Designs by Isabelle is the second book about Isabelle Palmer.


See Also: Minor Characters in Isabelle's Stories

Chapter By Chapter Summary

Chapter One: The Mouse Whisperer

Isabelle lingers in the studio one Saturday to visualize her routine for The Nutcracker. She tries to tune out distractions, particularly thoughts about the upcoming holiday season, and pictures a box of toys. First comes a jack-in-the-box--her jete (leap). Next comes a top to represent a pirouette. As Isabelle starts to spin, she hears a little girl crying that she's stuck. It turns out to be one of three little girls in mouse costumes, about five years old. Her friends are trying to help (and revealing that her name is Addison) but their mouse paws are too clumsy to unjam the zipper. Isabelle calms Addison down and manages to free her from the costume. As the little redhead rushes into the restroom, Isabelle asks if the other girls are on break, too. They reply that they just offered to help Addison to get away from improvising, which one girl states that she hates. Isabelle says she has to do a lot of improvising too, but it can be fun, especially if she has something to visualize. She suggests that they could try dancing like the Three Blind Mice. They beg her to demonstrate, and Isabelle agrees, but asks them to lead her back to their studio first. Studio B is a madhouse of young mice running around as a blond ponytailed woman and the director Mr. Kosloff attempt to keep order. Isabelle begins to dance, imagining a swaggering, confident mouse with hands on her hips. The three girls imitate her, to the delight of both Mr. Kosloff and the woman, whose name turns out to be Bettina. Mr. Kosloff declares that all the mice should swagger like that, then pulls Isabelle aside as Bettina takes over the class. Isabelle expects to be scolded for leaving her rehearsal (even though Ms. Ferri gave her class a break) but instead Mr. Kosloff praises her for how good she is with small children. Impressed that he remembered her name, Isabelle explains that she sometimes accompanies her father to the children's ward in the hospital where he works, adding that they have a big bin of old costume pieces for the kids to play with. This reminds Mr. Kosloff of Isabelle's costume for the Autumn Festival, and he asks if her mother designed it. Isabelle says she designed it but her mother sewed it, and Mr. Kosloff replies that they both did a good job. Then he asks if Isabelle can help out with the costumes for the party scene in Act One of The Nutcracker, since it's set in modern times and he isn't up-to-date on fashions for children. Isabelle is stunned, but accepts the offer. After Mr. Kosloff explains where to find the Wardrobe department (third floor, ask for Margie) before sending Isabelle back to rehearsal. Isabelle obeys, though she's tempted to look at the designs right away.

Chapter Two: Bowling-Ball Belle

As Isabelle enters Studio C, Ms. Ferri is strapping on a tall pair of stilts. The role of Mother Ginger in New York City Ballet's Nutcracker is usually played by men, but Ms. Ferri is tall enough and strong enough to manage the enormous costume. Her skirt will be big enough to hide not only the special stilts but eight children as well. Isabelle hurries with the other dancers to surround Ms. Ferri when she calls places, standing between Luisa and Renata. She is extra careful around Renata, since the other girl is her understudy and will play Gingerbread Girl if anything happens to Isabelle...and Renata seems to be hoping for that outcome. The rest of the children are from other schools, so Isabelle doesn't know them. They all crouch down, practicing moving as if they are hiding under the Mother Ginger skirt. In Mr. Kosloff's version of the Nutcracker, the international dances in the Land of the Sweets are replaced by short fairy-tale dances in the Land of Dreams (though the Sugar Plum Fairy still has her signature dance), so Isabelle is starring in the tale of the runaway "can't catch me" gingerbread cookie. The rehearsal music begins, with Ms. Ferri counting along with the rhythm. In time with the beat, she and the children step sideways until Mother Ginger is fully "onstage". A panel would open in the skirt, which is Isabelle's cue to leap out, imagining a jack-in-the-box. Ms. Ferri as Mother Ginger beckons for the cookie, but Isabelle as the Gingerbread Girl shakes her head and leaps away. Ms. Ferri shouts encouragements and reminders as Isabelle continues to dance and the other children appear from the imaginary skirt. A boy named Emilio comes first, playing a police officer who tries to catch the cookie, but Isabelle pirouettes away. She has a little trouble staying upright but hopes no one notices. Next comes a girl named Agnes as a milkmaid. This time, Isabelle has trouble--between keeping her balance and focusing on one spot of wall to prevent dizziness, she's forgetting to keep up the sassy Gingerbread Girl smile. On the next turn, Isabelle wobbles more when she tries to smile. Renata, whose turn is next in the role of a duchess, asks in a whisper how Isabelle managed to get "her" role as the Gingerbread Girl. Isabelle spins even faster and ends up tumbling into Renata, who shoves her aside asking if she's supposed to be a human bowling ball. Three more dancers and three more pirouettes go without mishap, but Isabelle knows she looks sloppy. Lastly is Luisa's turn, as a fox. Instead of trying to catch the cookie, the fox ignores her, prompting Gingerbread Girl to dance closer and closer trying to get the fox's attention. Isabelle is supposed to pirouette away at the last second when Luisa the fox makes a grab for her, but she stumbles and almost falls again. The scene is supposed to end with Mother Ginger beckoning all of her children back into the skirt for their exit, but all Isabelle's stumbling pirouettes have thrown off the timing and they have to rush. Ms. Ferri says the purpose of a rehearsal is to work out mistakes before calling everyone back to places for the top of the number. Renata bumps Isabelle on her way, calling her "Bowling Ball Belle". Isabelle resolves to hold onto her part as Gingerbread Girl no matter what.

Chapter Three: The Real Fairy Godmother

Isabelle manages not to fall for the rest of the rehearsal, but her pirouettes are consistently wobbly. She gripes softly about Renata, and Luisa says Renata's just jealous about Isabelle's role. She suggests that Jade can help Isabelle with her pirouettes, but Isabelle knows that Jade has been preoccupied a lot lately--likely due to her upcoming role as Clara. Luisa checks her phone and finds a message from her brother Danny, who says he has leave over the holidays and can come see the show. Isabelle wonders who Danny will see as the Gingerbread Girl--her or Renata. In the hallway, Isabelle meets Jade, who seems unusually tired and glum even for having rehearsed such a big role. When asked, however, Jade simply says she has a lot to remember as Clara. Luisa is sympathetic--after all, Clara is the heart of the show. Isabelle decides to wait until later before asking her sister for help in her own routine. She remembers the costumes and tells Luisa and Jade about Mr. Kosloff's request. The three find a lounge on the third floor intended for members of the dance company on the way to Wardrobe. Isabelle compares the inside of Wardrobe to Ali Baba's cave of treasure, as it's full of bright fabrics, bins of notions and trim, cutting tables, finished tutus and costumes hanging from the ceiling, and several sewing machines. A woman holding a mug that reads "The Real Fairy Godmother" asks if she can help Isabelle. She turns out to be Margie and says that Mr. Kosloff mentioned Isabelle but not how young she is. Luisa says Isabelle has designed great costumes before, and Margie says Isabelle looks just like her young son in a candy store. Isabelle smiles back and says the costume shop is amazing. Margie jokes that unlike Cinderella's godmother, they make gowns that last past midnight as she hands Isabelle a large brown envelope. Luisa is eager to see the designs inside, but Isabelle says she thinks Mr. Kosloff wanted only Isabelle to see the copies. Jade doesn't even seem to notice the envelope, let alone Luisa's attempts to convince Isabelle to open it. Isabelle is reassured that, even if she's kicked from the performance for her pirouettes, she still gets to contribute to the show in some way.

Chapter Four: A Pizza Party

As the Palmer sisters pick up pizza for supper, Isabelle begins to worry about Jade's silence. However, (she reminds herself), Isabelle is only in one number while Jade is in almost every scene. At home, she has to hold the pizza high out of Tutu's reach, as the kitten is ready to pounce on anything smelling of pepperoni. Jade offers to make a salad despite Isabelle's protests that pizza is enough. Isabelle opens a can of cat food, which is usually enough to bring Tutu straight to her dish, but Tutu instead begins pawing at the pizza box. As Isabelle puts the kitten on the floor, Jade reminds her not to sneak Tutu any pepperoni, and Tutu mews in protest. Isabelle sets the table while Jade pours the salad into Mom's fancy wooden bowl, then heaps some onto Isabelle's plate. Isabelle asks if the leftover carrot cake from her tenth birthday last week would count as a vegetable instead, and both sisters give in and begin eating pizza--and wiping sauce off each others' faces. Mom arrives and Isabelle hands the large plateful of salad to her, taking a more reasonable portion for herself. Isabelle asks how the craft fair was, and Mom responds that she sold three of her most expensive pieces. She asks about rehearsal, to which Isabelle carefully responds that she's still learning the steps (Mom isn't a dancer, so she won't understand the specific problems involved) before adding the news about the costumes. Mom is impressed, then asks Jade how her rehearsal went. Jade mumbles "fine" just as Dad comes in earlier than expected--his band was supposed to play at a party that got canceled last-minute. Jade begins to serve him salad, and Mom notices that her sweater looks too small for her. Jade says the sweater must have shrunk in the dryer but gets snappish when Mom and Dad ask further questions. She ends up storming off to the girls' room, and Dad wonders what's wrong with her. Isabelle says she has a big part as Clara, and Mom adds that Jade is such a perfectionist that she pushes herself extra hard. Isabelle hears Jade's Nutcracker music start to play from upstairs, but doesn't hear the thumping that would mean Jade is dancing along. Isabelle realizes something must be really bothering her sister and resolves to find out what it is.

Chapter Five: Clara's Costume

In Isabelle and Jade's room, Jade is huddled on top of her bed, hiding her face. She asks if Mom and Dad are mad at her, and Isabelle says no, they know how much pressure Jade is under. Jade snaps that she can dance Clara, and Isabelle wonders why Jade is acting like there's any doubt as to what she can do. She asks if Mr. Kosloff is giving her a hard time, to which Jade only shakes her head. Isabelle asks what the other dancers are like, wondering if any of them are like Renata. Jade asks why Isabelle is so curious as the music restarts. Isabelle offers to get out of Jade's way so she can practice, but Jade turns her down. Isabelle offers to show Jade her costume, admitting that she only told Luisa the costumes were for Isabelle alone because Luisa is bad at keeping secrets. Jade cheers up a tiny bit as Isabelle opens the envelope, noticing that Margie had given her all the Act One costumes instead of just the party scene. She finds Clara's dress and holds it up, studying it with Jade. The light purple dress has a fitted top with long sleeves and a short flared skirt with a sheer overlay. Isabelle says it's pretty but could be better. Jade looks through Mr. Kosloff's notes in the margins, saying that light blue would suit her better than purple, and the sleeves make the dress look like one for an old lady. Isabelle says red would stand out better onstage than light blue but agrees about the sleeves. She sketches a short-sleeved version, then changes it to a sleeveless version. Jade likes the new sketch better but still seems moody about something. Isabelle thinks that the dress is still too plain for the star of the party but doesn't push her luck with Jade, who is clearly still troubled by something she isn't sharing.

Isabelle decides to look over the costumes in the living room where the light is better, but runs into Mom, who reveals she's cleared out the white armoire in the sewing room so Isabelle can use it. Isabelle is amazed and grateful, and Mom says she wants Isabelle to keep developing her talent for design as well as her dancing. Isabelle offers to show Mom the designs, but Mom says she'll just end up making comments and that Mr. Kosloff wanted Isabelle's opinion. She leaves with a reminder that a good design looks good on the wearer as well as on paper, and Isabelle gets to work. She writes and sketches several suggestions on the party outfits before peeking at the costumes for the battle scene. The soldiers need no improvement in her opinion, but the mice look too much like weasels, which wouldn't invade a house even if they do look like scary villains. Isabelle writes, then sketches a suggestion that the muzzles should be shorter and rounder. She almost erases the sketch, remembering that Mr. Kosloff only asked for help with the party costumes, but ends up leaving it.

Chapter Six: The Partygoers

Jade wakes Isabelle from a nightmare involving weasels. Isabelle thinks that day's full rehearsal of Act One, in front of Mr. Kosloff, is an even worse nightmare, since her pirouettes are still wobbly. The sisters dress in dance clothes--Jade making a point of wearing light blue--and eat breakfast, which is oatmeal with banana slices prepared by Dad. On the way to HDC, Jade is again preoccupied as she listens to her routine music, so Isabelle pays extra attention to make sure they take the right bus. At HDC, a guard lets them into the "performers and staff only" section of the theater. Most of the young dancers are waiting outside Studio A for Mr. Kosloff, so they, including Isabelle and Jade, catch a rare glimpse of the professional adult dancers out of costume as they begin to arrive for their own part in the rehearsal. Jade, who will be onstage with these dancers for much of the show, whispers to Isabelle that she's sorry for being grouchy and is glad Isabelle is there. Bettina lets all the dancers into the studio, and many, including Isabelle and Luisa, are awed. Not only is the studio HDC's largest, but Jackie Sanchez herself is right there next to Mr. Kosloff. Isabelle's awe turns to worry when she realizes her idol will see every wobbly pirouette she makes, then anger as Renata smirks at her, probably thinking the same thing. The rehearsal begins from the top with the party scene. All the partygoers are engrossed in handheld electronic devices--cell phones, tablets, and the like--and according to the sketches in Isabelle's bag, all but Clara will be dressed in dull colors to emphasize how boring their life is. Isabelle remembers that the boys' costumes are all formal--dress pants, sweaters, blazers. She scribbles a quick note suggesting some boys should be in short sleeves too. Next in the scene comes Drosselmeyer's entrance. He is disgusted that everyone is ignoring each other and shuts down the devices with a wave of his hand, then brings out magical dolls (actually adult dancers). Isabelle thinks they should be wearing bright flashy colors to stand out, but doesn't have the adults' designs to write notes on. After the dolls dance, the partygoers interact with one another, to Drosselmeyer's satisfaction. He dances with Jade as Clara, then gives her a wooden nutcracker. Isabelle pictures the flared skirt of Jade's costume swirling as she dances, but her mental picture still looks bland to her. In Scene 2, the little mice parade onto the stage, swaggering with hands on hips as Isabelle suggested. She is proud that Mr. Kosloff followed her advice when Jade reenters, looking for the Nutcracker. The mice swarm her, prompting the live Nutcracker to emerge (played by a boy named Paul wearing a tall mask). He and several toy soldiers fight against the mice, and Jade throws her shoe at the Mouse King. The Nutcracker "kills" the Mouse King, but is wounded. As the soldiers chase the mice away, Jade as Clara kneels over her defender. Drosselmeyer returns to heal the wounded Nutcracker and transform him into the Prince, at which point Paul removes his mask. Jade dances a short solo before Paul stands up to join her. That's when the snickering starts from a corner of the room. Jade is several inches taller than Paul, and a ponytailed girl whispers that Jade must like seeing the top of Paul's head. A boy next to her asks in a stage whisper if Paul needs a ladder. Jade hears him and Isabelle instantly sees the difference--her sister is hunching over and her movements are stiff. Paul seems to be trying to encourage her, but it doesn't help. Isabelle has never seen Jade dance this badly. When Mr. Kosloff calls for a break before they start Act Two, Jade makes a beeline for the door and is soon running full speed down the hall.

Chapter Seven: Sisters in Waiting

Isabelle finds Jade in the ladies’ bathroom, sobbing that Mr. Kosloff will cut her from the show due to her height. Isabelle tries to comfort her, but Jade is distraught. She says at least she’ll get to see Isabelle dance, which reminds Isabelle of her own trouble. But after telling Jade not to quit, Isabelle needs to follow her own advice and stick it out.

It’s time to rehearse the Mother Ginger sequence. Isabelle joins her castmates, shaken by Jade’s despair--if a perfect dancer like Jade can lose hope, what does that mean for her?--when the music begins. Isabelle is not the only one thrown off by the change in pianists, who each play the piece in their own slightly different way. When they are in position, Isabelle is so worried that her smile looks fake, her leaps more like hops. The first two pirouettes go smoothly, until Renata reminds her in a whisper that Mr. Kosloff is watching. Isabelle tries to keep her concentration but ends up falling and knocking Renata over. There are laughs and a couple snide remarks, and Isabelle knows exactly how Jade feels as the rehearsal ends. Mr. Kosloff gives notes to the rest of the dancers then asks to speak with both Palmer girls. Luisa wishes them luck as she leaves. Mr. Kosloff, standing next to Jackie Sanchez, asks what happened, then answers his own question by stating Jade has adjusted her moves perfectly to accommodate her growth spurt and reminding her to keep dancing no matter what happens--like he had to do when his tights wore out and snapped in the middle of a performance. He tells both girls that staying focused is important--Isabelle let her mistakes get to her that day. Isabelle thinks it was Renata who got to her but doesn’t say anything. He tells her to practice the basics at home, and Jackie adds that she shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes. She explains to a shocked Isabelle that dancers, like any human being, make mistakes, but the audience is less likely to notice a mistake if the dancer keeps going like nothing happened. Isabelle is too surprised to respond until Mr. Kosloff asks for her notes on the costume designs. Jade puts in that Isabelle really knows what she’s doing when it comes to fashion, and Isabelle silently thanks her. Before Mr. Kosloff can open the envelope, Bettina interrupts , asking for Mr. Kosloff to discuss the production before the next cast arrives. Mr. Kosloff asks if Isabelle wrote down her comments and Isabelle says she did, along with sketches. Jackie Sanchez says Isabelle must have many talents, which puts both sisters in a good mood as they leave.

As the girls prepare the supper Mom left for them (she’s still at work, and Dad has a gig with his band), Jade asks how long Isabelle has been having trouble with her pirouettes. Isabelle admits that she’s been wobbly ever since rehearsal started, and that she hadn’t told Jade because Jade had seemed moody herself. Isabelle asks why Jade didn’t tell her what was wrong, and Jade says there was nothing anyone could do about her height. Jade asks how Isabelle has been visualizing her routine, and Isabelle tells her about the toy box. Jade offers to help Isabelle practice, but not that night as they both have homework for school.

Chapter Eight: A Magic Trick

Isabelle discovers a crowd near the lockers at school the next day. Gabriel is its source, performing a card trick. Once he’s finished, he and Luisa both ask if Isabelle is all right. Luisa volunteers to quit the show in solidarity if Isabelle has been cut, but Isabelle (touched at her friend’s loyalty) tells them that Mr. Kosloff and Jackie Sanchez just wanted to give her some advice. Luisa says she can’t wait to tell Renata that Isabelle actually got to talk to Jackie Sanchez, and Isabelle jokingly warns her not to as Renata is already jealous enough to explode. The girls convince Gabriel to show them his card trick (on the condition that they quit pestering him to show them any more) and he explains how to do the flip over card trick. He adds that the performance is most important. To keep the audience from noticing when he flips the deck over, Gabriel must direct their attention elsewhere--perhaps by telling them a few jokes. He says that misdirection--getting the audience to see what he wants them to see--is the biggest part of any magic trick. Isabelle wishes there were a way to misdirect the Nutcracker audience’s attention away from her wobbly pirouettes.

As soon as the Palmer girls get home from school, Jade begins moving the living room furniture out of the way so Isabelle can practice her pirouettes. Isabelle gets into position, dodging Tutu the kitten, who has just tried to pounce on Mom’s “Pond Dreams” mobile, and begins to twirl. She goes through six off-balance pirouettes before Jade says she sees the problem: Isabelle is concentrating on her footwork and has forgotten to keep her arms in the proper position. When they’re too far out, Jade explains, centrifugal force ends up pulling Isabelle off balance. Sure enough, Jade’s wide-armed pirouette is wobbly and causes her to stumble. She then demonstrates another pirouette, this time with her arms held straight. Sure enough, her spin is balanced perfectly. Isabelle tries it, and is soon pirouetting across the room with ease. She thanks Jade and asks if there’s anything she herself can do to help her sister. Jade says Isabelle can’t really make her shorter, which is true. Tutu pounces at the mobile again, missing but setting the delicate fabric and wire into rippling motion. Isabelle admires it, reminded of Gabriel’s advice by the way the V shapes of fabric draw the eye towards the lily in the middle, like arrows. She wonders aloud if there might be a way to get people to look at Jade’s dancing instead of her height. Pointing to the mobile, she says they need to look at Jade’s legs and feet rather than her head. Jade replies she can’t exactly wear Moms artwork, but Isabelle is too caught up in her idea to laugh at the joke. She asks if Jade has an old practice skirt, and Jade obliges with a simple gray one. Isabelle rushes to the sewing room with it, sketching a quick design before rifling through the armoire and choosing a soft lavender fabric. She bastes strips to the gray skirt in a series of V shaped chevrons, which remind her of a flock of birds in flight. Once she’s finished, Isabelle brings the skirt upstairs to Jade’s room for her to try on. The girls decide to practice Jade’s dance downstairs with the skirt on, with Isabelle playing the music from Jade’s laptop. At Jade’s first spin, Isabelle’s eyes are drawn instantly downward. The chevrons act like arrows, pointing directly to Jade’s feet and away from her head. Jade begins to dance more confidently than Isabelle’s seen her do in weeks, until she notices that one of the lavender strips has come loose. As Isabelle is reassuring her that it’s only basted and easy to fix, Mom and Dad arrive home, frantically trying to conceal newly bought holiday presents from one another. Mom notices Jade’s skirt right away, and Isabelle isn’t sure how much to explain. However, Jade bravely tells the whole story, eliciting sympathy from Mom and regret from Dad (who had been trying to praise Jade for how much she’d grown). Jade explains that using the skirt design to refocus the audience’s attention was Isabelle’s idea, and Mom congratulates her, adding her own advice on how the design could be improved (which Isabelle had been expecting and even hoping for): lighter material, ruching along the diagonal bands. Isabelle pictures this and quickly agrees. In the end, all four of them work together to finish the skirt (Dad can’t sew, but he makes himself useful cutting strips of fabric). Jade’s grateful smile is all Isabelle needed.

Chapter Nine: The Toy Top

During lunch at school the next day, Isabelle tells Luisa and Gabriel about solving Jade’s height problem. She thanks Gabriel for giving her the idea to misdirect the audience’s (and to some extent, Jade’s) attention away from the top of her head. She sketches the skirt on a napkin to show her friends. Luisa says she hopes with all her might that the skirt will work, and Isabelle realized just how much the entire cast is depending on Jade as Clara. She crosses her fingers and tries to cross her toes, hoping along with Luisa that Jade’s skirt will do its job.

Though Isabelle’s dancing has improved over the week’s worth of practice with Jade, she’s still nervous when Saturday comes. Right before entering the HDC, Jade grabs Isabelle’s hand and tells her to remember the toy top no matter what--spin like a top so any distractions bounce right off. Inside, Luisa is the only one to notice Jade’s new skirt, even once rehearsal begins. It is only when Paul takes off his Nutcracker mask for Clara’s dance with the Prince that people began to see the difference. There is a couple initial giggles when Paul stands up, but those quickly fall silent when Jade begins to dance. She’s graceful and confident and as perfect a dancer as Isabelle has always known her to be. Even Jackie Sanchez seems to have realized something’s changed, or at least Isabelle sees her lean over and whisper something to Mr. Kosloff. When the scene is over, Renata tells Isabelle she wishes she could watch Jade dance all the time the way Isabelle can. Renata tries to provoke Isabelle by implying she’ll never be as good as Jade (which Isabelle thinks she herself already knows), and seems a tiny bit disappointed when Isabelle politely asks her to move so she can get ready for the Mother Ginger routine. Mr. Kosloff calls break for everyone, then pulls Jade aside to ask where she got the skirt. Jade says Isabelle designed it and the whole family helped make it. Mr. Kosloff scrutinizes the skirt, compliments Isabelle on her design, then tells Jade to relay a message to Wardrobe saying he wants Clara’s party dress to have chevron ruffles just like Jade’s skirt. Jade hugs Isabelle joyfully on her way out the door, with another reminder to keep her arms in, then hurries upstairs to Wardrobe. Isabelle begins going through her mental toy chest, likening the top’s spinning to armor that not even Renata’s remarks could stick to. When the dancers return and the Mother Ginger scene begins, Isabelle performs perfectly all the way through. Luisa congratulates her, and Isabelle, though heartened, is still nervous about being able to repeat such a performance.

Chapter Ten: Mother Ginger's Skirt

On the day of the dress rehearsal, Isabelle surveys her costume in the mirror. She wears a brown dress with white “icing” details and red “sprinkle” buttons, and a plastic hat to match. The hat is hot and itchy, but Isabelle is too excited to care. Agnes and Renata begin to argue about who’s hogging the mirror, but Isabelle is distracted by Jade, who has just walked in wearing her costume. Isabelle and Luisa admire the red sleeveless dress with ruched chevrons on the skirt. On the way out the door, Luisa’s fluffy fox tail wiggles, causing both Jade and Isabelle to laugh. Isabelle thinks Luisa looks just like a fox with her tail, pointy-eared headband, and sly grin as she wiggles her tail more, this time on purpose. They follow the rest of the dancers into the wings, where Isabelle notices that most of her suggestions about the costumes (short sleeves for the boys, rounder snouts for the mice) have been used. Agnes calls for Isabelle and Luisa, who dodge several professional dancers readying their shoes to meet up with Ms. Ferri, who is strapping on her stilts. She is dressed as Mother Ginger--with a high auburn wig, fancy  turquoise bodice, and makeup--from the waist up, but wears simple stretch pants and regular running shoes. Isabelle observes her castmates’ costumes too: Agnes in a simple milkmaid dress and apron, Renata in a stiff brocaded gown and white wig, and Emilio in a blue police uniform, black hat, and fake mustache. Ms. Ferri raises her arms to let several stagehands lower her huge hoopskirt (turquoise satin like her bodice, lined with plain white cotton) and secure it around her waist. She demonstrates the sideways walk they’ve been practicing, the hoopskirt swaying slightly with each step. There isn’t enough room backstage to practice the whole routine, but Ms. Ferri decides to have the children rehearse entrances and exits, since they haven’t worked with the skirt before. Stagehands lift one side of the hoops to allow everyone to huddle underneath before lowering it again, enclosing them in what looks like a big tent. Ms. Ferri pulls a drawstring, raising the satin central panel of the skirt, and Isabelle sees there’s a secondary panel behind it to hide Ms. Ferri’s stilts and the other children. To exit, Isabelle and the others must slide between the two panels. They continue to practice all through Act One, until their cue comes to go onstage. Isabelle catches a glimpse of Jade and Paul on thrones upstage before ducking through the panel as the music begins. The dress rehearsal continues in stops and starts, and while Isabelle makes no mistakes, she’s never able to perform the whole routine at once before they’re done. After the Mother Ginger scene, Isabelle stays behind to watch the adult dancers in the next scene, which is “Waltz of the Flowers”. Luisa and Isabelle are amazed; the dancers are performing a much longer and more complicated piece than the abridged version that Isabelle danced in last fall--and they’re all en pointe. Isabelle hopes she can dance like that someday, but the adults’ flawless movements make her doubt Jackie’s reassurances that everyone makes mistakes. She begins to fear that she will be the only one to make a mistake during the performance.

Chapter Eleven: A Timid Mouse

When Isabelle and Jade arrive at the HDC theater on the day of their cast’s first performance (as mentioned in the first book, there are three separate casts so no one dancer is overworked by the rigorous schedule of performances), Isabelle feels like she is sizzling inside with excitement and nerves. Jade applies Isabelle and Luisa’s makeup in the common girls’ dressing room as Luisa chatters about her brother Danny, who has leave for the holidays and will be watching the show that day. After what feels like only a moment, Bettina calls all partygoers to the stage. Jade hurries downstairs and Isabelle follows to watch from the wings. Isabelle peeks through the gap between the curtain and the proscenium, seeing a huge, loud audience (loud because there are many children attending the afternoon matinee). Jade seems amazingly calm for someone about to go onstage, visibly becoming Clara right before Isabelle’s eyes when her music cue sounds. Isabelle would have continued watching, but a whimpering “I don’t want to!” makes her turn around. It’s Addison, the little redheaded mouse, who has just thrown off her headpiece in tears. She sobs that she’ll mess up and everyone will laugh, despite Bettina’s attempted reassurances. Isabelle knows exactly how the little girl feels, and crouches beside her, asking if the younger girl remembers her. Addison nods. Isabelle asks if Addison is scared, then adds that the rest of the dancers are too. She adds that no one could mess up worse than she herself had in rehearsal a couple weeks ago, briefly recounting the story of knocking Renata over. Addison giggles when Isabelle dramatically asks if Addison knows what “the other girl” called her, and laughs out loud when Isabelle reveals the answer--a bowling ball. Bettina shushes them but gives Isabelle a grateful look. Isabelle tells Addison that it’s okay to mess up and the only important thing is having fun. She reminds the younger girl that she danced a confident mouse so well that Mr. Kosloff used her dancing as an example for the other mice, which cheers Addison up. Isabelle, with a gesture towards the party scene onstage, says that those dancers are having fun and Addison can too. Addison finally agrees to participate, putting her mouse head on with Isabelle’s help. Bettina thanks Isabelle in a low voice, and Jackie Sanchez gives her a thumbs up. Isabelle is giddy with happiness when Jade comes offstage at the end of the party scene. Jade is sweating but happy as Isabelle hands her a towel. She says the dress felt magical and she’ll never doubt Isabelle’s designs again, then moves out of the way as the mice line up for their entrance. Isabelle watches the Christmas tree prop rise high out of the stage, hearing the rumble of the machinery that the audience can’t hear over the orchestra. When the mice scamper onstage, Addison is clearly enjoying herself. Isabelle hopes she can do the same when it’s her turn.

Chapter Twelve: The Perfect Gingerbread Girl

Isabelle ducks under the huge hoopskirt with the other dancers from her scene. She tries to focus all her attention on her toy box visualization instead of her hot and itchy cookie hat or how cramped it is inside the skirt. The music begins, and Ms. Ferri taps her stilts along with the tempo, then starts stepping to the side, all the children stepping in synchrony underneath the skirt. When the outer panel is raised, Isabelle can’t even see the audience because of the bright lights. She slides out between the panels, steps forward, remembers the jack-in-the-box, and leaps--too soon! For a split second that feels like hours, Isabelle is frozen on the stage. She glances around and spies Jade as Clara in her throne, who is moving her hands very slightly as a signal--jump. The routine floods back into Isabelle’s memory, with it the realization that she can still save the scene if she ignores her mistake and starts dancing now. She turns to Ms. Ferri, who as Mother Ginger beckons for the Gingerbread Girl. Isabelle raises her arms and shakes her head in cheerful defiance before leaping away once more, remembering the jack-in-the-box. Each leap is stronger and higher than the last, reminding Isabelle that both Jade and Mr. Kosloff had said jetes are her strong suit. She catches up to the music quickly, dancing for Addison more than anyone else. Emilio the police officer smiles as widely as Isabelle, licking his lips and rubbing his stomach. When he reaches for the Gingerbread Girl, Isabelle laughs and pirouettes away, holding her arms just right. She hears young children laughing and clapping, rooting for the cookie to escape. Agnes the Milkmaid acts as if she’s starving when it’s her turn to grab for the Gingerbread Girl. Renata plays the perfect Duchess, outraged at the insolent cookie who dared disobey her. And Isabelle whirls happily away from them all. When it’s Luisa the Fox’s turn, she pretends to ignore Isabelle dancing around her. Isabelle dances closer and closer, trying to get the fox’s attention despite one young audience member’s shout of “Don’t do that!”. Luisa finally pounces, and Isabelle pictures the top avoiding the edge of a table as she spins away barely out of Luisa’s reach. Ms. Ferri as Mother Ginger beckons to Isabelle, calling all her children back to her. And behind her, perched on Clara’s throne, is Jade, grinning widely. It is toward her that Isabelle leaps, following her path back to Mother Ginger but seeing only Jade until the skirt panel fills her vision and she has to duck back inside, disappointed but reminding herself there will be other performances. Though the tempo is the same as ever, Mother Ginger’s sideways shuffle offstage seems to take much less time than their entrance had. Stagehands lift the skirt once Ms. Ferri is completely offstage, and all the dancers tumble out, high-fiving each other, even Isabelle and Renata. Luisa says Isabelle looked like she had springs in her feet, and Ms. Ferri says Isabelle is the perfect Gingerbread Girl. Isabelle thinks her routine was anything but perfect but realizes Ms. Ferri is referring to Isabelle’s overall performance and portrayal of the character. Isabelle realizes, despite her worries, that she’d had fun onstage.

After the show, Mr. Kosloff is greeting each dancer as they pass. He calls Luisa his “sly fox” and Isabelle his “little jump-for-joy”, then adds that he appreciated her help with the costumes and that she has a bright future ahead of her. Luisa is impressed that Isabelle was complimented on her dancing and her designs, and Isabelle responds that Danny and his friends are sure to be proud. When Isabelle finds Jade, Renata is already admiring her but moves out of Isabelle’s way. Jade gives her sister a hug, exclaiming that she’s always dreamed that the two of them could dance together in The Nutcracker, but Isabelle had surpassed even her dreams. Luisa wishes aloud that she could take a picture of the Palmers, then gasps. Jackie Sanchez has come right up to Isabelle. She compliments Isabelle’s joyful leaps and contagious happiness, as well as her helpfulness with Addison. Isabelle can only mumble her thanks and that she knew how Addison felt. Jackie remarks that Isabelle seems to be the perfect person to join a project she’s working on, and asks if Isabelle will be in her show. Isabelle is speechless. Her idol, the world-famous dancer, has just asked her to perform on the same stage with her. After Isabelle’s very first performance on a real stage. Jade eventually comes to Isabelle’s rescue, holding her head and nodding it up and down, stating “My sister will be glad to.”

Real Girls, Real Stories

Stories about girls who help others through fashion include:

Three 11-year olds: Aida S., Michelle W., and Sunny L., who started a sewing club to repair items that would otherwise be thrown away

14-year-old Phoenix B., who knits and sells shawls to raise money for good causes

11-year-old Emily G., who gives tips on decorating a fashion sketchbook

12-year-olds Laura D. and Emma P., who created a fashion magazine for their school

See Also

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