Review of ‘The Silver Shoes’ series
Don’t you just love it when you discover that your new neighbours are extremely likeable, adore books, collect vintage everything, love baking, love studying (except she went one higher and has a PhD – I will get there one day), have children the same age as your own and you’re able to compare second child traumas and tantrums? The one thing that I do not have in common with Sam is that she has 20 years of dance experience, whereas I fell off a stage in a ballet concert at 6 and thus my ballet career ended. So when the first two books in the ‘Silver Shoes’ series appeared on my doorstep – I handed them over the back fence for reading and review. So handy this new neighbour. Thanks Sam!
View and purchase ‘Silver Shoes’ books here or by clicking on title links or cover images.
Publisher: Random House Australia
Age Range: Middle to upper primary
Themes: Jazz, hip hop and ballroom dancing; friendship; jelousy and trust; family; financial pressures; perseverance and strength; self-belief.
When Megan asked me to review these two books I have to admit I was most chuffed. I am a huge fan of children and young adult literature and have spent over 20 years of my life dancing, so I was very excited. So often books about dance for children focus on ballet and whilst ballet is a beautiful and challenging craft, it is by no means the only form of dance that children should be able to enjoy in a story! The first story, ‘And all that Jazz’, already had me very impressed with the reference to the magnificent musical “Chicago”, with the use of “and all that jazz” (this being the opening number in the musical). I also love the idea of a book series being set at a studio (Silver Shoes in this case) that takes its jazz and hip hop seriously and offers a range of classes (i.e. not just focussing on ballet). This is the reality for many young dancers today (i.e. they need to be good “all round” dancers) and therefore should resonate with many of them reading the story.
The “Silver Shoes” series is aimed at independent readers from about seven years, suitable for up to eleven years. The author has created four central characters, three of whom are already friends in the first book, with the fourth clearly becoming a strong member of the gang by the end of the second book. The sense of community and friendship the author creates around the studio is lovely and certainly reminds me of my experiences (e.g. costume fittings, mums helping out, hanging around before class, rehearsing for shows). I have to say that I did find it hard to believe that these girls were only 10 with the level of dancing they were doing on only two or three classes per week, but perhaps that is all just part of the fantasy for the reader! The illustrations are heavily influenced by Japanese manga cartoons and from my limited exposure (thus far) to ABC 3, should appeal to this age group. In particular, I really liked the bonus features at the end of book, including a two page character review; an example of how to perform one of the more common dance moves mentioned in the book and a glossary of dance terms. I am no hip hop dancer and certainly had to check the definition for some of the moves in the second book!
Of the two stories, I have to say that I preferred the second story, ‘Hit the Streets’ better, in part because of the character and in part because of the story. I felt the second book was more natural and flowed better than the first. I found the second book a lot more natural than the first book and felt it flowed better. Ashley is the central character in the second book and she is delightful. She has spirit, talent and determination and certainly overcomes many obstacles before achieving her dream. I really cared about what happened to Ashley and wanted to know what happened next. We know that Ashley’s family have financial difficulties and her parents can’t afford for her to do her beloved hip hop class, so she must come up with another way of paying for her class. This is very inspiring as dancing is by no means cheap and I am sure there are many young girls out there (like me 25 years ago) who would have loved to have done many more classes than their parents were able to afford. Not only does Ashley find a resourceful way of overcoming this problem she takes her family along for the journey and they all benefit. I really felt the electricity of her performance and believed in her talent and strength.
The first story definitely establishes the main characters at Silver Shoes. Of course there are some “mean girls” at the studio (as is the case with most things in life) and the girls must stick together in order to overcome some of the taunts and teasing that comes their way. The central character in this first book is Ellie, who clearly has masses of talent and support from her family. However (and this may just be me), I felt that she was overly mean to the new girl Ashley. Ashley preservers through all this and there is certainly a resolution towards friendship at the end but I felt sorry for Ashley. That being said, I will certainly still be reading it to my little girl when she is older and using it as a platform to discuss issues around friendship and jealousy. The text may be a challenge for younger readers in some chapters (especially the reference to a very mature poem in Chapter 13 that I don’t think many readers will understand) but nothing that a parent could not help them get through.
Overall, I think the author has really captured the spirit, friendship and community of not just dance itself, but (and some might say more importantly) the sense of community and belonging that comes from being a part of a beautiful dance studio. Dance is competitive, expensive and difficult…but it is also joyous, electric, life changing and the most fun you’ll ever have!