Why I love White Boots by Noel Streatfeild

skygiants: books from your childhood that made you happier when you reread them as an adult!

I think probably what you mean is books that I like even better as an adult than I did as a kid, and I am not sure the book I am going to talk about is a correct answer, because I absolutely loved Noel Streatfeild’s White Boots as a kid. But it was the first book to come to mind, so I am going to talk about it anyway!

White Boots is about Harriet Johnson, a quiet kid from a poor, boisterous family who picks up skating to strengthen her “cotton woolish” legs after an illness. She meets Lalla Moore, whose figure skater celebrity parents died when she was a baby, and who is being brought up by an ambitious aunt to be a skating champion. Lalla gives Harriet a chance to skate, but Harriet and her family give Lalla a chance to be an ordinary kid.

I loved this book so much as a kid, but I hadn’t reread it much after a certain age, so when I reread it recently it was like coming to it new. And it was so great because I remembered just enough to know when satisfying emotional moments were coming up, but I didn’t remember what they actually were, so I was perfectly primed to enjoy them. There are lots of different things about the book that really work for me — that common theme in Streatfeild’s books, about kids doing jobs, or rather vocations, is prominent here; the central relationship is the friendship between Harriet and Lalla; and there is lots and lots of delicious skating jargon.

I enjoyed this part of the book a lot as a kid already, because there’s something about reading skating jargon that is like the delight of reading the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings — all those delicious obscure worldbuilding details. But there were two great advantages to reading the skating jargon as an adult, viz., Wikipedia and YouTube! So I have finally learnt what compulsory figures are (I do recommend watching the video at that link — it is sort of beautiful and poignant even if, like me, you know nothing about skating).

But apart from the skating, the book has several examples of valuable work that kids do and enjoy and value in different ways: Harriet’s brother Alec has a paper round which he is doing to pay for the costs of Harriet’s skating, but he takes pride in it and values it in part because it helps him save up for his dream, which is to have a market garden. I liked this as a kid, but as an adult I think I appreciate it even more because I don’t feel like there is a lot of fiction about, you know, work — everyday work — and it’s odd given what a huge part of most people’s lives it is.

I also really like the dynamic between Lalla and Harriet — the way they end up fighting is just really interesting to me, the combination of factors that lead Lalla to go off on Harriet, the pressure she feels from her aunt but also from herself. And then later the adjustment she has to make when she realises Harriet is better than her at this thing that she’s been doing all her life, but maybe there’s another thing she can do and be good at and be happy.

I don’t know if any of that makes sense if you haven’t read the book! But basically it is a book about careers and familial pressure and vocations and blood and found families, and dealing with the fact that your life is not going to be what you thought it would be. And it is also about SKATING, and features characters toasting bread on actual fires. It is a perfect thing of its kind.


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