Dancing Shoes [Wintle's Wonders] (by Noel Streatfeild)

Noel Streatfeild was one of my favourite authors when I was a child, and I like re-reading her books from time to time as an adult, when I feel like some light fiction. There are some of her books which I didn't own, so from time to time I browse the online bookshops. I was recently delighted to spot very good prices for second-hand versions of two Streatfeild books which I didn't have, from the former Play.com 'play traders'.

'Dancing Shoes' was originally known as 'Wintle's Wonders', but re-titled some years ago. I could not remember the story at all, and having now finished it, I don't recall ever having read it before.

The story is about Rachel and Hilary, who are orphaned - as so often happens in Streatfeild's books - and sent to live with their Aunt Cora and Uncle Tom. The latter is an artist, understanding and sympathetic. But Cora is a driven women who runs a successful stage school, 'Mrs Wintle's Little Wonders'. She teaches all kinds of dancing, singing and some acting, and sends troops of girls from twelve and up out to shows, holiday camps, and pantomimes. Tom and Cora have one daughter, Dulcie. She is around the same age as Rachel and Hilary, but very spoilt and conceited.

Hilary has been training at a ballet dancer, and considered very promising. However, she does not like hard work, and thinks it's far more fun to do tap dancing and acrobatics as a 'Wintle's wonder'. Rachel, who is more serious, is horrified that Hilary would consider anything other than ballet - and her attitude leads to some unfortunate misunderstandings. Rachel herself, who is not talented at dancing, has no desire at all to be a 'wonder', but must train along with the others.

Noel Streatfeild had a great gift for characterisation, and I found myself very much liking both Rachel and Hilary. Some of the less likeable characters are rather stereotyped, and naturally Dulcie was going to have her come-uppance at the end - I could see were the last chapters were leading, since the theme is similar to others by the same author, but it was very well done.

All in all, I enjoyed it. Recommended to anyone who likes this kind of light-weight children's fiction. Still in print in the UK and US, as well as being more widely available second-hand than I had expected.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 18th November 2010

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