Girl of the Year 2014: To the Stars, Isabelle

Author: Laurence Yep
Illustrator: Anna Kmet


It's five weeks until the performances with Jackie Sanchez (they're being done over spring break). They're going to dance for sick and injured children in the hospital. Louisa's in it too, and Gabe will be the master of ceremonies (Jade declined, as she has private lessons every weekend...but Renata's in it). Isabelle and Louisa are stunned to learn that they're going to have solos! And the dancers will need costumes. And wouldn't it be nice if the children they're performing for could dress up too? Soon, Isabelle is busy learning her routine, designing her costume, and sewing capes for the children, and one for Jackie Sanchez. As rehearsals continue, Isabelle grows closer to Ms. Sanchez. Ms. Sanchez even gives Isabelle her first pair of toe shoes! Isabelle keeps that fact mostly to herself, not wanting to make the other dancers jealous. She only tells her immediate family, although when Jade starts acting a little jealous she wonders if that as a mistake. Plus she's upset after trying to help make some capes and screwing them up.

But soon it's time for the first performance, in a hospital cafeteria. It's not the stage the dancers are used to, but they're there for the kids. Unfortunately, they all get a bad case of nerves when kitchen workers start making a lot of noise, and while they dance well, they don't dance their best. Isabelle is disappointed that she couldn't give the children 100%. At home, she talks with Jade, whose distance was because she thought that Ms. Sanchez had replaced the role Jade filled for Isabelle. When Isabelle assures Jade that she'll always need her big sister, they make up. 

At the next performance, everyone's determined to be their best. But Ms. Sanchez is uncharacteristically quiet, and leaves shortly before opening curtain. Isabelle wonders if she's regretting turning down the lead in Swan Lake to help with this hospital tour. But she soon returns, pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair: her grandmother, who was admitted to the hospital that morning, the woman who worked extra shifts so Ms. Sanchez could pay for ballet lessons. Inspired, the cast dances beautifully. Isabelle and Renata even make some progress moving past their bitterness toward each other. Their last performance is at the hospital where Isabelle's dad works. Isabelle is happy to see that the children are truly enjoying the dance, and hopes she can inspire people the way Ms. Sanchez and Jade inspire her.

Real Girls, Real Stories

Amiya A. wanted to share her joy of dancing with those who can't afford lessons, so she worked with her mom to get a school bus, remove the seats, add a barre, and paint it pink. Her great-uncle drives the bus to different schools, and students get in for a half-hour tap, ballet, and hip hop lesson with Amiya. Stepsisters Izzy M. and Madi D. dance in benefit shows, so far earning $8,000 for various charities, including helping a girl at their school who has cancer. Drew B. raised $2,000 to buy dance shoes for a hundred kids who couldn't afford them in her Florida town. Grace B. of Pennsylvania sells handmade tutus online, and on her last birthday, donated $500 from the sales to the local pediatric hospital.


Dedicated to "Jamie Guan for letting me watch him put his choreography together, to Edward Gorey for his dancing cats, and, of course, to Victoria Tseng." Special thanks to Kristy Callaway, executive director of the Arts Schools Network; and Shannon Gallagher, owner of and instructor at Premier Dance Academy, LLC, Madison, WI.

There's a funny bit when a man announces over the hospital PA system that there's a Pig Hat performance, instead of a Big Hart performance. One little boy comes down to get his own pig hat, so Isabelle quickly draws a pig on one of the audience props.

Renata tells Isabelle that her parents don't care about her dancing, instead focusing on her older brother's football career. He's an excellent high school player, and is being recruited by scouts for different colleges. But they do come to the final performance of the book.

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