I received this as a Christmas present, when I was 8 nearly 9. It was just 40 years old, and that was, er hum, 40 years ago. It had been serialised on the TV the previous year, but as we didn't have a TV I didn't see it. Most of the rest of the nation did, so this particular edition was a TV tie-in, reprinted twice in one year (whereas Puffin had previously often only reprinted once every two years!
There are numerous covers available and I have taken many pictures off the internet and posted them below. Nowadays, as an adult, I prefer older style covers - wait until I get started on Chalet School books - because the artwork is more arty. The children's paperbacks I have from the 70s and 8os are very much of their time. I'm sure it's done with the best intentions, to make the book appeal to modern children rather than appear recherché. As a twenty first century adult I much prefer retro covers, whether the books are children's or adults, and whether they date from back then or are contemporary accounts of the past!
I have no hesitation in naming Ballet Shoes as a favourite novel of my Primary School years. You only have to look at it in the box set of other much re-read Noel Streatfield novels to realise just how often I re-read it.
It's a tale of three girls, Pauline, Petrova and Posy, born between 1920 -1924. This makes just about the same age as my oldest three aunts. This book ends and was published in 1936, like my youngest Aunt, a rare product of Edward VIII's reign. I am currently reading a biography of the Mitford Sisters; the youngest, Debo, the late Duchess of Devonshire, was born the same year as Pauline Fossil and my oldest Aunt. Posy Fossil is just a couple of years older than the Queen and David Attenborough.
The three girls are adopted by 'Great Uncle Matthew' who disappears off to sea for over ten years, leaving them in the care of his Great Niece Sylvia, her Nana, Cook and Clara the housemaid. There is considerable silliness in the opening, scene-setting, section - the capricious adoptions, and the pseudo-poverty of living in a six storey house in Kensington, shopping at Harrods and being taken away from their prep school to be home educated (almost as if Primary Schools didn't exist!). Get over that and you're into a very well written and beautiful book.
It's nice to read as an adult and discover that the writer isn't talking down to you. I find many modern children and young adults' books problematic. They're less coy about puberty and bodies in general, and are more aware of societal issues, but they do assume a level of stupidity in the readership.
Many of the books I loved as a kid are supposedly out of fashion - although Ballet Shoes was televised again about five years ago, and Swallows and Amazons has just been made into a film. The thinking is that they are focused very much on upper-middle class children and are about lifestyles that most children can't begin to aspire to (whether it's acting in professional stage productions or messing around in boats). And, yet, the most popular modern children's series is a bunch of kids at boarding school who, rather than acting or sailing, do magic and play Quidditch.
I seem to be reading a lot of fiction and non-fiction set in the interwar period and this notably almost entirely avoids the growing unrest in Europe. King George V dies towards the end of the book, but I presume it was published just before The Abdication, and there's certainly no mention of Mrs Simpson...well, not that one, I guess the lodger wouldn't have been called Mrs Simpson if the book had gone to press just a few weeks later. I did notice that almost all the senior crew at Pauline's screentest and for the Charles II film had Jewish names. I didn't notice this as a child, and they appear only as names, but they were surely deliberately chosen by Noel Streatfield, hopefully for positive rather than negative reasons.
I read this so many times as a kid that I became obsessed by ballet. This is really quite odd, because it's about theatre far more than ballet, which only really happens on the periphery. Unlike some of my contemporaries (and both my nieces) I never went for ballet lessons. Nowadays, while I don't dislike ballet I would rather watch an opera or a play or go to a concert. I thought my favourite character was Posy but in hindsight, it was probably Petrova who had the greatest influence on me, not least because she wasn't overly girly but nor was she butch. There seems to be a general assumption on the internet that she became a pilot in the ATA, and I have a vague recollection from reading The Painted Garden 30-odd years ago that she did some wartime flying.
It is a fascinating glimpse of life behind the scenes in the less than glamorous world of child actors. My cousin's lad did a bit of pro acting as a child (eg in Woof on TV) and she was amazed that even in the 80s/90s, she had to get a 'licence' for him to perform.
Overall, it's a brilliant book because there are some wonderfully sympathetic characters and some great dialogue. Noel Streatfeild has an instinct for understanding children's feelings. Although they're basically good girls, they do have their tantrums and sulks and the feeling that 'nothing good is ever going to happen again'. Nana is small minded but never mean ('limited' one would say), and, yes, everybody is a type, but they're so wonderful - the lady doctors (academics not medics), Clara the housemaid who loved the movies. Rich characters, and so many of us see Pauline, Petrova and Posy as 'real' people.