My daughter and I are reading “Ballet Shoes,” by Noel Streatfeild. This was one of the few genuinely girly books I loved when I was a kid, since my taste ran more toward spaceships, hobbits, and superheroes (I couldn’t abide “Sweet Valley High,” I avoided “Babysitters Club” like the plague, and I never did get around to “Little House on the Prairie,” which I freely admit was my own fault). I couldn’t wait to pass on that love to my daughter.
I’d forgotten, of course, that the book was originally published in 1937. In England. This means that periodically I have to stop and translate. I’m not completely sure my daughter understands what “boarders” are. “Muslin,” “tartalan,” and “frock” especially puzzled her. So did “phonograph.” “It’s like a record player,” I said, realizing later that she doesn’t know what that is either. I should’ve said, “It’s like Mommy’s phone, except bigger and no camera.”
And yet my daughter is fascinated by the book. Maybe it’s the inside glimpse into the ballet world – she does gymnastics class these days, but I’m sure we’ll try dance at some point. Maybe it’s hearing the story of these poor orphaned sisters who are determined to make a name for themselves and make their adoptive family proud. Every time we get to an illustration, she wants to know which character is which, and what they’re doing, and she admires the dancers’ graceful poses.
I think there can be a big emphasis on the new when it comes to children’s books, and obviously that makes sense from a publishing and marketing standpoint (I’m hoping to get published myself, after all). But older books are just as valuable, and just as much fun to read, and they can offer a glimpse into a world today’s children would never experience otherwise.
So I’m going to keep reading my kids everything I can think of, new and old, everything we can get our hands on. It expands their minds, it shows them endless different examples of good writing, it gives them a different way of looking at the world. Which is the whole point of reading.
I’m looking forward to storytime tonight. I haven’t read “Ballet Shoes” in a long time, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.