The Scarlet Stockings--the Enchanted Riddle by Charlotte Kandel (Dutton Children's Books, 2007, ages 9-12)
Daphne has grown up in the Orphanage of St. Jude, in 1920s London. It's a fairly friendly orphanage, as far as these things go, but still a difficult place to keep alive a dream of one day being a ballet dancer. In her thirteenth year, she receives a mysterious parcel that gives her fresh hope--a book called How to Teach Yourself Ballet, a pair of magical scarlet stockings, and a mysterious riddle. Following the riddle takes her to a new family, who welcomes her with love, the chance to help out at their greengrocers stall and the fun of performing on the streets with other children. But this isn't enough for the ambitious Daphne, and, spurning her London friends and family, she pursues her ambitions to the Ballet Splendide, in Paris, where she will be tested by the magic of the scarlet stockings (shades of Anderson's fairy tale about the Red Shoes).
It's a good story, briskly told. There's a very Noel Streatfeild-ish** feel to the first part of the book--ambitious London child, struggling to find a way to dance--that I found very appealing, being an enthusiastic N.S. fan. As the plot takes Daphne away from the London family, it focuses more on her ambition, in which she is aided by the magic of the stockings. Caught up in her desire to reach the top, she gradually becomes a much less sympathetic, and more isolated, character (and my interest in her waned).
Finally she pays a steep price for reaching great heights in the ballet world,* and learns that fame is not all that is worthwhile. The action takes Daphne quickly from one setting to another; I would have appreciated a slower journey, with more time to get to know the supporting cast (or, to put it another way, I liked the sub-plots of orphan being adopted by loving family and children putting on shows so much that I wanted more of them!).
This book should be enjoyed greatly by girls who love stories about ballet and orphans, with a twist of magic. And the pink cover should add to its appeal to this audience....
*in case anyone is worried, Daphne does not, like Anderson's heroine, have to ask a woodcutter to chop her feet off. She is able to dance again.
** Noel Streatfeild is the author of Ballet Shoes, Theater Shoes, etc. The book of hers I was most reminded of, however, is Thursday's Child, about a Victorian orphan who ends up an actress.
(I received my copy of this book from the publisher)