Isabelle is the first book about Isabelle Palmer. It was included with the doll when she was available; it is now available separately.

Characters

See Also: Minor Characters in Isabelle's Stories

Chapter By Chapter Summary

Chapter One: Into the Studio

Isabelle begins with a humorous comment comparing a pumpkin-picking field trip at her old school with the inconvenience of sharing a hallway with those dressed as pumpkins--one drama student has just bowled her over with his oversized costume. Luisa shouts that vegetables are supposed to have manners, and the boy calls back that cabbages do but gourds don't. Luisa (whose life with a big brother has toughened her, according to Isabelle) tries to continue the argument, but the pumpkin boy has disappeared into the drama studio. Isabelle asks what's gotten into her friend, and Luisa replies that she's worried about her brother. Though Danny (Luisa's brother) is still only in basic military training, he isn't good at keeping in touch with his family. Isabelle tries to imagine how much she'd miss her big sister Jade, and all she can say to Luisa is that she herself is still there for Luisa to talk to. Luisa thanks her as the bell rings for next period. Isabelle says they're late for ballet and the two hurry through the hallways of Anna Hart School of the Arts, named for a ballerina who had started the Hart Dance Company. Isabelle and Luisa can run faster now that the hallways are empty, and Isabelle reflects that she's always rushing at this new school--whether because she's lost or has extra catching up to do, since she started in the middle of the school year .She thinks that the courses at Anna Hart are far more demanding than at a regular school, so the place really fits its motto: "Per ardua ad astra" or "Through difficulty to the stars". The school is exclusive and has a lottery draw for local applicants. Luisa and Jade both won slots, but Isabelle only got in as part of the sibling program in fourth grade. Isabelle wonders if coming to such an elite school was a good idea.

Isabelle and Luisa arrive at the ballet studio--a more challenging one, with more talented classmates, than the studio Isabelle attended before entering Anna Hart. Despite this, Isabelle loves ballet class--the colorful leotards, the graceful movements of the dancers warming up, the soft sounds of cloth against the wood floor. Ms. Hawken the dance teacher makes no comment on the girls' tardiness, only motions them to the changing room. Isabelle already has on her purple leotard from modern dance class, but switches her shorts for a dance skirt before re-entering class with Luisa in time for warm-ups at the barre. The only spot left for Isabelle is at the end of the barre, next to snobby Renata, who has bragged at length about her expensive leotards in the past.

As the music begins, Isabelle turns out her feet and prepares for the first move Ms. Hawken calls out--a demi-plie. The floor creaks and shifts, causing all the dancers to grip the barre at once. Ms. Hawken walks down the line of students, giving tips and adjusting poses, with extra encouragement for Madelyn (who transferred to Anna Hart the same year as Isabelle but had never taken dance classes before). She advises Luisa to move slower, something Isabelle thinks her friend is incapable of doing, as the class continues through more arm and leg movements, including the battement fondu. They switch to center work (in the middle of the room instead of at the barre, and Isabelle finds she's having a bit of trouble keeping her modern dance "language" separate from the ballet she already knows--Ms. Hawken reprimands her for not keeping her body still while moving her arms, but Mr. Amici (the modern dance teacher) had just told her she held herself too stiffly. In spite of this, Isabelle quickly settles into the familiar routine, enjoying the view in the mirror of a line of dancers moving as one. The class practices jetes, which are Isabelle's favorite move, and she wishes she could keep dancing like this forever. Too soon, though, Ms. Hawken announces it's time to rehearse their dance routine for the Autumn Festival. Isabelle takes her time getting to her spot, explaining that the Autumn Festival features performances by all the dance classes at Anna Hart. Each performer brings their own costume, and even the audience comes in costume. This year, Isabelle's ballet class is dancing an abridged "Waltz of the Flowers". As she joins the other dancers on the tape-marked "stage", Isabelle wonders if she should have chosen to perform in the modern dance class's pirate routine instead of the ballet piece, like Luisa had decided. She had thought ballet, being more familiar to her, would be easier, but had been quickly proven wrong. The music begins, and with it Isabelle's nightmare.

Chapter Two: Dizzy Izzy

It's not that Isabelle didn't know the routine's choreography--she did--but she just can't seem to keep up with the other dancers. Renata in particular is often far too close behind Isabelle, which only makes her even more flustered. By the time the music has finished, Ms. Hawken singles out Isabelle, who briefly worries that she'll be getting a simplified dance routine like Madelyn, but Ms. Hawken only demonstrates the steps in the proper tempo. When Isabelle still isn't dancing fast enough, Ms. Hawken asks Renata to demonstrate, which she does, muttering "watch and learn, Dizzy Izzy" as she goes. Isabelle has trouble keeping up for the rest of class and is quite discouraged despite Luisa's reassurances. On their way out, Ms. Hawken tells Isabelle that she knows the steps and has the skills, but not the confidence she needs to do well. She points out the scarf around her own waist, explaining she wore it for her first major audition and still wears it as a lucky charm--not because it's actually magical, but because it gives her that extra bit of confidence she needs. Isabelle resolves to find her own charm.

At home, Isabelle asks her mother (who always designs the family's Autumn Festival costumes) if her outfit can include a scarf of some sort. Mom admits she hasn't had time to design anything yet and asks if Isabelle wants to do the designing this year. Isabelle is stunned, and Mom goes on to explain that Isabelle is already knowledgeable about clothing design because she's always watched her at work (restoring historical garments for the Smithsonian). Isabelle ponders this, then begins to sketch some designs, starting with a gypsy costume for Jade, whose class will be dancing a segment from Carmen. When it comes to her own costume though, Isabelle is stuck. She stares up at the mobile hanging from the living room ceiling--one of Mom's independent art projects from two years ago. The piece was named Pond Dreams after the trip to Kenilworth Park's Aquatic Gardens that inspired it. Isabelle remembers the way the green lilypads and soft flowers had shimmered on the pond's surface, with one particular pink-and-yellow lily bloom standing out to her. Mom had explained that water lilies grew in murky ponds because of all the nutrients in the mud, then watched as a breeze made all the flowers move and the water sparkle in the newly revealed sunlight. As soon as they'd gotten home that day, Mom had begun work on the mobile that was now inspiring Isabelle just as the flowers on the pond had inspired Mom. She begins to sketch a costume with a long trailing sash of flowers that will swirl around her as she dances like lilies on a pond...and show Renata who "Dizzy Izzy" really was.

Chapter Three: Dance Juice

A tap on her shoulder wakes Isabelle the next morning. At first she thinks it's Tutu, the kitten who was supposed to belong to Mom but is bestowing most of her attention on Jade and occasionally Isabelle. Isabelle tries to push Tutu away and realizes it's actually Mom, reminding her that they should go to the flea market early before all the good costume material is snapped up. Isabelle asks about school, but Mom tells her it's Saturday and if they hurry they can catch Dad's band's performance after they shop. Jade comes in, asking what Isabelle wants on her bagel for breakfast. Isabelle mumbles groggily, which Jade correctly interprets as jelly with cream cheese. As she leaves the sisters' shared room with Tutu following, Jade arches her feet in different dance steps, causing Isabelle to sigh in disappointment and jealousy that she herself will 'never' be as good a dancer as Jade. Mom mistakes her reaction and sleepiness as worry over The Nutcracker, which both sisters intend to try out for. Isabelle says there's no way she'll get chosen, but Mom says with three casts (which take turns performing so everyone can get some rest during the busy holiday season) she has three times as many chances at getting a part.Though her mom has a point, Isabelle still isn't optimistic. Mom recounts that as a baby, Isabelle seemed full of 'dance juice'--she couldn't hold still. As a toddler, she'd leap around so enthusiastically that everything breakable had to be kept out of reach. Isabelle remembers seeing a photo of just that, reflecting on it as she puts together the perfect outfit: silver capris and fancy coral t-shirt, finished off with sparkly shoes, a black jacket, and pink clip-in hair extensions. Mom compliments her on her taste in fashion--something else she's had from a very young age. Isabelle begins bounding around the room, realizing it's still fun to dance spontaneously, just to be dancing. As she straightens Jade's bed (wrinkled from Isabelle jumping on it), Isabelle wishes her waltzing flower routine could be that easy and fun, too.

On the way to the flea market, Isabelle wonders how the signs of fall she sees could be translated into dance. She passes her designs to Mom once they board the public, but still turns with Jade to look at Helen Tischler Performing Arts High School, thinking though Jade will likely go there, she herself is more likely to get no closer than a glance out the bus window. Mom still hasn't said anything about the costumes, which worries Isabelle--but it turns out she really likes them. Jade is tugging at her too-small sweatshirt and has to be asked twice to look at her gypsy costume. She becomes quite defensive when Mom asks if she's grown, but says the gypsy costume is okay. Jade also says Isabelle's sash is far too long and will get in her way, but Isabelle doesn't want to hear any criticisms of her hard work from her sister. They finish the ride to Thornton Landing in silence.

Chapter Four: Flea-Market Magic

After a brief explanation of Thornton Landing and its monthly flea market, Isabelle eagerly begins 'treasure hunting' with her mom and sister. Soon they have accumulated several pieces and materials. Jade even helps Isabelle find a bracelet and tiara for her costume. Both sisters are tempted by a poster of Jackie Sanchez, their favorite dancer, but decide to buy a small postcard instead. Mom is happy to have found everything they need--as even the audience wears costumes at the Autumn Festival. Isabelle overhears her classmate Gabriel showing off his magic card tricks to a skeptical audience near a food stall. The trick is successful, and the onlookers are amazed and ask for more tricks, but Gabriel's older sister Zama says it's time for the band to set up. (She plays in the same band as Isabelle's father.) Gabriel sticks around to explain why people like magic tricks--when your eyes and your brain tell you two different things, you start to wonder if your brain could also be wrong in telling you certain dreams of yours can't happen. Isabelle wishes she could believe in her own dancing skill like that.

The band is running through a sound check when Isabelle approaches. She isn't surprised to see Luisa, since her father is the guitarist, but is surprised that her friend is managing the CD sales table. Danny used to be in charge of selling CDs before he joined the military. Isabelle offers to help Luisa, who is arranging CDs in stacks instead of dumping them on the table like Danny. Isabelle takes a picture of Luisa at the display so she can send it to her older brother in hopes of a reply. The band is ready at last, and they begin with a familiar song. Isabelle remarks at how talented Dad is with his music and what a contrast it is to his regular job as a hospital administrator. After a few songs, Dad announces that their next number is one he composed and arranged for his wife, and Mom stops in surprise. The song, titled Pond Dreams after Mom's mobile, begins with a variation on "Sweet and Low" and adapts into its own song from there. Isabelle is swept into her own memory of the water lilies and begins to dance before she even realizes it. Jade and then Luisa join in, and the dance and song continue happily until Luisa notices a customer at the CD table and hurries to help him. Jade takes Luisa's place and does an elegant, graceful move, which only reminds Isabelle of her own shortcomings. She stops dancing immediately after the song ends and is eager to start on her costume with the lucky sash right away.

Chapter Five: The Invisible Needle

On the way into the sewing room at home, Mom is still humming the Pond Dreams song. Jade catches Tutu before the kitten can destroy anything in the sewing room with her claws and deposits her outside the door. Mom takes Isabelle's measurements but Jade refuses to let her take hers, putting on the peasant blouse from her costume. They can all see that the blouse is too short and Jade insists that they picked the wrong size--not that she has grown. Isabelle quickly pulls out the material they bought for Jade's gypsy shawl and shows her that there is also enough material for a wide sash to hide the gap. Jade thanks Isabelle and tells Mom that the problem is solved. They continue working on the costumes, and both Jade and Mom tell Isabelle she is good at sewing. Jade sighs, saying she loves it in the sewing room and wishes they could hide there forever. Upon being asked what she's hiding from, Jade only shrugs and keeps sewing.

Two days later, Isabelle and the rest of her modern dance class are being lectured by their teacher Mr. Amici on visualization--imagining your dance as an everyday object and making that object the reason for your motion. Isabelle steps back, not wanting to be called on, which reminds her of Jade's remark about hiding in the sewing room. That gives her an idea, and she steps forward, ready to demonstrate. Mr. Amici calls on her, and Isabelle begins to dance. First, she only mimics the in-and-out swish of her mom's arm when she's sewing, then lets the motion carry her until she becomes the needle, swaying back and forth, stitching across the room and finishing with a twisting flourish like a knot. Mr. Amici commends her on her work, saying that she had showed clearly what object she'd pictured before translating it into a new movement. Isabelle's happiness and confidence from this continues through all of ballet warm-ups and halfway through the flower routine, until she remembers there's a tricky step ahead and falls out of time in her concentration on doing the move right. She rejoins the dance, hoping only that her lucky sash will work.

After a few evenings of sewing and crafting together, Isabelle's costume is finished. She tries it on, tying the sash of flowers around her waist. It looks exactly like she'd hoped, but will it make her dancing better? Without thinking, Isabelle begins to hum the waltz, and is soon dancing beautifully around the room. Isabelle thinks Ms. Hawken was right and such a charm really can trick her into dancing well. Even Jade's warning to be careful with her sash isn't enough to dim her spirits.

Chapter Six: The "Lucky" Sash

The next day, Thursday, is the day all the students bring their costumes to school. Isabelle meets Luisa on her way into the building, noticing the bright pink-and-orange flounced pirate dress peeking out of her friend's bag.The girls talk briefly about the show, even seeing Gabriel (who plans to do magic tricks in the auditorium before and after the show). The girls split up and head for their separate rehearsals, Isabelle taping her Jackie Sanchez postcard into her locker before she leaves. In the dressing room, most of Isabelle's classmates are dressed as different flowers--Madelyn with embroidered lavender, Stewart as a boldly colored sunflower--except Renata, who has chosen a sparkly and expensive-looking sequined costume. Ms. Hawken admires it anyway, then moves on to Isabelle. Though she likes the design and workmanship, she too cautions Isabelle about the long sash. And once the class begins their routine, Isabelle discovers that Ms. Hawken and Jade were right. The sash flaps against her legs, distracting her and throwing off her timing. Renata complains that it's getting in her way too, distracting Isabelle even more--and the sash twists around Isabelle's legs, causing her to trip and fall over. Everyone stops dancing, and Ms. Hawken hurries over to see if Isabelle's okay, but only her pride is hurt. She tugs angrily at the sash, which only causes some of the stitching to pull out, and mumbles that Jade was right. Unfortunately, Renata overhears and implies that Jade must have told Isabelle not to transfer to Anna Hart school. Ms. Hawken scolds Renata, but Isabelle is overcome and rushes out of the room. She almost bumps into Jade on her way down the hall, and Jade catches up to her shortly afterwards. Jade demands to know what's wrong, and Isabelle tells her she's just fallen on her face in front of the whole ballet class. Jade says it would be okay if Isabelle could make the sash shorter, but hearing that only makes Isabelle feel worse. She blurts that she only got into Anna Hart because of Jade and that she herself does not belong there. Jade insists that she does, but Isabelle snaps that it's easy for Jade to say that because Jade is perfect. Jade says she has plenty of problems but still says they're none of Isabelle's business, but that she's definitely not perfect. Isabelle says she's tired of everyone comparing her dancing to Jade's, and Jade says they're both good dancers, just in different ways. She adds that Isabelle has always been better at leaps than she has--sometimes she seems to explode into the air. Isabelle is unsure, and Jade explains that Isabelle must be overthinking her dancing, that her brain is so focused on the next step that her body gets confused. She then suggests visualization, explaining that she likes to picture Tutu playing with a tassel for her own dance. Isabelle tries to picture Tutu as well, but all she could think of is a kitten taking a nap. Jade says to try something else, like a special memory. The first thing that pops into Isabelle's mind is the lilies on the pond that had inspired her costume, and begins to dance like her favorite lily, drifting across the water. Jade, approving, asks what Isabelle just visualized, and Isabelle tells her about the lily. She then thanks Jade for helping, and the sisters part ways.

Back in class, the rest of the dancers have just finished running through the routine again. Isabelle changes out of her costume and is about to leave for her next class when Ms. Hawken pulls her aside, asking if she's okay. Isabelle explains that she wanted her sash to give her confidence like Ms. Hawken's, but it only made things worse. Ms. Hawken says that's only because it's too long and it might still work. Isabelle mentions Jade's visualization advice and Ms. Hawken says that's a good idea, but not to compare herself to Jade or anyone else--to measure herself against herself only.

Chapter Seven: Carrots and Potatoes

After school, Isabelle rushes through her regular homework and pulls out her sash, barely rescuing it from Tutu's claws. Jade entices the kitten away with her gypsy shawl, giving Isabelle time to bring the scarf into the sewing room. After wondering if she should wait for Mom's help, Isabelle decides to fix the sash herself. When she's finished, the dangling sash has become a bouquet of silk flowers clustered at Isabelle's waist. She goes downstairs to find Tutu and sees Dad making meatloaf because Mom is working late. In the living room, Jade is practicing her own routine, swirling her tasseled shawl and incorporating it into her dancing. Isabelle starts to get jealous, but remembers that she's her own kind of dancer. Back in the kitchen, Dad looks like he needs help, so Isabelle offers to help him peel potatoes. As they work, Isabelle asks if Dad ever wanted to become a full-time musician. Dad says he used to, that some of his friends had become full-timers, but he never felt as good as they were. Isabelle is surprised to hear that Dad used to feel the same as she does, and asked if it had ever bothered him. Dad admits that it did for a while, but he realized that measuring his talent against someone else's is useless. He says that now, he can still play the drums he loves and keep improving his own talent, and Isabelle says he's an amazing drummer. Dad asks why Isabelle is so curious about his choices, and Isabelle, while peeling a carrot, says she still doesn't think she can ever be as good a dancer as Jade. Dad picks up another carrot, saying it's no good to tell a carrot it isn't as good a vegetable as a potato--then explains that Isabelle and Jade are different people and comparing yourself to anyone else is no way to improve yourself. He says that Isabelle's best goal should be to dance every dance better than the one before. Isabelle thinks she'll just settle for getting through the Autumn Festival without a mistake.

The next day is the dress and tech rehearsal. Renata calls Isabelle Dizzy Izzy again in the dressing room, and Isabelle worries that will be her nickname from then on if she doesn't do well in the festival. On the way to the auditorium, Isabelle sees how all the arts classes are participating--the music classes providing accompaniment, the visual arts classes building scenery. In the auditorium, every class is practicing at once, making for a chaotic environment. When it's finally time for her class to rehearse, Isabelle dances better than she ever has before, images of floating water lilies fresh in her mind, until a tech student's spotlight swings too fast and messes everyone up, not just Isabelle. The rest of the rehearsal plays out like a game of freeze tag because everyone keeps having to stop for lighting checks. As they leave, Ms. Hawken tells the class they did very well despite the distractions and to be back tomorrow at six. Isabelle wishes she and the class had more onstage time to rehearse because she still isn't sure if she's ready.

Chapter Eight: Tag-Team Sewing

Isabelle and Jade hurry through their school building, which has been decorated for fall. Isabelle passes Gabriel, still practicing card tricks, and notices Luisa and the other modern-dance pirates outside their studio. Suddenly, Luisa cries out in dismay--there's a large hole in the side seam of her bodice. Another pirate points out that Luisa can't go onstage looking like that, and Luisa starts crying, startling everyone nearby since she's usually so tough. Isabelle offers to fix Luisa's dress with her portable sewing kit, but Luisa says Isabelle needs to put her own costume on. Jade comes over to help, telling Luisa there's enough time to help a friend if Isabelle hurries. Luisa explains that this performance is the first one Danny won't get to see in person, so her family is buying a DVD of the festival to send to him, and she wants her performance to stand out. The girls enter the ballet studio, which has become a giant dressing room for all the girls (boys change in another room). Renata waves, shouting that she's saved an extra spot, which surprises Isabelle--until she realizes Renata is talking to Jade. It turns out that Renata really admires Jade, who politely asks Renata to move so they can fix Luisa's costume. Jade takes the first turn sewing while Isabelle changes, because Isabelle's class performs before Jade's. Then Isabelle sews wile Jade puts on her costume. Renata instantly compliments Jade's costume, and Jade says Isabelle designed it. Renata, realizing she's accidentally complimented Isabelle, can only say "No kidding". Jade offers to do Isabelle's makeup, but Isabelle tells her to do her own first, since she's almost done with the seam. Moving the needle in and out is calming to her, and she wonders if she feels the same about sewing as Jade does about dancing. Isabelle finishes fixing the seam and hands the dress back to Luisa, who thanks her and puts it on before leaving in search of the other pirates. Jade tells Isabelle that this is the first time she's seen her smile at school. Isabelle says she likes sewing, and Jade clarifies that Isabelle likes helping people before applying Isabelle's stage makeup. As the dancers prepare to leave, Jade tells Isabelle that dancers usually quote the school's motto ("To the stars") before every performance. Isabelle quotes it back, as well as to Renata because she's right there, and everyone heads to the auditorium.

Chapter Nine: The Water Lily

When the dancers reach the auditorium, most of the audience is already there, in costume, including Isabelle's parents. Mom adjusts a few of Isabelle's flowers that had been flattened in the crowded dressing room before all the performers are called to the back of the room, since there's no backstage. Just then Madelyn points out Jackie Sanchez herself standing nearby in the doorway. She is accompanied by Robert Kosloff, the director of the upcoming Nutcracker show who had personally supervised the auditions. The professional dancers are soon mobbed by students seeking autographs. Isabelle is tempted but decides to run through her imagery instead. Soon, an announcement over the loudspeaker sends everyone back to their positions and the show begins with a disorganized but exuberant "Flight of the Bumblebee" dance by the first-grade ballet class dressed as bees. Other acts follow without Isabelle really noticing, until it's time for the modern pirate dance. Luisa charges onstage with a loud shout of "Dance or die!", startling not only Isabelle but all the other pirates as well. The audience loves it though, so the rest of the class follows suit. The dance is wild and energetic, but Luisa dances best of all of them. Isabelle thinks they'll be a hard act to follow but is more concerned about not making a mistake.

It's time for the waltz of the flowers act. Isabelle and her class assemble backstage. Isabelle frantically runs everything she's been told about dancing, visualization, overthinking, and comparing through her mind as the curtains open. The lights come on softly at first, and Isabelle is drawn into the memory of sparkling water droplets on her lily's petals. The music flows like water to her, and the lily begins to stir in the breeze. Isabelle imagines being frustrated that her lily stem keeps her tied to one spot while the clouds get to move wherever they want, and springs free of the imaginary stem, likening it to the stiff and awkward feelings from rehearsals. The breeze ruffles all the flowers, swirling them around the pond in perfect formation. Isabelle's body dances the steps perfectly while her brain rides the floating lily along, no longer a distraction. A leap comes next, and Isabelle explodes into the air just like Jade said. Too soon, the music reaches its climax, the notes of the triangle sparkling like bubbles in the pond as the dance reaches its finale. Isabelle knows all the work and trouble of practice is worth it just for the joy of this moment, and the applause begins.

Chapter Ten: Into the Fire

Isabelle hurries to the dressing room, eager to change in time to see Jade dance. Renata heads toward the door and Isabelle is about to wait so she doesn't have to talk to her, but then realizes that they'll be classmates for several years and should be friends. Isabelle compliments Renata on her dancing, and Renata, though suspicious, returns the favor. The girls return to the auditorium just in time to see Jade's class perform. Though Isabelle has seen the routine at home, that's like comparing the sketch of a costume to the real thing. Jade dances with all the grace and curiosity of a kitten--except this kitten seems to weigh next to nothing. Renata says Jade dances beautifully and Isabelle realizes they actually agree on something, until Renata claims that she'll dance even better someday. Isabelle shakes her head, thinking no one will ever dance better than Jade, especially not Isabelle herself, but that's okay because both sisters had danced well. Renata says that she'll see Isabelle on Monday, which seems to be her way of admitting that Isabelle does belong at Anna Hart after all.

At home, Isabelle heads for the shower but stops when Mom announces she's gotten an email from the Hart Dance Company--the cast lists for The Nutcracker! Jade is cast as Clara in the third cast, which makes both sisters happy, but then Isabelle's name pops up on the third cast list as well, as one of Mother Ginger's children. She, Jade, and Luisa are all in the third cast together. The book ends with Isabelle being simultaneously happy and scared about her upcoming performance.

Real Girls, Real Stories

Stories of real girls, ages 9 through 12, who are involved in the performing arts include:

Reagan W, who attends a full-time ballet academy and performed a solo en pointe

Marlo and Joia G, sisters who perform in a circus. Marlo does tightrope and some trapeze, and Joia does a clown act.

Emily B, a young piano player who has performed at the White House

See Also

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