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Literature: Ballet Shoes

Ballet Shoes is a children's novel by Noel Streatfeild (not a typo). It is about three Happily Adopted girls living in 1930's England. Together they are being trained in dance, with varying degrees of success. It was made into a movie twice, in 1975 and 2007; the second adaptation starred Emma Watson as the eldest sister Pauline.

The three girls are adopted as infants by a man they call Gum, short for Great Uncle Matthew. They are then left to be raised by Sylvia, their guardian, and Nana, their nursemaid. The family runs a boardinghouse, so the three girls meet many different people who live in the house.


Tropes in this work :

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Amateur paleontologist Great Uncle Matthew fits this trope. He seems to forgot about the existence of the Fossil children for years and sends no financial support.
  • Acceptable Feminine Goals: Averted initially as all three girls wish to get their names in the history books but Pauline and Posy eventually pursue acting and dancing careers while Petrova wishes to become an aviatrix.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: In the 2007 film both Sylvia and Theo fall in love with Mr. Simpson. Sylvia thinks Mr. Simpson prefers Theo, but he ends up proposing to Sylvia who accepts. (Theo herself ends happily reunited with an old admirer from her chorus girl days.)
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: The three girls' names all start with a P.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Dr Jakes and Dr Smith are hinted to be lesbians and suspected to be so by many fans but neither the book nor the film elaborates. Note that they do rent two rooms at the boarding house.
    • Theo in the 2007 movie seems rather interested in Sylvia at times.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Pauline and Petrova often feel like this towards Posy.
  • Arcadian Interlude: Everyone gets a break from money, school and career worries when Sylvia rents a house in the country for a holiday.
  • Bad Bad Acting: Petrova when she is playing Mytyl in "The Blue Bird" (1975 film) and Mustard Seed in "A Midsummer's Night Dream" (2007 film) is called out for her expressionless acting.
    • A variation in the 2007 adaptation. When Pauline is cast in a film and has to act a sad scene, to show her "inexperience" while filming she just doesn't put any effort into her line and has to be taught to put emotion in by the director.
  • Ballet: It's in the title!
    • Although there's rather less of it than one might suppose from the title. Posy, the ballet-oriented sister, is the one least focused on and is really not a POV character at all. Even in the parts of the book directly about the performing arts, there is a lot more time spent discussing acting and the theatre.
  • Beauty Brains and Brawn Pauline is the beautiful one, Petrova is the smart one, and Posy, while not the stereotypical brawn, is a much better dancer than her sisters.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, respectively.
  • Brainy Brunette: Petrova is known as the clever child of the three.
  • Child Prodigy: Sylvia actually was one, at least to a palaeontologist guardian. Posy as well from a dancing perspective.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: Posy and Madame Fidelia.
  • Embarrassing First Name: When Posy is delivered to the house, her letter states that she was unfortunately named so...
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Blonde Pauline is the pretty one and the one who is noticed most out of her sisters.
  • Fiery Redhead: Red headed Posy is the spunkiest and most energetic of the sisters.
  • The Film of the Book: Starring Emma Watson.
  • Genki Girl: Posy.
  • Happily Adopted
  • Impoverished Patrician Sylvia, sort of- she's consistently struggling financially but has 3 servants (okay, so for a long time she's only been paying two, the other being her own mother-surrogate), lives in a high-end district of London, and her teenaged daughters take paid work years before she does.
  • In-Series Nickname: The girls call Sylvia "Garnie".
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Theo in the 2007 movie, although she doesn't look much older than thirty.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Sylvia.
  • Life Isn't Fair: Winnifred learns this when Pauline is given the role of Alice instead of her even though Winnifred is more talented.
    • Adding insult to injury she later loses the part of Mustard Seed to Petrova (who has no aptitude whatsoever) when she is late for an audition through no fault of her own.
  • The Lost Lenore: In the 2007 film adaptation Mr Simpson's wife died of typhoid fever, along with their son.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Plain Petrova who has no artistic gifts is sandwiched between prettier sisters who are gifted in acting and dance respectively. To make matters worse, she is expected to attend a demanding performing arts academy with them without complaining. She gets some relief from Mr Simpson who shares her interest in motors and often acts as a surrogate father towards her.
  • Odd Name Out: Pauline and Petrova are named after Saints Paul and Peter, but Posy came to live with them already named.
  • Old Retainer: Nana, who raised Sylvia as a child and helps to raise the Fossil children, sticking around even when Sylvia can no longer pay her.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: An in-universe example in the book. Nana and the girls are surprised that the costumes for the fairy roles in "A Midsummer's Night Dream" consist of colored bodysuits and little else, rather than traditonal wings and wands. Nana is dismissive when the director explains they are "modern fairies."
  • Parental Abandonment: Unlike her orphaned sisters, Posy's mother, a young dancer, gives her up because she "has no time for babies." Posy's father is never mentioned, hinting she may be illegitimate. Posy does not resent her mother and is rather inspired by her to become a dancer herself.
  • Playing a Tree: Petrova and Winnifred play pea pods in a tacky version of Cinderella.
  • Prima Donna Director: Madame Fidelia, especially at first.
  • Skewed Priorities: Sylvia is disgusted when she finds out Posy's. Posy is upset when her dance tutor has a stroke...because it means she won't be able to get dance lessons from her anymore.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Pauline briefly when she becomes successful on stage. She quickly learns her lesson though.
  • Spell My Name With an S The author's last name completely defies the I before E except after C rule.
  • Stage Mom: Averted. Sylvia is glad when Pauline gets major roles, as that means there is more money flowing into the household, but she never exhibits any stage mom tendencies and loves the girls no matter how they dance.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Played with a bit. It's mentioned that Petrova, who hates dancing, ends up being one of the most technically proficient dancers in the school because she hates dancing, so she ends up taking basic classes year after year and gets all the core moves completely ground into her mind. But her performer sisters are the ones who always get major roles in ballets and plays, while she's always (gladly) stuck in the background. Although in this case, her sisters aren't bad at technique; they just never learn it by rote the way she does.
    • Petrova does have a leading role at one point, but that's because Pauline is portraying her brother, and it's more convenient to cast her as the sister.
    • Also comes into play (possibly) with all-round brilliant, plain Winifred vs. good-at-acting-but-merely-competent-at-the-rest, beautiful Pauline. Mostly it's observed that Winifred's not very attractive and looks shabby at auditions (because her family are flat broke and chaotic), but she also seems to lack Pauline's charisma.
  • Theme Naming Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil.
    • Lampshaded by Nana:
      Nana: You're all three P. Fossil; one lot of marking tapes all through.
    • Could also apply to all of Noel Streatfeild's works: Ballet Shoes, Tennis Shoes, Circus Shoes, Theater Shoes, Party Shoes, Movie Shoes, Skating Shoes, Family Shoes, Dancing Shoes, and Traveling Shoes. Whew!
      • Important to note that many of these titles were different when published in England and only became ___ Shoes when published in America.
  • Tomboy: Petrova is as close as can get to this in her time period.
  • Wrench Wench: Petrova, in exchange for being the worst dancer of the three, is this.

The Rite Of SpringBalletBilly Elliot
BabarLiterature of the 1930sBeyond the Black River
Bailey School KidsChildren's LiteratureBarnaby Grimes
AwakeFilms of 2005 - 2009 Balls of Fury

alternative title(s): Ballet Shoes; Ballet Shoes
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