Saturday, 7 July 2012

Books about those two

great loves in the lives of many little girls - horses and ballet - never particularly appealed to me. I never participated in either activity. The only horses I knew were the big cart horses that pulled the bread delivery vans and were kept in the field at the back of one of the houses we lived in. Nobody rode those horses.
I suppose there must have been some little girls who had ballet lessons but I did not know any.
I found Noel Streatfeild's book Ballet Shoes in the library and might not have read that except for the librarian telling me, "It is not really about ballet. I think you might like it."
I did. It was an old fashioned book even when I read it. The action takes place well before WWII. The book was first published in 1936. You can still buy copies today.
I liked the fact that it was set in London. I wanted to go to Cromwell Road. Pauline, Petrova and Posy appealed to me and so did the other characters in the house.
As a child I had no idea how unusual the book was and I wonder if even the librarian knew just how different it was. The idea of young children working in order to contribute to the household finances was completely foreign to me. It was unheard of where I lived. Children went to school. They had jobs to do at home and they might, if they were a little older, deliver papers in order to earn pocket money but they did not work outside the family.
I went on to read "The Circus is Coming". I still feel discomfort at the reception Peter and Santa get from their Uncle Gus and still cringe at the description of Santa "playing" the violin.  It is not a book which would win the Carnegie Medal now but it did then. I knew nothing about Carnegie Medals but the book stayed with me. 
There were no more Streatfeilds in the library at the time. We moved on and my reading was limited to the books the library sent through the Country Lending Service. Someone else was choosing books for me and sending them out to the country. There were never enough books. I did not even know Noel Streatfeild had written more books until I rejoined the library as a regular reader several years later.
I remember then that I tried desperately to catch up on all the reading I felt I had missed out on. I found "White Boots" and wondered why Lalla and Harriet wanted to slither and slide on ice. I had never seen a skating rink and had only heard of Hans Brinker through Dutch friends. I went on to things like "The Painted Garden", "Apple Bough" and "Wintle's Wonders".
The Whirlwind and her friends discovered "Ballet Shoes" for themselves. They first saw it on television. The Whirlwind read the book and said, "The book is much better. Are there any more?"  I handed my copies over and they disappeared for months as they were passed around her class. It was an anxious wait but eventually I did get them back.
        "Can you tell me why you liked them?" I asked a group of the Whirlwind's classmates.
        "Well those girls (in Ballet Shoes) are real aren't they? It doesn't always go right for them and Petrova absolutely hates it but she does it anyway."
        "And Pauline is really sort of grown up about things."
        "And Posy is just like B.... because ballet is the only thing that matters to her but she needs her sisters too."
They went on to make similar comments. I pointed out that the stories were, by their standards, very old.
One of them looked at me very hard and said, "That does not matter if it is a good story."

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