Thursday, May 15, 2008

Noel Streatfeild

Noel Streatfeild's "Shoe" books deserve a post of their own. She wrote many, but the only ones currently in print are "Ballet Shoes," "Dancing Shoes," "Theatre Shoes," and just recently (I'm thrilled!) "Party Shoes." I can't even tell you how many times I've read these since I was a child. I credit these books with giving me my love of ballet, theater, and Shakespeare.

Besides writing credibly about the world of children's theater, Streatfeild knows children's personalities as well. These books got a well-deserved shout-out in Tom Hanks' and Meg Ryan's movie, "You've Got Mail." "Ballet Shoes" is about three adopted sisters (with extremely different personalities) who attend theatre and dancing school to become working children in order to earn money for their guardian. "Dancing Shoes" (my personal favorite) is two sisters who, after the death of their mother, are sent to live with their dreadful aunt (who runs a dancing school) and their poisonous show pony of a cousin who makes their lives miserable.

Simply put, they're classics, and if you haven't read them, you've been missing out. I will say that they're geared much more toward girls, but there is a wonderful boy main character, Mark, in "Theatre Shoes." He and his sisters are sent to live with relatives in London during the war because their naval officer father is missing and learn to become singers and actors there (they receive scholarships from the now grown protagonists who appeared in "Ballet Shoes.") However, Mark, though he has a wonderful voice and enjoys acting in plays, really does not have his heart in it. His former boarding school mates hear him singing on the radio and write him a letter likening his voice to "a cat being sick" and claim his awful yowling broke Matron's radio. He is heartened by their disdain and returns to his plans to become an admiral in the Navy.

The common thread in the books is a lack of parents (though the children are not without adult love and care or parental figures) so that they are forced to learn independence and resourcefulness. Another common theme throughout each is personal and financial responsibility.

Ballet/Dancing/Theatre Shoes are also available on audio cassette/CD (some might just be cassette) read by Elizabeth Sastra. They're fantastic! My girls are listening through "Theatre Shoes" at bedtime these last few nights. What I've written above (now that I'm reading over it) is not particularly inspiring or even that descriptive. I can't stress enough how much these books shaped me as a child and my love for the arts that I have to this day. They're wonderfully-told stories with stage life as their backdrop.

Independent of the Shoe books, I've got one more picture book today. This was a new one to me--Lucy brought it home from the school library recently, and we both just loved it. It's called "Click Clack Moo; Cows That Type," by Doreen Cronin. Oh my goodness. It's a hoot. But here is something even more hilarious. Something I love to do in my spare time is go on and read reviews. I look up a book I like and see what other people think. It's always more interesting to click on the 1-star reviews than the 5-star ones. "Click Clack Moo" had very few 1-star reviews, but here was one. It was almost funnier than the book itself: "I thought this would be a wonderful book to read to my children. I can't believe how wrong I was. First of all, Ms. Cronin seems to take her readers for fools, thinking that we'll just nod and look away as she spoon-feeds us... TALKING COWS. I kid you not. And these aren't just any talking cows. They have typing skills and even stage a strike. You can't even be gullible to buy this, you've got to be downright stupid, and even that's a stretch. I would most definitely not recommend this book to any parent, unless for some reason you want your children to grow up believing in talking cows and cow strikes that result in milk shortages and whatnot. Utterly terrible -- pun intended."

The outrage! Is this review a hoax? Is this person yanking my chain? If not, I better get all over that. Absolutely NO TALKING ANIMALS allowed in our books anymore, or my children will grow up to be stupid, gullible fools.

Personally, my life has been a lot richer because of anthropomorphism, but maybe that's just a weird little quirk I have.

Happy reading!

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