Harriet gazed in horror at the ice. The creepers and crawlers who were beginners like herself clung so desperately to the barrier that she could not see much room to get in between them. Another thing was that even if she could find a space, it was almost certain that one of the creepers and crawlers in front or behind her woud choose that moment to fall over and knock her down at the same time. As a final terror, between the grand skaters in the middle of the rink and the creepers and crawlers round the edge, there were rough people. They seemed to go round and round like express trains, their chins stuck forward, their hands behind their backs, with apparently no other object than to see how fast they could go, and they did not seem to mind whom they knocked over as they went.
Gripping both sides of an opening in the barrier, Harriet put one foot towards the ice and hurriedly took it back.
Olivia was sympathetic but firm. “I’m sorry, darling. I’d be scared stiff myself, but it’s no good wasting all the afternoon holding onto the barrier and never getting on the ice. Be brave and take the plunge.”
Harriet looked as desperate as she felt. “Do you think I’d feel braver if I shut my eyes?”
“No darling, I think that would be fatal…”
You know the scene towards the end of You’ve Got Mail when Kathleen is wandering in the children’s department of Fox Books, woebegone because her own lovely bookshop is closing? (I have never, never forgiven Joe for that, by the way.) And a customer asks the salesperson for the Shoe books, but the salesperson has no idea what she’s talking about. So Kathleen pipes up:
“Noel Streatfeild wrote Ballet Shoes and Skating Shoes and Theater Shoes and Movie Shoes…(she starts crying as she tells her) I’d start with Skating Shoes, it’s my favorite, although Ballet Shoes is completely wonderful,” she says.
This is that book. Written in 1951.
Harriet Johnson, nine years old, has grown thin and pale during a long illness. Her mother, Olivia, says she looks a bit like a daddy-longlegs in fact. Harriet is listless, unable to go to school until she’s stronger, tired of
the cold, wet, lonely walks she takes to get her fresh air, and not properly fattening up on the meager fare her family can afford. Wisely, Doctor Phillipson recommends she take up ice skating to strengthen her legs and put a bit of fun into her convalescence.
At the rink, Harriet meets Lalla Moore, the orphaned daughter of a champion figure skater who is being raised by her wealthy Aunt Claudia to follow in her father’s footsteps. Aunt Claudia is unmovable in her quest of champion-status for Lalla, in her tight control over every aspect of Lalla’s life, in her repugnance for any associates unworthy of this rising star. Lalla is talented on the ice, and happy enough to oblige her aunt, but she’s a lonely child. Meeting Harriet and being swept into the noisy, ragged, loving Johnson household is the best thing that’s ever happened to her.
Lalla and Harriet become dear friends, but when Harriet’s skating exercises reveal her unsuspected talent, while Lalla’s rigorous training reveals her flaws and unhappiness, their friendship and characters are deeply tested.
There’s a nice, spunky, casual tone to the narration in this book, a
dash of humor, and plenty of commentary on parenting practices deemed wise (the Johnsons) or unwise (Aunt Claudia). Harriet’s three brothers are an enjoyable lot, her nurturing mother Olivia is the heroine of the book, and many likable supporting characters round out the cast. Harriet is a meek, kind person, perhaps too enthralled by Lalla’s lifestyle, talents, and effervescence. Lalla is spoiled, yet also deprived; given too much, and too little. Streatfeild very honestly narrates their inner dialogues of jealousy, resentment, and fear, which many readers will identify with. Of course, as with all Streatfeild’s books, things end happily and tidily. It’s a very pleasant read.
At just over 200 non-illustrated pages, this is a book for girls ages 8 or 9 and up to listen to, 11 and up to read alone. A number of ideas or terms are British or are outdated including the school figures the skaters must practice and perform. Check it out, and perhaps more of the Shoe books will suit you as well.