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Pauline, Petrova and Posy are orphans, found by Great Uncle Matthew (or Gum) on his travels. Pauline was rescued from a shipwreck, Petrova from a Russian hospital and Posy from a family who could not afford to keep her. Sent to live with Gum’s niece Sylvia in London, the girls choose their own surname – Fossil – vowing to put it ‘into history books’. But with Gum away and money short, their ambitions must take second place to earning a living. Salvation comes in the shape of a free education from Madame Fidolia at the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training. Posy is a natural dancer and Pauline has a gift for acting, but Petrova would rather be left alone to read about cars and aeroplanes. For all the sisters, being a star isn’t as easy as it looks …
Ballet Shoes was one of the earliest so-called ‘career novels’, in which children could find independence and follow their dreams. It was so popular on its publication in 1936 that the author herself was allowed only two copies. It has remained in print ever since, with generations of girls imagining themselves as one of the plucky and talented Fossils.
Noel Streatfeild had an early career as an actress on the West End stage and described Ballet Shoes as ‘a fairy story with both feet firmly on the ground’. The sisters’ lives, in a rambling house with eccentric lodgers, may seem magical to young readers, but the details are rooted in reality: the single dress the three girls share for auditions, the careful dividing-up of their wages, and the bumps in the road to success. This Folio Society edition features charming illustrations by Inga Moore, and a newly commissioned introduction by former Children’s Laureate Dame Jacqueline Wilson, who describes her own unforgettable first encounter with Ballet Shoes – a book that made her feel ‘as if I were the fourth Fossil sister’.