Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild: pencil illustrations by Ruth Gervis


Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes is a classic children’s novel that follows the struggles and successes of three sisters. Here you can see a selection of the book’s illustrations, drawn in pencil by Ruth Gervis.

What happens in Ballet Shoes?

In spite of its title, the novel is about more than ballet. It's a story about family, growing up and overcoming hardship. Pauline, Petrova and Posy are adopted as babies by explorer and fossil collector Gum (Great Uncle Matthew). Gum sends the babies to live in London with his great-niece Sylvia and her old nurse Nana. To ease the financial strain they take in lodgers, who help nurture the girls' talents. Pauline turns out to be a natural actress and Posy a brilliant dancer. Petrova, however, dreams of flying aeroplanes one day.

What was London like at the time?

The novel opens in 1920, following the end of World War One, when the country was edging towards the Depression. The family’s money troubles that bubble beneath the surface were all too common in that era. Why do you think there is a distinct absence of men in the story? In these illustrations alone, how many men can you count?

Although Ballet Shoes is a story about family, no one is actually related by blood. Pauline, Petrova and Posy give themselves the surname Fossil, making a vow that: ‘We three Fossils vow to try and put our names in history books because it’s our very own and nobody can say it’s because of our grandfathers.’

Who were Noel Streatfeild and Ruth Gervis?

Noel Streatfeild was born in 1895 and was one of three sisters. Before she began writing she worked in munitions factories during World War One, and then as an actress. Ballet Shoes was her second novel. When it was published in 1936 it was so popular that the author herself was only allowed to buy two copies because the shops feared they would run out! It has never been out of print since. Adding to the story's charm are the delightful illustrations by Ruth Gervis, who was Noel Streatfeild’s sister.

Label by British Library Learning in partnership with Seven Stories.

Full title:
Original illustrations by Ruth Gervis used in the published version of Ballet Shoes (London: Dent, 1936).
c. 1936
Original artwork / Illustration / Image
Ruth Gervis
Usage terms

We have been unable to locate the copyright holder in this material. Please contact with any information you have regarding this item.

Held by
Seven Stories

Related articles

Interview with Julia Donaldson

Article by:

Hear from Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo and The Smartest Giant in Town, as she talks about her creative process and childhood memories of reading and writing.

Themed book list: Home and belonging

Article by:
Home and belonging

Explore a selection of children’s books including Starring Tracy Beaker, So Much, Coming to England, Azzi in Between and Clarice Bean.

Go deeper: Home, family and belonging in children's books

Article by:
Patrice Lawrence, Lucy Pearson
Home and belonging, Go deeper

Where do you belong? Where, or who, is your home and family? Discover stories that explore belonging, and not belonging, and those that help children grapple with their identity.

Related collection items