Movie Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Originally printed 1945 (as The Painted Garden)
Dell Yearling, 2nd printing, 1984
Genre: children’s literature
Synopsis & Review: The Winter family is in a funk. Their father is in a decline, and unless he can winter somewhere with lots of sunshine, he isn’t expected to last out the year. Though his sister Cora in California has invited him to visit, he refuses to leave his family in England, making the future seem very dark indeed. When Peaseblossom receives an unexpected bequest, in exactly the amount needed for the entire family to travel to California, the children are elated, then despondent. For Rachel is a talented dancer, and has just been selected for a paying role on stage, and musical child Tim has been offered training under one of the country’s most talented concert pianists. Plain Jane, the middle child, has no particular talent, but must leave her beloved cocker spaniel Chewing-gum. The children all buck up, however, Rachel and Tim postponing their engagements, and even Jane reluctantly leaves Chewing-gum in the care of the family doctor.
Together the Winters travel by ship to New York, and then by train to California, an amazing, sunny land. Though weird and strange, it’s also wonderful—till they discover that Aunt Cora has no piano for Tim’s practice and refuses to drive Rachel to her ballet training. Even Jane is horrified to discover that Aunt Cora dislikes dogs. With the help of Cora’s help Bella, the children try to figure out ways to earn pocket money for their needs, and Tim soon is playing the piano in a drugstore and Rachel taking lessons from Madame Fidolia’s former pupil, Posy Fossil. But it is talentless, crabby Jane who has the biggest, most astonishing success when she is cast in the role of the contrary Miss Mary Lennox in a film version of The Secret Garden.
My copy of Movie Shoes is one of the Eighties re-prints, and I have since discovered that it is heavily abridged from the UK version, distressing me to no end. The abridging may be why Movie Shoes sometimes feels a bit choppy compared to Streatfeild’s other books, but it retains much of its charm. Though outwardly similar to Ballet Shoes—and even featuring some grown-up Fossils—the characters in Movie Shoes remain distinct and individual; no one will mistake Rachel for Pauline, Tim for Posy, or even plain Jane for plain Petrova. The family dynamics in Movie Shoes are fascinating, especially when considering her penchant for orphans, and Streatfeild pulls few punches, allowing the family to both acknowledge Jane’s apparent lack of talent, and warn her of the hard work expected of her.
And it is hard work indeed. Streatfeild dispels much of the drama and romance from movie-making, painting it in all its tediousness. She also refuses to cheapen her story by discovering talent in Jane; Jane is good as Mary because she is like Mary, not because of innate talent. And—despite modern childrearing practices—it is important for children to recognize that they won’t be good at everything they try, and that they might not have an obvious talent they way Jane’s siblings do. But it is equally important to recognize the value of hard work, and how it can improve one’s performance, for even talent is no substitute for hard work and practice. (Sense a theme after the last review?)
Jane is the strongest character in the novel, and Rachel and Tim are somewhat weak in comparison, perhaps because things come so much more easily to them, especially Tim, whose equanimity is more than a little annoying. Jane, however, is a perfect Mary in the movie within the book storyline, developing in David Doe’s company the way Mary did in Dickon’s, trying to be better and worthy of affection. One wonders what happens to Jane in the future, as her dream of training animals seems far-fetched when compared to the plans of her talented siblings; the thought gives Movie Shoes‘ conclusion a piquant touch. But, Streatfeild remains charming and never patronizing, and I do hope that The Painted Garden once more.
(I must confess, one reason I enjoy Movie Shoes so much is naughty, crabby Jane and her cocker spaniel; I had one when I was little, and I loved him a great deal. And I’ve always been a bit crabby.)
Cover: Even worse than Circus Shoes–though Jane is pretty cute.
Inside her, though she tried not to believe it, Jane knew she would not be allowed to stay behind, that she would be taken to America even if she did what she threatened and used chains and screamed. If the had to allow somebody else to look after Chewing-gum, Dr Smith was the ideal person. As a doctor’s Chewing-gum’s health would be properly attended to, and he would have the right things to eat. However, she could not give way all at once. She had made such a scene for so long that it felt quite odd to think of stopping making a scene.
“Would you stand in a line for horsemeat?” Jane asked the doctor.
“Shouldn’t have to. Patient of mine sells the stuff. He’ll send around all I want.”
“He’s used to walking, not driving all day in a car.”
“Always manage one good walk myself every day; shall enjoy Chewing-gum’s company.”
“He’s never been a watchdog; he’s not a biting sort of dog. I’m not sure how good he’d be at catching a thief.”
Dr Smith gave Chewing-gum some tea in a bowl. “Soon learn. I’ll put a bone in the car with him. Any dog will bite anyone who comes near him when he’s got a bone.”
Jane thought that clever. “That’s a very good idea. I’d be glad if he did learn to be a fierce watchdog. I’d be glad if he learned to do anything really well, because I hope to be a dog trainer when I grow up, and to judge by Chewing-gum, I’ve got a lot to learn.” She lowered her voice. “As a matter of fact, he can carry a newspaper, but he’s still inclined to eat it.
Dr Smith nodded in the professional way he did when he visited anybody who was ill and someone explained to him what sort of being ill it was.
“Ah! Must see if I can help the old fellow about that. Very good of you, Jane, if you trust him to me.”