Taking Flight

TTaking Flight9780385755115_p0_v3_s260x420aking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina

Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince, authors

Alfred A. Knopf,  Memoir, Oct. 14, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12-17

Themes: Michaela DePrince, Ballet, War orphan, Sierra Leone, Adoption, Vitiligo, Courage, Hope

Synopsis: Michaela DePrince was born in 1995 in war-torn Sierra Leone and named Mabinty Bangura.  She was born with Vitiligo, a medical condition that causes blotchy spots on her skin. To the villagers she was a curse and called a spotted leopard. However, she had loving parent who taught her to read, write and speak four different languages. When the rebels killed her father and her mother died, her uncle sold her to an orphanage, where she became #27 .  She was starved, abused, and faced incredible dangers from the rebels. One day she found a picture of a ballerina in a magazine which affected her life forever. At four, she and her best friend Mia were adopted by an American family. The family encouraged her love of dancing and made it possible for her to study at the Rock School for Dance Education and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre.  She is now a member of the world-famous Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam.

What I like about this book:

  • The heart of this story is the strong mother/daughter relationship which translates into a remarkable collaboration and a gripping memoir about Michaela’s journey from Mabinty Bangura, a war orphan in Sierra Leone, to a 17-year-old professional ballerina.
  • The story’s real strength lies in Michaela’s lifelong passion to become a ballerina and her remarkable determination to break through racial barriers to dance classical and neo-classical ballet with a professional company.  She shows great discipline and sacrifice to be the best.
  • The narrative about Michaela’s journey is compelling and unforgettable. Taking Flight is written in such a manner that young readers would be able to handle the details of war and be interested in learning some history about West Africa.
  • The story is simply told in prose, but is filled with satisfying detail. The pacing is perfect and the book is a page-turner.  This book is ideal for any reader, but young black ballet dancers will especially find hope in Michaela’s story.
  • I found Taking Flight a joy to read because of its authenticity and honesty. Michaela thought America was wonderful until she began to notice the bigotry she experienced while living with her white family, especially when they went out in public. But it took true grit to face the racial discrimination and profiling she encountered in the ballet world. She heard comments that “black women are too athletic for classical ballet…to muscular…and aren’t delicate enough to become  world-class dancers.” She still struggles with “the racial bias in the world of ballet.”
  • There is a section of photos in the middle of the book documenting her life — from the African orphanage, her new home and family, to her ballet training and dancing. These photos will help young readers better grasp her life.

Resources:  Michaela DePrince starred in the ballet documentary First Position, which can be found in many libraries.  She hesitated to be featured but decided that it was something that she could do to help African-American children who dream of dancing.  She felt she had a responsibility to write a memoir and share the “hardy dose of hope” she had been blessed with.  Visit Michaela DePrince at her website.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

18 thoughts on “Taking Flight

    • It is an incredible story. Once I began reading it I couldn’t put the book down because it was such an engaging story. I can’t wait to see the film. It’s checked out at the library and I’m next in line. Michaela is a remarkable young woman.

    • Her parents were incredible. They had reared five boys of their own, two died at younger ages. One’s dying wish was that the parents adopt a war orphan from Africa. Everything fell into place quickly. They adopted Michaela and Mia, and later Mariel from the same orphanage. So the girls had each other for support. Then they adopted two other children from an orphanage in Liberia. Yet, the bond between Michela and her mother was tight and she was there for her. Her mother was a HERO in this story.

  1. ‘Hardy dose of hope’ is such a powerful phrase! I had heard about the film but hadn’t realized that Michaela had written a memoir. Both sets of parents sound amazing. Also that she learned to read and write before she was four shows how exceptional she already was. This is an important title to add to our diversity lists.

    • I was hoping you’d like this selection. It is a story about hope. Unlike many dancers, Michaela followed her father’s advice and graduated from high school with honors. Her parents were so supportive and encouraging — her mother was a hero in this story. Michaela is and exceptional young adult. I was so caught up in the story that I didn’t want it to end.

      I couldn’t believe it when I read your diversity post this morning encouraging bloggers to review 12 books a year. The list you provided of what needed to be considered caught my breath as I thought about how Taking Flight embodied most of the criteria you mentioned. Where did you get the list?

  2. wow! this is an amazing story. I have to get this one, and the movie. Beautiful review too Pat. What an incredibly strong and brave young woman. I love this type of story. Thank you.

  3. This is an amazing story! She chose a very difficult discipline to assert herself: the world of ballet has very strong rules and it’s very difficult to find his own way. So I can imagine the satisfaction when her dream came true!

    • She is one of the most determined young woman I’ve encountered. It was a miracle she survived war torn West Africa and the harsh abuse in the orphanage. By the time she arrived in the US, she was so ill she nearly died. Her parents are incredible and her mother is a hero in the book. I ordered the movie “First Point” from the library and will pick it up tomorrow. Look forward to watching it.

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