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Talking Points… Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

What time period does the book take place?

1. Which name did Pauline, Petrova and Posy take as their last
name? Fossil.
Great Uncle Matthew had adopted the three girls when Nana told
him not to bring any more fossils back to the house. They were
entered into their school using the name Brown, which was Great
Uncle Matthew’s last name, but as he called them his little fossils,
they thought Fossil was a more suitable name.

2. Who were the first boarders that came to live with Garnie and
the girls? Mr. and Mrs. Simpson
Mr. and Mrs. Simpson had returned from Kuala Lumpur and
needed a place to live. Miss Dane came next and was a teacher at
the ballet school run by Madame Fidolia. Doctor Jakes and Doctor
Smith were retired teachers, who offered to teach the girls at home.

3. What was the real name of Great Uncle Matthew’s niece and
guardian of the three girls? Sylvia
Sylvia’s father had been Great Uncle Matthew’s nephew and on
his death, Great Uncle Matthew invited Sylvia and her mother to
live with him. When Sylvia’s mother also died, she stayed on in
the house, taking care of her great uncle.

4. What nickname did the three sisters give to Great Uncle


Matthew? Gum
G.U.M. was a short way of saying Great Uncle Matthew and this
was what the three girls always called him. He had gone away on
his travels when they were young, so they were not able to
remember him very well, but he was still very important to them.

5. Who was Pauline named for and why? St. Paul


She was given the name Pauline because she was rescued from a
shipwreck at sea the way St. Paul was. While the author does not
tell us, which ship do you think she was on? Struck by an iceberg,
waited in a life boat, rescued by a liner and returned to England?
Maybe the Titanic?

6. Who was Petrova named for and why? St. Peter


Petrova is a female form of the Russian name for Peter. Since
Pauline was named for the Apostle Paul, it seemed fitting for this
baby to be named for another apostle. Petrova was adopted by
Gum in Russia from a man Gum had befriended but who was
dying. He had been an important man before the Russian
Revolution. Could Petrova have come from one of the former
Russian royalty? Maybe. The author doesn’t say but we can
wonder. This is why Posy’s name was a bit unfortunate. It didn’t
fit the pattern. 

7. What did Gum send for each of the girls as a present to them?
Necklaces. Turquiose for Pauline, seed pearls for Petrova and
Coral for Posy.

8. What book was Garnie reading to the girls when all of the
boarders had moved in? The Secret Garden
Has anyone read that book or know what it’s about? Explain plot
of the Secret Garden and how the girls might have identified with
the character of Mary Lennox. Can you think of other books
mentioned by the author in the course of the story? Peter Rabbit by
Beatrix Potter, Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, There was
mention of poems too…Oh to be in England, The Ancient Mariner,
Hiawatha,

9. After the girls had to quit Cromwell House School, what kind of
education did they receive? They were homeschooled!
Do any of your homeschools look like the girls’ homeschool?
Discuss… piano lessons? Co-op? art lessons? The difference is
that they were expected to work to help provide for themselves
when they reached the age of 12. Nowadays, you can’t get a job
unless you are at least 14 and there are rules about it.

10. Pauline and Posy were very happy at the ballet school, but
Petrova was not. What interested her more than dancing and
acting? Cars and airplanes
Pauline was a good actress and Posy proved to be a talented
dancer, but Petrova was much more interested in finding out about
Mr. Simpson’s car.

11. Where was Madame Fidolia from originally? Russia


Madame had been a dancer in Russia but had left after the
revolutions. She opened her ballet school but she taught only the
most talented dancers herself. Posy was soon admitted to her class.

12. Do you remember any of the Christmas songs that the carolers
sang? Did they sound familiar to you? God Rest Ye Merry
Gentlemen, The Holly and the Ivy, Sleep Holy Babe, Like Silver
Lamps. Little clues like this in a work of historical help us
understand the time period.

13. After their successful performance in “The Blue Bird”, where


did the girls go on holiday? Pevensey Bay
Sylvia had rented a cottage at Pevensey Bay and the children were
to spend August there. They had long days on the beach and walks
to the old castle there. Have you heard the name “Pevensie”
before? The Chronicles of Narnia? Those would have been
published after this book but the town and the castle are real.
Could it have been an inspiration to C. S. Lewis?

14. Why did the girls sell their necklaces and to whom did they sell
them? To buy an audition dress for Pauline they sold them to Mr.
Simpson
Pauline needed a new dress to go on auditions. It was assumed that
the rest of the girls would also use it when they were old enough
for a license. He purchased them from the girls for 5 pounds with
the agreement that Pauline could buy them back with the money
she earned from working. If she did not pay for them herself,
Petrova could help and so too Posy when she was of age. Which
play did Pauline audition for? Alice in Wonderland.

15. What did Petrova get for her 12th birthday?


A picnic, a cake, some crackers (like firecrackers) and a gold half
sovereign
Half sovereigns weren’t produced from 1926 until 1980 unless it
was a special issue for coronation years. Who is on the back side of
the half sovereign? St. George!

16. Where did Posy want to go to study ballet? Czechoslovakia


Once she had seen Manoff dancing, Posy was quite determined
that she should attend his school in Czechoslovakia to learn from
him. She went to the theatre where he was rehearsing and
persuaded him to watch her dance. He then agreed to take her at
his school where he would turn her into a ballerina.

17. How did Posy get to go to Czechoslovakia?


Pauline signed a 5year contract with a movie studio. Her salary
would pay for Posy’s studies and they both vowed to help get
Petrova’s name into the history books.

18. Did Great Uncle Matthew return home at the end of the story?
Yes
When Gum returned he was rather surprised to find that the babies
he had adopted had grown into such big girls. He was happy to
hear about Paulina and Posy’s plans for the future. He made
Petrova even happier, though, by suggesting that the two of them
should go and live near an aerodrome, so that she could study
airplanes.