Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Loved to Pieces . . . with Laurel Snyder

Today we have one of our favorite authors visiting us. She wrote the swoon-worthy new picture book SWAN: THE LIFE AND DANCE OF ANNA PAVLOVA, illustrated by Julie Morstad, as well as many other acclaimed middle grade novels and picture books, including BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX and PENNY DREADFUL. Please welcome . . .

Laurel Snyder!

Laurel is here to share her own favorite book from childhood. The one she's loved to pieces. Tell us about it, Laurel. . . .

"I’ve got a lot of books on the bottom shelf of my bookcase that qualify as 'Loved to Pieces.' I’m someone who rereads things yearly, and as an author, I base a lot of my own titles on beloved classics.  So picking just one book to talk about is a little difficult for me.

But at the end of the day, there’s one book I’ve memorized like no other, one book I refer to on a daily basis: Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfield.

 Ballet Shoes is a middle grade novel about three orphans who’ve been “collected” by an eccentric wealthy paleontologist, then essentially abandoned with his adult niece and her aging 'Nana,' in a big house in London. To support their family, Pauline, Petrova, and Posy take dance and theater classes, then become performers on the stage. As you do!  

Meanwhile, Garnie (the guardian-niece-person) takes in interesting boarders of all sorts, to help pay the bills. All these people live in the big house together—the three kids, Garnie, Nana, and the assorted random adults who pay rent, but also operate like family members.

Laurel Snyder with her loved-to-pieces, favorite book
I loved this book for so many reasons. I loved it because the girls were fiercely independent and highly capable—supporting their family, setting up bank accounts, and taking matters into their own hands. I loved it because it had that fawncy tone of faded British aristocracy—complete with plenty of tea-drinking and velvet frock-wearing. I loved it because the girls were performers, and at age eight, I wanted to be a ballerina myself. I loved it because the girls were so different from one another, though I wanted to be friends with each of them.  How I adored this book!

And our loved-to-pieces favorite new book -- Laurel's SWAN!
As an adult/author, this is a book that challenges me. I know that I wouldn’t make the same choices Streatfield made if I were writing Ballet Shoes today. To begin with, the premise is absolutely insane—an orphan book to beat all orphan books. G.U.M. (Great Uncle Matthew is the name of the paleontologist) literally finds Pauline floating in the ocean). Posy just coincidentally comes with a pair of toe-shoes, and then turns out to be a dance prodigy. It’s all so ridiculously convenient. 

Then, if you get past the premise, you have to deal with the  fact that G.U.M. utterly neglects the girls for about a decade, but is welcomed back with open arms when he finally turns up at the end, so that the whole big crazy mess gets tied up with a big bow, happily ever after. That sort of ending is something I generally loathe in a book, but somehow I don’t mind it in Ballet Shoes. 

In writing this little essay, I’ve put some thought into why that is, and I’m still a little baffled, to tell you the truth. As with all great books, there’s something that defies analysis here, something that breaks the rules. But this much I know—I’m willing to forgive the less believable elements in Ballet Shoes because of Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, because the girls themselves are so real, fully formed complex characters, unlikeable in moments, petulant and jealous and petty. But also loving, committed to each other, and grateful for all they have.  Like actual kids. 

Also, though the premise of the book feels impossible, the underlying theme—that a bunch of random people can come together under any circumstances, form a family, and then overcome whatever obstacles they face—is so inherently true. 

Then there’s the tone of the book, which feels, even now, bright and conversational. As a kid, I felt like it was speaking to me. I really did. 'I wonder,' (says Petrova in the final line of the book) …'if other girls had to be one of us, which of us they’d choose to be?'  

I remember lying on my blue bedspread, in my childhood room, closing the book as I finished it, letting it fall onto my chest, and pondering that question. I knew the answer, of course. (I was, am, and will always be a Pauline). But it was as though Petrova had asked me a question, and I owed it to her to spare a few minutes thinking about my answer.  Because she was my friend. (And thank goodness she still is!)

Don't miss Laurel's breathtaking new book!  

by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad
Chronicle Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1452118901

Junior Library Guild Selection
ABC(ABA) Best Books for Young Readers

“Spare, poetic words sit as lightly as snowflakes.” Wall Street Journal 

"A tender, delicate recounting.'' Publishers Weekly

"Young ballet lovers will be smitten with the story." Kirkus Reviews

"Exquisite." The Horn Book Magazine 

Laurel Snyder is the author of five middle grade novels and six picture books, most recently SWAN, the Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova.  She lives in Atlanta, GA, and online at Follow her @laurelsnyder on Twitter!


  1. Thank-you for sharing your memories of Ballet Shoes. I have always been strangely drawn to that book, though, like you I can't tell you exactly why. Perhaps it is that sense of place which makes me want to search through Gum's collection, ramble through the Fossil house, go through the rigours of the Academy, or even travel to Kuala Lumpur.

    1. Sounds like a world we'd like to visit, too. Thanks for your comment, Joanne!

  2. Swan was so moving and lyrical--such a gorgeous book!!