There are some books that are remembered for much longer than their authors are alive, and for good reason. But why do we keep coming back to the same old stories? And the ones our parents and grandparents read before us? There must be something in these tales that transcends time, age and the changes in society; perhaps the books present some much deeper significance.
Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfield, 1936
This is not a particularly well known novel by today’s standards, but it did receive some fame when Emma Watson portrayed the eldest Fossil sister, Pauline, in the 2007 film of the same name. This book has been adapted for television and film since it was published in 1936.
Pauline, Petrova and Posy all come to live in Cromwell Road, each found and adopted by their mysterious Great Uncle Matthew in his travels. The three girls from dramatically different backgrounds grow into young women together, each finding their calling in life. I love this book, possibly due to my own interest in dancing and acting, but it contains beautifully poignant messages of love, dreams and hope. The story is very raw; it does not hide the struggles faced by these girls, nor are their dreams granted with the wave of a wand. Their determination and hard-work make for an inspiring read.
I recommend this novel for readers around 7-13, although age doesn’t really matter, and I think older readers will be able to appreciate better the struggles these girls face.
When I look at other classics children’s stories I love, they all seem to have female orphans (or daughters of widows) as their protagonists. Perhaps the universal struggles these children face are what makes them so memorable. It seems as though this was the formula for a great novel in the early 1900s! (The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, Polyanna, What Katy Did, Madeline – the list goes on and on.)
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte, 1847
This tragic story of love, passion and hatred is widely known as a classic. Yet it would seem that a lot of people haven’t read it, only laughed at Kate Bush’s outrageous dance moves. I first became interested in this novel while reading another book a few years ago in which the protagonist was an avid reader of the Bronte sisters (A Girl Like Me by Penny Matthews). But it was only recently that I read the classic myself.
Bronte explores the relationship between two families, both isolated from society on the English moors. The novel follows the life of Heathcliff and his obsessive love for Catherine Earnshaw, who is always just out of his reach. It is a dark story that delves into human nature and relationships at their worst and examines the power that love and hatred can have, ultimately tearing families apart. I was shocked at the brutality of Heathcliff who held power over so many of the characters in the novel, and amazed at his sheer endurance. His legacy of passion, and the love that managed to survive in its wake, is what makes this book so memorable. It was a captivating story that I couldn’t help feeling emotionally entangled in. It was frustrating at times to read on in silence as characters made mistake after mistake, but it was a truthful reflection on how hopeless life can sometimes seem. I invite you to give this book a chance, if only because it is a classic. But furthermore, it is a novel wrought with emotion and is overwhelmingly human, better for all its characters’ flaws.