White Boots was first published in 1951. The US edition
(also 1951) was entitled Skating Shoes. UK editions are
still available, but it is out of print in the US.
Story | Connections
to Other Books | Background
| Thoughts | Editions
and Availability | Other
Harriet Johnson has been sick, and her doctor recommends taking
up ice skating to build up strength in her legs. At the ice rink,
Harriet meets Lalla Ward. Harriet has three brothers - Alec, Toby
and Edward - and they live with their parent over the shop owned
by Mr Johnson. The only reason they can afford for Harriet to
skate is that the doctor has arranged for her to get free entry
to the rink, and Alec pays for hire of skating boots by doing
a paper run. Lalla lives with her wealthy Aunt Claudia and Uncle
David, as her parents are dead - they drowned when her father,
a champion skater, took her mother skating on thin ice. Aunt Claudia
is determined that Lalla will become a champion like her father.
She is looked after by Nana, has lessons with a governess, Miss
Goldthorpe ("Goldie"), and as well as daily skating
lessons, she learns ballet and fencing.
Harriet and Lalla soon become best friends, as Lalla teaches
Harriet to skate. However, Lalla's training does not leave her
much free time to see Harriet away from the rink. However, this
changes when Goldie and Uncle David decide it would be good for
her if Harriet was able to share her lessons. Before long, Harriet
is not only doing schoolwork with Lalla - she is also joining
in ballet and fencing ... and she, too, is learning to skate well.
Connections to Other
Noel Streatfeild wrote some short stories featuring the characters
from White Boots.
"The Skaters" is a short story about Harriet and Lalla,
set three years after the conclusion of White Boots.
Another short story, "Ordinary Me", features Harriet
and Lalla, and Max Lindblom makes a brief appearance.
Max Lindblom is also mentioned in the short story "Skating
to the Stars".
White Boots/Skating Shoes has no connections to
the other "shoes" books.
Noel received a great deal of fan mail, and some children mentioned
that they were involved in ice dancing. When speaking to her American
editor, Bennett Cerf, Noel suggested the possibility of a skating
book, and he was very enthusiastic.
As with Tennis Shoes,
Noel again had to research a subject about which she knew absolutely
nothing. Barbara Ker Wilson
quotes a Radio Times article ("How I came to write
White Boots, 20 June 1960) in which Noel says "I
gave myself a whole skating season in which to study skating.
That is to say, from the autumn of one year to the summer term
of the next" (Wilson,
1961:34). She paid for course of twelve skating lessons for her
secretary, "who was young and graceful ... The poor girl
nobly gave in, and once a week she went off to the other end of
everywhere, boots and skates in her hand, and came back groaning
that she ached all over, and usually with a bruise or two, which
made sitting to type awkward for several days" (Radio
Times article, cited in Wilson,
As well as learning vicariously through her secretary, Noel read
books on skating, and asked the editor of The Skater
about the requirements for the different skating tests. She watched
skaters in training, and "knelt on wet cold ice studying
what made them faulty or otherwise" (Radio Times
article, cited in Wilson,
1961:35). She also attended every stage of the European and World
Championships. "People were very kind. They sat by me for
hours on end, explaining why one skater would get more marks for
a figure than another. Finally I reached the grand state of being
able to guess reasonably accurately exactly what marks a skater
would get" (Radio Times article, cited
in Bull, 1984:205).
Before submitting the finished manuscript to her publishers,
Noel sent it to a famous skating judge for review.
(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have
not read the book.)
Unlike most of her other books, White Boots is more
about friendship than family (although family is important, and
the value of a happy family life over money is certainly central
to the story). Characters in earlier books had had friends (Winifred
in Ballet Shoes, the
other circus children in The Circus
is Coming, the three central families in The
Children of Primrose Lane) and they would occur in later
books as well (Robin's friend Nigs in Gemma
and its sequels, and Gussie's friends in Ballet
Shoes for Anna). Nevertheless, White Boots is
different in that the friendship between Harriet and Lalla is
the main focus of the storyline. As Nancy
Huse points out, "the overriding issue of friendship
and its high stakes takes precedence over even the usual Streatfeild
emphasis on training and the satisfaction of performing"
Huse describes the book
as "a drama of friendship with accurate sociological and
psychological recognitions by two 10-year-olds ... of what it
means to be involved in another's play, work, and financial and
emotional contexts" (1994:92). Huse
suggests that this may have been inspired by events in Noel's
own life. She had just begun what was to be a deep and enduring
friendship with Margot Grey, and, in addition, "had lost
Daphne Ionides and another friend, Theodora Newbold, to their
possessive involvement with each other ... [White Boots]
draws a great deal of its strength from a vision of merging lives
and the threat of betrayal by unwanted emotion" (1994:93).
Angela Bull feels that
the "greatest triumph of White Boots is the character
of Lalla. Charm is a difficult quality for a writer to convey,
easy to assert, but hard to evoke, but Lalla has charm in abundance.
At times cocky, at times self-pitying, she is always loveable
and real" (1984:205-6). Although the reader may be angry
about the way she treats Harriet, her suffering as she struggles
with the change edge loops is both believable and heartbreaking,
and there is an enormous sense of relief when she is finally able
to admit the dreadful truth: "I just couldn't do them. The
were too difficult" (White Boots, 1951:249).
However, Harriet, too, has personality. Initially, she seems
like an underconfident "good girl" character, very much
in awe of Lalla's abilities. Even though she speaks her mind to
the doctor - "How would you be if you were made to walk up
and down a river in almost winter, all by yourself, getting colder
and colder, and bored-er and bored-er, with absolutely nothing
to do" - it is clear that this something that "she would
never have done in the ordinary way" (White Boots,
1951:13). However, as was the case with characters such as Sorrel
in Curtain Up, once
Harriet discovers her vocation, she begins to change:
During the last six months the little-girl Harriet,
without her noticing it, had disappeared and a new Harriet had
taken her place. A Harriet who looked much the same outside,
but was more of a person inside. Everybody noticed it. ... As
the day of the test came nearer Harriet was more and more wrapped
up in skating, and less and less noticing what people were thinking
or saying. She had private plans. ... Nobody must know what
she was planning or they would laugh at her, which was natural,
while she was no better than she was now, but she was sure if
she worked she would get better. (White Boots, 1951:229-230)
While friendship is the central focus of the book, other themes
are certainly present. The importance of family life is emphasised
through the juxtaposition of "poor little rich girl"
Lalla with the financially straitened but emotionally rich life
of the Johnson family. Angela
Bull also points to "the lesson that hard work and determination
are quite as essential to success as flair and personality; [and]
the varied opportunities within every field, so that Lalla can
look forward to a thrilling future starring in ice shows while
Harriet pursues her dedicated path towards the Olympic Games"
Editions and Availability
White Boots was first published by Collins in 1951, with
illustrations by Milein Cosman. This hardback edition was reissued
several times, including 1954 (fourth impression), 1962 and 1984.
In 1963, it was released in paperback by Puffin Books, still
with Milein Cosman's illustrations. This edition was reprinted
a number of times throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
In 1993, Collins released a paperback edition, and it was also
included in their 1995 Noel Streatfeild Omnibus (together
with Ballet Shoes for Anna
and Thursday's Child.)
The paperback edition was re-released in 1999.
In the same year as its UK release (1951), it was released in
the United States by Random House, as Skating Shoes,
with illustrations by Richard Floethe.
In 1964, Random House reissued it in a Library Binding, and in
1982 there was a Dell Bantam Books paperback edition, which was
reprinted in 1986.
As I have not read the US editions, I do not know if the text
was in any way amended.
Still in Print
Skating Shoes is
out of print in the US.
In the UK, a Collins
Modern Classics paperback was released in 2001. (The
1999 Collins paperback may still be available in shops,
although it is no longer listed on the HarperCollins
website, so can be assumed to be out of print.)
Publishers Ltd. © 1951 Noel Streatfeild
White Boots was played on the Children's
Hour as a radio serial in 1954.
In 1995, a one hour single cassette audiobook,
narrated by Joanna David, was released by ABM. However, this no
longer appears to be available. (NB Joanna David played Theo Dane
in the 1975 film version of Ballet