The Shoes Can Make the Girl
I first heard of Noel Streatfeild (1895-1986) and her “shoe books” while I was watching You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (one of my favorites!). In the movie, Tom Hank’s character is one of the owners of a huge chain bookstore which is about to put Meg Ryan’s character’s little mom-and-pop bookstore out of business. One day she goes to visit her competitor’s store and overhears a clueless sales clerk ineptly trying to find the “shoe books” for a customer. Being the nerdy book-loving girl I am, I immediately had to search it and order one in the series.
As a result, Ballet Shoes (1936) didn’t come into my life until I was 30. It is the story of three orphans who vow to make names for themselves. (Aren’t there always orphans?!)
I went on to read Dancing Shoes (1957), Skating Shoes (1951), Theater Shoes (1944) and Circus Shoes (1938). And in researching this post have just discovered there is also Party Shoes (1946), Tennis Shoes (1937), Movie Shoes (1949), Family Shoes (1954) and Travelling Shoes (1962) that I will need to read! Every one of them is about working hard to follow your dreams and facing adversity. For these works, she is credited as being one of the first career novelists.
She wrote many other children’s books as well as adult fiction. Many titles are currently out of print but can be found in used condition.
In her stories she focuses on professional training and daily life, but also on family. So many of her young characters are orphans trying to find a family to belong to, and that search is a main theme in many of the books. They are also stories that focus on children discovering themselves and their dreams.
As a writer, Ms. Streatfeild strived to make her characters come alive as individuals and not just stock characters. I found a quote where she said, “One way of gauging the aliveness of a family in a children’s book is to ask yourself ‘Would I know them if they sat opposite me in a bus?'” I think that is a worthy goal when writing any kind of character.
Ballet Shoes was the first of its kind, in that it was published at a time when children’s books were mostly school or adventure stories. But, Ms. Streatfeild’s shoe books focused on stage school and the kids in her books had a level of professionalism and dedication that hadn’t been seen in books for that age group. By the 1970s, children’s literature had changed enough that she was considered more mainstream, yet the popularity of her books didn’t wane.
I didn’t realize that she had written so many adult books until I started to write this post. Sadly most of them are no longer in print.