Books that raised me

Revisiting a book from my childhood has made me reflect on which books stayed with me, in fact shaped me.

I was recently rereading Ballet Shoes, a book that was such a favourite from my childhood that it was a gift from my mother, who knew it would give me great comfort to reread it. I think I was surprised to learn how much I remembered, including what was said and also how it made me feel as a child. These earliest books stuck with me, and affected me deeply as a child.

Ballet Shoes is a book about three adopted girls – the Fossils, – who get the chance to go to stage school, Noel Streatfield wrote many different stories where little girls achieve their dreams, including White Boots which was another favourite book of mine all about an ice skater. Though the story maintains the desire that these little girls: Pauline, Posie and Petrova maintain their ladylike qualities, they must learn certain manners from the inimitable Academy head Madame, for example, it still spoke to me. A product of a different time that valued propriety more highly, it is quite dated on a reread. But it is also empowering. Unsurprisingly for a children’s tale, they overcome their obstacles and achieve what was certainly my dream as a child: to act, to dance.

Another few book series from my childhood, helped my obsession with the theatre including Dream of Sadler’s Wells by Lorna Hill and The Swish of the Curtain and the rest of the series by Pamela Brown. These books shaped my life because I was obsessed with theatre. My aunt had been to ballet school and these books were remnants from her childhood that got passed down to me along with a make-up box with real greasepaints. I went to numerous dance classes growing up, and performed in contemporary dance pieces as a teen. I was part of a theatre group and was in musicals during each summer holiday. These books seemed like my destiny.

As it turns out, I didn’t end up pursuing my dream of drama school. Of course I know a handful of people who did make it to drama school and even made careers from our shared childhood start, but in the most all-singing, all-dancing children don’t all “make it”. Boring reality is that not quite so many doors open in real lives as the children in these books. But even though I didn’t end up a ballerina or a musical theatre star, revisiting these childhood memories help tap into something that can bring me joy.

Rereading these books has opened that part of my heart that dreamed big, even if it was unlikely. That childlike quality to see possibility should never leave us. Being an adult is so uninspiring if we don’t sometimes at least indulge in the dreams of the things that could happen. Now I know that the only way to make dreams a reality is real actionable goals, but I also believe that the creative adult, is the child who survived. These books remind me of that but also prompt me to take action.

Time to dust the dance shoes?

At the back of my wardrobe is a pair of ballet shoes and a pair of tap shoes. I have promised myself as I get better I will reach for them again this year. Reaching for them because your old hobbies are languishing in their hiding place collecting dust is a good enough reason. But really I know that reaching for a part of myself from my childhood sparks for me the creative and expressive person I really am.

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