Circus Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Originally printed 1938 (as The Circus is Coming)
Dell Yearling, 1st printing, 1985
Genre: children’s literature
Synopsis & Review: Orphaned in their infancy, Peter and Santa are taken in by their spinster aunt Rebecca, and raised according to the strictures she learned in service to her Duchess. What served the gentry does little for Peter and Santa, who are brought up in almost total ignorance by a crowd of well-meaning but ineffectual older folk. They have tutors rather than attend school, are not allowed outside to play, and are fussily overdressed; all in all, they are very peculiar, sheltered children, although they do not realize it. At Aunt Rebecca’s death, her small annuity ends, and the two children are told that they are to be sent to live in orphanages. Rather than be separated, Peter and Santa run away to find a mysterious uncle of whom they know nothing, just that he may work for a circus.
Upon arriving at Cob’s Circus, the two startle their uncle, who berates them for their silly behavior: instead of simply informing their friends of their relative, they let people worry as they tramped across the country. Their problems don’t end there as the children begin to realize their many shortcomings. Their aunt and tutors have ill-prepared them for life; the children are far behind in their studies and are wildly impractical and backward when compared to their peers with the circus. As they travel with the circus, Peter and Santa begin learning the lessons no one thought to teach them, and try hard to improve themselves enough that Uncle Gus won’t send them away from the world they have begun to love. I loved Noel Streatfeild growing up, and though I only have a few of her books—Ballet Shoes, Circus Shoes, Movie Shoes, Gemma, and Gemma Alone—I checked many of the others out of the local library. Circus Shoes was one I hadn’t read as often as Ballet or even Movie, so when I felt like revisiting Noel Streatfeild’s England, I chose it first. I’m glad I did, for it might be one of the most delightful Streatfeild books. Circus Shoes is filled with charming people and animals, and the details of the life beneath the big top are vividly drawn—one can almost smell the sawdust! Cob’s Circus features people from all over Europe, drawn together for a season by shared artistry and values, values they impart to Peter and Santa. Streatfeild’s gift is to create living, bretahing characters, and above all, to treat the children she creates with respect. Peter and Santa are genuine children—if a bit irritating and silly at first—and their problems and feelings will ring true to other children.
Though she makes many points about the worth of education and self-sufficiency, Streatfeild is never preachy. Occasionally it is frustrating, as one sympathizes with Peter and Santa when they feel unjustly treated, but as they grow and develop, they understand that they have been treated reasonably and kindly. Peter and Santa improve over the course of the book, from ninnies to pleasant, useful children. They learn the value of earned respect, and of hard work, as well as the satisfaction of doing well; they learn to pick their battles, and to help themselves—and along the way they teach these same values to their young readers. Even after seventy years and many changes, Streatfeild’s language remains fresh and charming.
Circus Shoes is enchanting and fun, but is not just simple tale about circus life, but also a story of growth and change as Peter and Santa become better people. Highly recommended for young readers, especially animal lovers.
Cover: Though generally in keeping with the format for the covers of the other two Shoes books I have, it doesn’t really appeal. The children’s faces are too pretty, like dolls, but the circus theme framing them is pretty exciting. I much prefer the yellow cover (New? Original?) I’ve seen circulating.
Ben moved off. Then he turned and came back. He looked at Peter. “You haven’t any call to wear those gloves. Put ’em in your pocket before too many have seen ’em.” He gave a friendly nod and went off.
Peter looked at his gloves as if her were afraid they would bite him, rolled them up, and put them in his pocket. They went slowly back through the stable tent. When they were nearly at the end Peter said in an angry voice, “Do you see why? I mean, why can’t people wear gloves? It’s just that everybody here is ignorant and doesn’t know how a gentleman should look, I suppose.”
Santa was certain the people they had met so far were not ignorant. In fact, she thought they were the cleverest people she had ever come across. But she didn’t say so. he felt that anything she said would be wrong. Peter had the look od somebody who would answer, “I know that, you fool” or “That’s becaus eyou’re a girl.” Both very aggravating retorts. So she shrugged her shoulders in a who-cares-anyway manner and suggested they should have a look at what was happening in the big top.
6 July – 7 July