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Tennis Shoes

Tennis Shoes was first published in 1937. It has recently been reissued in the UK, although it is out of print in the US.


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

Story

Tennis Shoes is about the Heath family: Jim and Susan (twins), Nicky and David. Their father is a doctor, and their mother "just the right sort of wife for a doctor". Also in the household are Annie (formerly a circus acrobat, now their cook), and Miss Pinn ("Pinny") who was trained as a governess, but is more of a "mother's help", since all of the children go to school.

Dr Heath's father had once been first class at tennis, and he encourages the children to take it up. He gives them a fancy moneybox - the "Tennis House" - and says they should all try to save money to pay for racquets, balls, and anything else they might need.

Initially, the children are taught by their father. Jim has some ability, but is not a particularly good student, as he argues with his father, and can be rather stubborn. Susan is extremely promising, gaining success in tournaments, and recognition by the press. Nicky has a natural aptitude, but, like Jim, is not a good student, and is also very lazy. David (who is only four when the book starts) is less involved in tennis than the rest of the family, as he is more interested in singing.

By the end of the book, three of the children have decided that they only wish to play tennis for fun, rather than making a career of it. All the family's support, therefore, is placed behind the one who is most likely to be a champion.

Connections to Other Books

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

Background

With the success of Ballet Shoes, J. M. Dent & Sons naturally wanted another book, even though Noel's initial reaction was "I don't want to write another book for children" (Beyond the Vicarage, 1971: 94). Mabel Carey tried to encourage her by asking if there had been any other children, aside from performers, whom she had envied as a child. "That gave Victoria [Noel] an idea. All her life she had longed to be good at games - a longing never fulfilled because she had no ball sense. So she went back to her flat and planned a book for children about tennis" (Beyond the Vicarage, 1971: 95).

Of course, Noel had lived the research for Ballet Shoes, learning everything she needed to know during her time as an actress. By contrast, she had to actively investigate her subject for Tennis Shoes, going to a tennis club, watching children being coached, talking to both children and coaches, and reading books by and about tennis champions.

This meant that Tennis Shoes was much harder work than Ballet Shoes, and a comment in Beyond the Vicarage suggests that Noel found it very tiring: "At the end of this tennis study she said to her friends 'I know one thing, I simply hate tennis'". However, this feeling did not last: Angela Bull (1984:148) says that Tennis Shoes was always one of Noel's favourite books.

Tennis Shoes was published in 1937, and "once again the reviews were warmly enthusiastic" (Bull, 1984:148).

Awards

1937 - Runner up for the Carnegie Medal (won by Eve Garnett for The Family from One End Street.)

Thoughts

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

Angela Bull (1984:146) suggests that the character of Nicky Heath is something of a self-portrait for Noel Streatfeild. She also points out that making such a character the heroine of the book was quite risky: "Bumptious characters get short shrift in children's books ... In ninety-nine books out of a hundred Nicky would get her comeuppance ... Instead she is allowed the success she herself expects, and Noel's writing is so skilful that by the last tournament the reader is eagerly cheering her on" (Bull, 1984: 146-7). Noel must have enjoyed writing Nicky, and have received a positive response, as some of her characteristics - extreme self-confidence, "don't care" attitude - recur in later characters, such as Miss Virginia Bell of The Bell Family.

However, in admiring the character of Nicky, the reader should not overlook the realism of her older sister, Susan. After Nicky, Susan is the main perspective character in the book. She is also the one who, in a more conventional children's book, would ultimately have been successful. As Angela Bull points out, Susan is "the ideal heroine of the 1930s, modest, good-mannered, sporting, a natural conformer" (1984: 147). Initially very unsure of herself, Susan's self-confidence gradually grows on the foundation of the praise she receives from others - only to come crashing down when Nicky, rather than herself, is selected for special coaching. "Perhaps people had always known [that Nicky was better]. Perhaps they had been laughing at her. ... She did not mind Nicky being good enough for the county to coach. She only minded that she seemed to have been bolstered up by something that was not true" (Tennis Shoes, 1937:185). Susan has skill, and dedication, but ultimately she lacks the temperament to get all the way to the top. "She is too self-conscious, too nice, and too unsure to have complete faith in herself" (Bull, 1984:147). Nicky, by contrast, needs external factors to make her work at tennis, but unlike Susan her self-confidence comes from within, rather than from others. In fact, Nicky does seem to have more innate talent than Susan; but perhaps more importantly, she has the ego to make her a champion.

As with Ballet Shoes - and, indeed, almost all of Noel's writing for children - family is very important in Tennis Shoes. Nicky may initially seem something of an outsider, and certainly she has more arguments with other family members than any of the Fossil sisters. However, although she may try to hide it, she is proud of her family, and needs their support. At the end of the novel, when Jim tells her she doesn't mind whether they are watching her or not, she is forced to tell the truth - in her own, inimitable style: "The odd thing is, I do care. So there!" (Tennis Shoes, 1938:226).

Some readers compare Dr Heath to Aunt Claudia of White Boots, saying that he is putting far too much pressure on his children to be successful at tennis. They find this rather disturbing, as while Aunt Claudia is something of a figure of fun, there does not seem to be any authorial criticism of Dr Heath. In particular, there is a strong feeling that Nicky's punishment for selling the umbrellas - to receive umbrellas as Christmas and birthday presents for the next two years - is excessive and unkind.

Editions and Availability

UK Editions

Tennis Shoes was first published in 1937 by J. M. Dent & Sons, with illustrations by D. L. Mays.

Dent published a second edition reprint in 1947 ("with corrections and slight alterations"), and in 1952 there was a revised edition. I have not read the 1947 version of the text, but it is clear from the 1952 text that the various revisions do not change the plot in the slightest. The changes that have appeared by 1952 (some of which may also have been present in 1947) include the removal of a number of small matters that "date" the book, such as the price of table-tennis set and the names of actual tennis champions.

There was a further reprint in 1956 (described as "LYTS") and another in 1965 ("Pennant Books"): presumably these also use the 1952 version of the text.

In 1970, Knight Books released an unillustrated paperback. This edition has been further amended since the 1952 reprint - presumably by Noel herself, as the text is copyright "1970 Noel Streatfeild". References to money that had not been omitted from the 1952 version are mostly either changed (e.g. rides at the circus go from sixpence to a shilling) or have an explanation added ("there were still halfpennies, for decimal currency had not even been thought about"). In addition, David now plans to be a pop singer on TV, rather than a crooner on the air.

As an indication of the different versions of the text, changes from Chapter One are listed below:

1937 (first) edition

He would have liked to have been a soldier; but when he left school the Great War was being fought, so he went temporarily into the army, and just before the Armistice he was shot through the leg. Unfortunately his leg was very badly hurt and he walked lame ever afterwards.

1952 edition

He would have liked to have been a soldier; but in an accident he was shot through the leg. Unfortunately his leg was very badly hurt and he walked lame ever afterwards.

1970 edition

He would have liked to have been a soldier; but in an accident he was shot through the leg. Unfortunately his leg was very badly hurt and he walked lame ever afterwards.

Sometimes, after she became famous, he was called Rogers after the film star. Sometimes he was called Rogers after the film star. Sometimes he was called Rogers after the film star.
'Well, then,' he suggested, 'we have no cook. How about you coming to us?' 'Well, then,' he suggested, 'we have no cook. How about you coming to us?' 'Well, then,' he suggested, 'my wife is a secretary, so she has no time to cook. So how about you coming to us?'
She spent hours pouring over paper patterns in Weldon's and Harper's Bazaar or copying designs out of Vogue. She spent hours pouring over paper patterns in Weldon's and Harper's Bazaar or copying designs out of Vogue. She spent hours pouring over paper patterns in Harper's Bazaar or copying designs out of Vogue.
Jim won a lot of silver cups for swimming. Jim was good at swimming. Jim was good at swimming.
Pinny said that schoolroom tea was ready. Pinny said that schoolroom tea was ready. Pinny said that tea was ready.
Driving in the dog-cart meant going with their backs to the horses, and they were all sick that way round. Driving in the dog-cart meant going with their backs to the horses, and they were all sick that way round. Driving in the dog-cart meant going with their backs to the horses, and they were all sick that way round. Besides, they felt terribly conspicuous driving in it, for noboty else was pulled along by a horse.
Even if it's only a farthing. Even if it's only a farthing. Even if it's only a halfpenny.
I think I heard the bell for your dinner. I think I heard the bell for your dinner. I think I hear the bell for luncheon.

In 1984, a new paperback edition was released by Bantam Books: I am unsure which version of the text was used. Then, in 1988, Chivers Press released it as a Swift Book, in both paperback and hardcover. This edition used the 1952 revised text, and included the D L Mays illustrations.

US Editions

The United States edition was by Random House in 1938.

As I have not read the US edition, I do not know if the text was in any way amended.

Still in print

Tennis Shoes is out of print in the US.

In 2001, the UK publisher Jane Nissen Books (who specialise in reprinting children's classics) republished the 1952 edition with the original D. L. Mays illustrations. This edition is available through online bookstores such as Amazon.co.uk.

 

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