[Can I tell you a secret? I only discovered in the last few years that Jean Estoril was a pseudonym for the legendary Mabel Esther Allan..and I’m still not quite over it. Fun fact: “Jean Estoril” is almost an anagram for “neorealist” and this has entertained me ever since…]
Ballet for Drina by Jean Estoril
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I first read the Drina series many moons ago and didn’t really think that much of them. Though I devoured titles by people like Noel Streatfeild and Lorna Hill, the Drina books always felt a little bit more pedestrian to me. They were pleasant pedestrian, if such a thing could be, but they were definitely pedestrian. Enjoyable to read, but when you were done, you were done.
Ballet For Drina, plus a handful of other titles from the series, recently surfaced in a nearby shop to me and I picked them up – partially to see if I still thought they were pedestrian, but also to simply read something pleasant. Something simple. If ever a year demands such books to have their time, it is this. And so Ballet for Drina, Drina Dances in Switzerland (you know you’re in a classic kid’s series when you get to Switzerland my friends), and Drina Goes on Tour made their way home with me.
And yes, Ballet For Drina still had that slightly pedestrian edge to it, but it also had something rather wonderful and that was the bones of a very classic ballet story. Girl discovers talent, works at it, deals with problems in her way, becomes good. It won’t reinvent the wheel by any means, but it does what it does in a real solid and rather satisfying fashion. I also found it pleasing that the difficulty of this path is emphasised: being a ballerina is not easy and requires sacrifice from all concerned. Yes, some of the moments are Slightly Ridiculous, but all good classic children’s lit has that mildly ridiculous edge. We allow it because we believe in the world, and the world of Drina – even though it’s full of balletomanes on every corner and she goes to dos wearing a little white dress with a scarlet capes (ugh, I love it) – is believable. It really is.
There’s a lot here to love; it has that Blytonian quality of being almost grimly readable and accessible, and I think the earlier books where Drina is young, could still provide a lot of appeal for contemporary young readers. And that’s because, in many ways, this is still a stone cold classic piece of children’s literature.
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