White Boots (by Noel Streatfeild)

I have loved Noel Streatfeild’s books for older children since I was about eight or nine, though it too, me many years to realise just how many she had written and to acquire the majority for myself. They’re relaxing, gentle reads that focus on family life (albeit with unusually talented children, in most cases) and I re-read them every ten years or so.

I last read ‘White Boots’ in 2004 and vaguely remembered the plot. Harriet, who is nine and from an impoverished but generally happy family, has been very ill. We never learn what the illness was, but it’s left her unable to go to school, very thin, and with weak legs that feel like cotton wool.

Harriet is sent out for dreary walks every day until her doctor comes up with the idea of starting ice skating. He can get free entry for her to the rink as the owner is one of his patients, and one of her older brothers starts a paper route in order to earn enough money to pay for the hire of her ice skates.

Harriet meets Lalla, a wealthy only child who has been somewhat spoiled by her ambitious aunt, but underneath is quite lonely. They become friends and gradually their lives meld more closely, so that Harriet can share in some of Lalla’s lessons and clothes, and Lalla gets a chance of spending time as part of a large and outspoken family.

While skating - and Lalla’s tests and performances and general brilliance - are inevitably part of the story, there’s a great deal about family life and interactions. Written in 1951, there’s rather more class snobbery than I like even though Streatfeild repeatedly makes it clear that money has nothing to do with class. Lalla’s aunt is seen as an unpleasant snob because she looks down on people who work in shops, or who can’t afford new clothes; yet even to the nicer characters, Harriet’s family are seen as poor but the ‘right kind of people’: the boys are polite and well brought up, and they all speak nicely.

There are gentle moral lessons about pride, and taking things for granted, and the importance of loyalty and friendship. Indeed, there’s a lot in this book, which I very much enjoyed re-reading. My only problem with this - as with so many of Streatfeild’s novels - is that the ending is rather abrupt. I’d have preferred a little glimpse into the future, a few more tidying up of loose ends. But it’s a minor gripe.

I think ‘White Boots’ (also published as ‘Skating Shoes’) would appeal to any fluently reading girl - and some boys - of about eight or over. It could make a good read-aloud too, and for those of my generation and older, it’s a bit of pleasant nostalgia.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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