Although the two sets of sisters are superficially
quite similar, their background is somewhat sanitised in the children's
book: the Whicharts are all born out of wedlock, with the same
father but different mothers, while the Fossils have much more
romantic origins. Furthermore, Madame Fidolia's Academy is a much
classier establishment than Madame Elise's, and the Fossils prove
to have more genuine talent than the Whichart sisters.
describes the ending of The Whicharts as "bittersweet",
and all of the characters suffer through the exigencies of real
life, and the more sordid aspects of working in theatre. By contrast,
at the end of Ballet Shoes, all of the Fossils are moving
on to live their dreams. There is still a bittersweet element,
as Pauline is headed for a film career, rather than the stage
life she wants; but we are comforted by the fact that it is only
a five-year contract, and she will probably be able to return
to the stage after that. Furthermore, we know that each of the
Fossils will be successful - to an extent that would simply never
have been possible for The Whicharts.
Editions and Availability
Ballet Shoes: A Children's Novel of the Theatre
was first published in 1936 by J. M. Dent & Sons. The illustrations
in this edition were by Ruth Gervis (Noel Streatfeild's sister).
Since its first release, there have been numerous different editions.
It was released in the United States in 1937,
by Random House. It was titled simply Ballet Shoes, and
the illustrations were by Richard Floethe. It has been reissued
As I have not read the US editions, I do not know if the text
was in any way amended.
Still in print
Ballet Shoes is still in print in both
the UK and the US, with a number of different editions available.
In the UK, Puffin Books has two editions.
paperback contains the original illustrations by Ruth Gervis.
Classic paperback is illustrated by Piers Sanford. (NB The
Puffin website spells Noel's surname incorrectly for the Modern
The US Random
House Books for Young Readers trade paperback is illustrated
by Diane Goode.
In 1947, a radio version of Ballet Shoes,
scripted by Felicity Douglas, was broadcast on the Children's
Hour, and was repeated at least three times. This production was
introduced by music from Wolf-Ferrari's Jewels of the Madonna.
Movie Database lists a film version of Ballet Shoes,
produced in 1975 by the BBC. It is apparently available in the
US on both video and DVD.
There have also been several audiobooks of Ballet
Shoes. In 1979, Argo Spoken Word released a version narrated
by Moira Shearer. This ran for approximately 2 hrs 35 minutes
(2 audio cassetttes), with the abridgement done by Noel Streatfeild.
There has also been a version narrated by Jan Francis (EMI Records
"Listen for Pleasure" series, 1987), and one by Harriet
Walter (BBC Spoken Word). Unfortunately, it appears that these
are no longer available.
In December 1999, BBC Radio 4 ran a 5-part dramatisation
of Ballet Shoes, adapted by Ellen Dryden, directed by Don
Taylor, and starring Rosemary Leach. In March 2001 this was released
as a BBC
Spoken Word set of audio cassettes.
House Audio Publishing website lists an audiobook version
in both cassette and audio download formats. However, as the publication
date is shown as October 2004, they may not yet be available.
The site does not list who the story is narrated by.
It appears that in 2001, the London Children's
Ballet did a production of Ballet Shoes, choreographed
by Cathy Marston (mentioned in the January 2001 edition of Ballet
2007 TV Series
On 20 July 2007, the BBC announced a major
new dramatisation of Ballet Shoes. The feature-length
film is a Granada production. Filming begins in August, and it
is due to transmit on BBC One later this year. Hopefully it will
also be shown in other countries.
The Fossils are being played by Emma
Watson (Pauline), Yasmin
Paige (Petrova) and Lucy
Boynton (Posy). Other members of the all-star cast
More information may be found at: