This month, Missy and I have begun reading my all time favourite children’s book Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.
I’d been hunting for the Cath Kidston ballet dancer fabric for Missy’s new bedroom, and finally found the duvet set in our local Bristol store, along with this limited edition book in a ballet print oilcloth childs bag. Of course I bought them!
We’re reading one chapter a night and I’m really enjoying re-visiting the book. Reading out loud means that I’m finding new pleasure in the book and its delightful story of three orphaned girls in 1930’s London.
I purposely didn’t watch the BBC1 film of the book a few years ago, as I didn’t want to tarnish my memories of the book or the pictures in my head of Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil as they enter The Children’s Academy of Dance, to train to be on the stage. (I wanted to name our daughter Posy, after the character in the book but this was veoted early on!)
As we read together, snuggled up in bed, I’m reminded of the reasons why I loved the book as a child. Apart from being about three sisters growing up (I’m one of three sisters), dancing and the London backdrop, I love the amazingly vivid descriptions of clothes which pepper the book, the list of clothes the girls need for their new life as trainee dancers and actors, outfits they deem appropriate or not for auditions, the descriptions of little girls embroidering at home and making do and mending hand-me-down clothes.
My favourite list was, and still is, right at the start of the book, when Sylvia or Garnie (the girl’s guardian) receives the list of clothes needed for life at The Academy;
“….Rompers, two each
Black patent ankle strap shoes
White tartalan dresses, two each
White knickers, two each, all frills…”
For a child who grew up in the 80’s wearing stone washed denim, shell suits and jelly shoes, this list was so romantic! And mysterious… what’s tartalan? In the days before Google, I had to make up my own image in my head but of course, these days, the first thing i did was to log and find out what tartalan actually is (a kind of muslin if you don’t know either!).
There were other words too, which to my 80’s childhood seemed endlessly fascinating; eiderdown, frock, organdie…”…Sylvia bought a Vogue and several yards of blue taffeta and blue organdie”
Clothes are so important to the Fossil girls, they make them who they are, they define them as not fitting in, growing up and are a real signifier throughout the novel for the fact that Garnie has no money and the children are only at The Academy so they can eventually earn some money. For example, velvet is the appropriate material for an audition because it is smart, somber and not too expensive but lasting. They go to Harrods to buy Pauline “…a black chiffon dress with white collar and cuffs, a tight bodice with buttons down the back…” after her dress is too small to “manage”. This episode about a too-small dress has an entire chapter dedicated to it.
I really love this book. If you’re not familiar with it, do try to get your hands on a copy and if you have a daughter – share it with her. It’s a really great, multi-layered novel which gets better with age – mine and the books!