My first memory of Ballet Shoes is watching it on a Sunday evening as a child. I was completely drawn into the story of the Fossil sisters, three orphans growing up in London in the 1930s. Soon afterwards I read the book and loved it. Rereading it again as an adult was also wonderful, it has lost none of its original magic.
The Story: Great Uncle Matthew (GUM), a fossil collector, returns from his travels on three separate occasions with three baby girls. Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil grow up under the care of GUM’s great niece, Sylvia, and her Nana. After leaving Posy, Gum goes off on his adventures and as the years go by money becomes tight. The family take in several boarders, including Theo who teaches at The Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training.
Pauline, Petrova and Posy start classes at the school and we follow their progress as they learn how to dance, act and take language lessons. Once they are twelve they are able to earn money for performances which helps with the household expenses
The girls come from very different backgrounds – Pauline has been rescued from a sinking cruise ship, Petrova is a Russian orphan and Posy is the daughter of a dancer who is unable to care for her. When the girls start school they choose their surname, Fossil, and three times a year, on their birthdays, they make a solumn vow to put their unusual name into the history books.
There is no money for school so Pauline and Petrova are taught by their boarders, Doctor Jake and Doctor Smith. Lessons take place in the morning and in the afternoons they attend acting, dancing, singing and language classes at The Children’s Academy led by Madame Fidolia. Each girl has particular talents and interests which develop throughout the story. Pauline and Posy enjoy lessons at the Academy but Petrova would rather spend time with another boarder, Mr Simpson, who is happy to let her help him fix his motor car and talk to him about engines.
Ballet Shoes is a fascinating portrayal of life in 1930s London. The Fossils live in a big house on Cromwell Road but lack of money means that there is no money for luxuries, clothes are home-made and use of public transport is restricted. Despite their poverty, the girls’ childhood is happy, and they blossom under the care of Sylvia and Nana.
But with GUM’s whereabouts unknown and with money running out, Sylvia is worried. Pauline and Petrova are earning money from various acting and dancing roles but drastic measures may need to be taken…
Ballet Shoes documents childhood in another era and is a fascinating story for anybody who dreams of being on the stage. I wonder how many dancers and actors have been inspired by this story.
Age Range: 6 +
Author: Noel Streatfeild / Illustrator: Ruth Gervis