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White Boots

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 Media


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 Books

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, 1961:34).

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" (1994:97).

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" (1984:206).

Editions and Availability

UK Editions

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.

US Editions

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

1999 Collins paperback edition of White Boots     2001 Collins Modern Classics  paperback of White Boots - click to see HarperCollins webpage    

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.)

HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. © 1951 Noel Streatfeild

Other Media

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 Shoes.)


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Series and Links

Thumbnail image of dustjacket - click to enlarge

Thumbnail image of title page - click to enlarge

Images reproduced by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
© 1951 Noel Streatfeild

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