Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Two Shillings for Your Dreams"

My sister and I grew up devouring the "Shoes books" by Noel Streatfeild, a collection of books featuring English children making their way in such professions as dance, theater, tennis, figure-skating, classical music, and the circus.  Although the books that followed Streatfeild's 1936 best-seller Ballet Shoes were often published in Great Britain under other titles, they were retitled for their American publication as "Shoes books": e.g., Tennis Shoes (1937), Circus Shoes (1938), Theater Shoes (1945), Movie Shoes (1949), Skating Shoes (1951), and Dancing Shoes (1957).  In each book, readers vicariously share in the richly detailed experience of entering these fascinating professional worlds for the first time.  We watch Lalla practicing her "brackets" for her silver test in figure skating; we see Petrova struggling to master the proper inflection for her few lines as Mustardseed in A Midsummer Night's Dream; we follow every exercise that Santa has to do to become proficient as a circus acrobat.

I think we both loved Skating Shoes the best.  It was the one we stumbled upon first, drawn to it by the fact that Lalla has an Aunt Claudia.  In the book, Harriet is encouraged to take up ice skating as part of her convalescence from a long illness; at the skating rink she meets Lalla, who is being groomed by her overbearing aunt to be a skating champion following in the footsteps of her deceased father. Lalla enjoys teaching and mentoring Harriet - until Harriet starts to show too much promise of her own.

Harriet's brother Alec takes on a paper route to earn the twelve shillings a week needed to rent Harriet's skates, pleased to discover that he is being paid not twelve, but fourteen shillings a week - leaving two shillings for him to devote to his own dream of someday having a small greengrocer establishment.  Every week when Mr. Pulliam pays Alec, he says to him, "Twelve shillings for your sister's skates, and two shillings for your dreams."  That became a mantra for Cheryl and me.

Some years ago for Christmas, Cheryl gave me the jar pictured above, with "Dreams" emblazoned on it.  In the jar was a shilling.  Somehow over the intervening years, I lost the shilling - how I could have done this, I  have no idea.  When I saw Cheryl last month for my high school reunion trip, she had a replacement shilling for me, which she had gotten from a kindly coin vendor who gave it to her for free, claiming nobody wants shillings any more.

Well, Cheryl and I still do!  And now my Dreams jar has a shilling in it again, a shilling that represents everything I do to pursue my dreams as a writer, to earn my own cherished "writing shoes."


  1. It's a wonderful mantra, "Two shillings for your dreams." So much better than a penny for your thoughts.

  2. What a great recommendation! I'm glad to read your favorites, because they always lead to great new reads for us. And what a lovely story about your shilling jar.

  3. I love being able to recommend the books I love best for your girls, Mitzi!

  4. Claire and I read Theater Shoes together.

  5. I love thinking of the two of you reading it, Janet!