Saturday, 26 February 2011

Circus Shoes (Noel Streatfeild)

--The blurb--
"Threatened with life in separate orphanages when their aunt dies, two children run away to join their unknown uncle who is a circus clown."

 --The review--
Noel Streatfeild's standard format is by now familiar to anyone who's a fan: children find themselves without parents or other family, situation seems hopeless, then badabingbadaboom a "fairy godmother/father" type character appears in order for their lives to take a very different and sometimes better turn. There is a real risk with such authors that the reader could become tired of the same old predictable framework and desert their works.

Streatfeild, however, always manages to keep things fresh; she does not only achieve this with the changes in setting (albeit usually performance-related settings) but also with various other details and characters. Her choices of names for the characters always seem to be inspired, too, suiting their owners down to the ground. While Santa is a frankly bizarre name for a little girl it is somehow made to fit her quite well and marks the book out as being just that little more unusual. 

Equally, Streatfeild offers insight into a less commonplace environment which perhaps does not fully exist in the same form today. Peter and Santa's lack of education up until this point would also not be found today in Britain given the various governmental regulations surrounding home schooling. We are therefore also given a slight relic of the UK as it was in days gone by, but Streatfeild's work is not only valuable as a museum piece: the characters are engaging and memorable, perhaps more consistently so than the storyline, and while it is perhaps not consistently strong enough throughout to be considered a children's classic in the same way as Ballet Shoes or White Boots, we find within its pages a brand of comfort reading that the whole family can enjoy.

Also a product of the books' and author's time is the innocent existence in which the children live (although this also perhaps comes down to the middle class environment where they are situated), which perhaps provides an increasingly sought-after dimension to literature, with adults not only wanting this for the purposes of their own nostalgia but also for the image they wish to project to their own children. Streatfeild's continued appeal is therefore unsurprising, with her stories' twists and turns, memorable characters, elements of a bygone age and her happy endings all keeping readers returning for more.

Other works by Noel Streatfeild
  • Ballet Shoes (1936)
  • Tennis Shoes (1937)
  • Curtain Up (1944) (also published as: Theater Shoes)
  • Party Frock (1946) (also published as: Party Shoes)
  • The Painted Garden (1949) (significantly abridged and published in the U.S. as: Movie Shoes)
  • White Boots (1951) (also published as: Skating Shoes)
  • The Fearless Treasure (1953)
  • The Bell Family (1954) (also published as: Family Shoes)
  • Wintle's Wonders (1957) (also published as: Dancing Shoes)
  • Apple Bough (1962) (also published as: Traveling Shoes)
  • A Vicarage Family (1963)
  • The Children on the Top Floor (1964)
  • Away from the Vicarage (1965)
  • The Growing Summer (1966) (also published as: The Magic Summer)
  • Caldicott Place (1967) (also published as: The Family at Caldicott Place)
  • The "Gemma" series (1968-9)
  • Thursday's Child (1970)
  • Beyond the Vicarage (1971)
  • Ballet Shoes for Anna (1972)
  • When the Siren Wailed (1974)
  • Far To Go (1976) (a sequel to Thursday's Child)

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