The Winter family has been having a rough time ever since dad’s accident. Rachel hopes to get a part in a ballet to help earn money. Tim just wants to be taught piano by a famous pianist. And Jane? She’s known as the plain, untalented member of the family. So when Aunt Cora invites the family to California, Rachel and Tim are somewhat distressed about losing their chances in England, but also hopeful the can become stars in America. But it’s undesirable Jane who lands the lead role of Mary Lennox in a movie adaptation of The Secret Garden.
Noel Streatfeild is perhaps best known for writing the story of the Fossil sisters in Ballet Shoes, but she also published a number of other children’s books, many of them renamed with “Shoe” titles later to capitalize on the success of the Fossils. Movie Shoes, for instance, was originally titled The Painted Garden. However, aside from a small appearance by Posy and Pauline Fossil, the book is only related to Ballet Shoes insofar that it features, like many of Streatfeild’s books, children aspiring for careers on the stage.
Movie Shoes feels a little more realistic, however, because it focuses on Jane, the acknowledged “plain” one of the three Winter children, and the only one not to demonstrate a remarkable talent for the arts. Jane’s family view her as ill-tempered and disagreeable–but no wonder! Her parents seem emotionally distant and the children’s nanny keeps reminding Jane that not everyone can be talented, but everyone can be good. Perhaps Jane’s family could not stand her, but I found her the most interesting character in the book, especially when contrasted with her older sister Rachel (who has a tendency to be overly proud of her skills) and Tim (whose main delight is playing pranks).
The story becomes really interesting when overlooked Jane lands the starring role of Mary Lennox in a film adaptation of The Secret Garden. Her family immediately dismisses her, saying she cannot act, and Rachel begins to get jealous. However, the fact is that Jane landed the role because her ill temper so remarkably matches that of Mary at the beginning of the book. So the challenge for Jane becomes to find a way to not be disagreeable–something for her that seems almost impossible. (But, again, who can blame her when her family will not even support her the first time something incredible happens to her?) Her attempts at personal transformation are what gives the story its heart. She’s not just trying to become famous. She’s trying to become a better person.
Aside from Theater Shoes, which relies too heavily on retelling the plot of Ballet Shoes, I have immensely enjoyed all of Streatfeild’s Shoes books. She has a real gift for characterization, as well as for illuminating the lives of children trying to start their own careers, usually on the stage. Movie Shoes was yet another delightful read for me. I hope to read more of Streatfeild soon!