Wintle's Wonders was first published in 1957. The US edition
was released in 1958, and entitled Dancing Shoes. It is
still available in the US, but appears to be out of print in the
Story | Connections
to Other Books | Thoughts | Editions
Rachel and her adopted sister Hilary live with Rachel's mother.
Rachel's father, a film star, died when the girls were seven,
and because he had not been a film star long enough to save money,
there is very little to spare. However, Rachel and her mother
are determined that Hilary (whose real mother was a dancer) will
have ballet lessons. Hilary has talent at ballet, but she is not
really interested in it.
When the girls are ten - just before Hilary's audution for the
Royal Ballet School - their mother dies, and they go to live with
their Uncle Tom, his wife, Aunt Cora, and their cousin Dulcie.
Aunt Cora is better known as Mrs Wintle, and she runs a dancing
school for girls to perform in pantomimes, musicals and reviews
- "Mrs Wintle's Little Wonders". Dulcie, who is the
same age as Rachel and Hilary, is very attractive and a talented
dancer, but also very spoiled by her mother.
Mrs Wintle had originally only been willing to take in Rachel,
and had planned to send Hilary to an orphanage. However, when
she sees Hilary dancing, she realises that she would make a splendid
Little Wonder. Rachel is determined that their mother's dream
to see Hilary as a ballerina will be realised. She is horrified
by the type of dancing taught at Mrs Wintle's school, and is determined
that Hilary will continue with her ballet (which is also taught
at the school, although only to a small number of pupils). However,
Hilary prefers the tap and acrobatics that are the main stock-in-trade
of the Wonders, and Rachel can only make her concentrate on ballet
by bribing her with pocket-money.
To add to Rachel's problems, she is also to be trained as a Wonder,
despite a total lack of aptitude or interest. Although she works
hard, she gets no pleasure from it, and does not improve much,
remaining a "bottom of the barrel" Wonder.
Mrs Wintle's school does not offer ordinary lessons - only dancing
- so Rachel and Hilary learn with Dulcie and her governess, Mrs
Storm. Rachel likes working with Mrs Storm - especially when she
starts giving them elocution and acting lessons.
Connections to Other
Wintle's Wonders/Dancing Shoes has no connections
to the other "shoes" books.
(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have
not read the book.)
Like Noel's earlier children's books Ballet
Shoes and Curtain Up,
Wintle's Wonders is set in a stage school. However, it
is not a high-class establishment like the Children's Academy.
Rather, Noel returns to the somewhat second-rate establishments
of her adult works The Whicharts and It Pays to be
Good, where "children in cutely infantile outfits cartwheel
and kick their way into pantomime troupes" (Bull,
1984: 213). Madame Fidolia's students learn acting (both in English
and French), ballet, tap and character dancing, singing and fencing.
At Mrs Wintle's school, everyone learns tap, musical comedy, acrobatics
and singing, and a small number of children also have ballet lessons.
Essentially, Madame Fidolia's objective is to prepare children
for a variety of careers on the stage, whereas Mrs Wintle is "famous
for her troupes of dancers. Sometimes she got an engagement for
a child as a principal, but it was unusual. ... So the aim of
the school was to teach all the pupils to dance alike" (Wintle's
However, there is some overlap between the two schools. Petrova's
experience as a jumping bean in Jack in the Beanstalk
(with twenty three other girls from the Academy, and a matron
who organises games for them) seems very similar to the life Rachael
dreads, and Hilary desires, as a Wonder. Furthermore, the degree
of total professionalism shown by the child performers is the
same in both books. The big difference is that Madame Fidolia
and her students have higher ambitions than being jumping beans
- not just in the "quality" of the productions (Shakespeare
and ballet), but in aspiring to fulfilling individual careers.
The Wonders, however, seem quite content to spend the rest of
their lives in troupes.
In spite of this, Wintle's Wonders still has more in
common with Noel's books for children than with The Wichards
and It Pays to be Good. The cheap, shoddy atmosphere
of the adult novels has been reworked into somthing softer.
The girls in Mrs Wintle's school are all dedicated, professional
and well cared-for. They also thoroughly enjoy their lives as
Wonders. There is nothing in the way of jealousy, bitterness or
scheming against others for better roles. Even the less successful
- such as the Look Up and Smile group who are talented
but either "the too tall, too fat or too plain sort for the
best shows" (Wintle's Wonders, 1957:106) - accept
their fate sadly but with resignation. Like Noel's other children's
books, Wintle's Wonders takes a much more optimistic,
romantic view of the world, and the more sordid aspects of life
in the theater are totally excised.
Nancy Huse points out
that a "crucial question raised by the novel is whether to
value the training provided by the Madame Fidolias of the world
... over the showy entertainment offered by Wintle-trained performers"
(1994:114). She feels that "it is unfair to describe this
preference [for the training provided by Madame Fidolia over that
of Mrs Wintle] as Streatfeild's unqualified view of the arts.
Rather, Streatfeild conveys the multiple needs for entertainment
rightfully claimed by a diverse public" (1994: 114). Angela
Bull, on the other hand, argues that this simply results in
confusion, as "instead of finding a proper solution, Noel
muddles herself and her readers. Because Hilary has been labelled
'nice', she cannot be condemned outright for her choice of cartwheels
and high kicks, yet Noel clearly despises them ... The result
is a chaotically shifting viewpoint" (1984:213). I would
suggest, however, that another, less confusing, reading is possible.
Certainly, the sense of the book is that pantomime and musical
comedy are a lower form of performance art than ballet and Shakespeare.
However, in spite of their lower artistic standards, all of the
Wonders are "nice" girls (an effect of the romantic
approach Noel takes in her children's books), and their professional
dedication - regardless of its environment - is to be admired.
Bull also feels that
the "once subtle dissection of character is lost" (1984:214),
and agrees with a critic for The Times Literary Supplement
that Wintle's Wonders is simply a replica of Noel's early
works. Certainly, there are similarities to earlier works, particularly
in the minor characters - Pursey is the ubiquitous Nana type,
while Uncle Tom, Mrs Wintle and Mrs Storm are closely related
to Uncle David, Aunt Claudia and Goldie from White
Boots. However, Noel's gallery of minor characters had
been developed over many years, and the vast majority of her books
have at least one or two characters from it, so it is not really
fair to claim that Wintle's Wonders marks a sudden lack
Furthermore, I would argue that Rachel and Hilary are not, as
Bull suggests, "paler
versions of Harriet and Lalla" (1984:214) - or, indeed, of
any of her other characters. In fact, Rachel is probably closer
to Sorrel Forbes, as both of these girls are thrust into a strange
environment, in which they initially feel inferior, but ultimately
blossom as actresses. In addition, both Rachel and Sorrel spend
much of the book with their ambition focussed on a sibling - Rachel
with her determination that Hilary shall go to the Royal Ballet
School, and Sorrel with hers that Mark will enter the Navy. Rachel
is, if anything, more driven than Sorrel in this regard, in that
she takes positive action to ensure her goal is reached, while
Sorrel feels overpowered by the adults. Rachel also spends much
more time trying to be something she is not, and does not want
to be - a Wonder - whereas Sorrel's talent is far more readily
recognised and accepted. Thus, although the characters are similar,
the differences in their circumstances mean that they are presented
Similarly, Hilary is not the same as Lalla. Both characters have
charm in abundance, but while Lalla is fiercely ambitious and
cannot accept not being the centre of attention, Hilary is unambitous,
and likes being part of the crowd. The Rachel-Hilary relationship
is also quite different from that of Harriet and Lalla. White
Boots was Noel's most detailed examination of the ups
and downs of friendship. Rachel and Hilary, by contrast, are perhaps
her strongest example of a sibling bond. Although Rachel's attempts
to force Hilary down a path she does not wish to follow are misguided,
and lead to disputes between the sisters, her absolute commitment
to her sister is never in doubt.
Editions and Availability
Wintle's Wonders was first published by Collins in 1957,
with illustrations by Richard Kennedy.
In 1967 it was reissued as a Collins Evergreen Library hardcover,
still with the Richard Kennedy illustrations.
Hodder & Stoughton Children's released a paperback edition, using
the US title of Dancing Shoes, in 1995.
In 1958, it was released in the United States by Random House,
as Dancing Shoes, with illustrations by Richard Floethe.
In the 1980s and 1990s, there were a number of paperback and
trade paperback editions by Random House, and their subsidiary
Bantam Doubleday Dell and Alfred A Knopf, Inc. Bullseye Books.
As I have not read the US editions, I do not know if the text
was in any way amended.
Still in Print
The Hodder & Stoughton paperback edition of Dancing Shoes
may still be available in shops. However, it is no longer
listed on the Hodder
Children's Books website, and can therefore be assumed to
be out of print.
In the US, Dancing Shoes is available as a Random
House Books for Young Readers trade paperback, with illustrations
by Diane Goode.