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.

A Dance Like Starlight

A Dance Like Starlight9780399252846_p0_v1_s260x420.jpbA Dance Like Starlight

Kristy Dempsey, Author

Floyd Cooper, Illustrator

Philomel Books, Fiction, Jan. 2, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Ballet dancing, African-Americans, Discrimination, Janet Collins

Opening: “Stars hardly shine in the New York City sky, with the factories spilling out pillars of smoke and streetlights spreading bright halos around their pin-top faces.  It makes it hard to find a star, even harder to make a wish, the one wish that if I could just breathe it out loud to the first star of night, I might be able to believe it true.”

Synopsis:  A little girl living in Harlem in the 1950s has a dream of becoming a ballerina. Her mama works all day long and some times into the night for the ballet school, cleaning and stitching costumes for dancers. The girl spends a lot of time around costume fittings and rehearsals, watching every move and practicing in the wings. One day  the Ballet Master sees her talent and arranges for her join the lessons, even though she can’t perform onstage with white girls. When the first African-American prima ballerina Janet Collins performs at the Metropolitan Opera House, the aspiring dancer and her mother attend. The girl is inspired and realizes that she doesn’t need to wish on stars in the sky because dreams are possible.

Why I like this book: This book is a keeper for any child who has a dream of becoming a dancer, musician or artist. Kristy Dempsey ‘s lyrical text is so beautiful with lines like “It’s like Miss Collins is dancing for me, only for me showing me who I can be,” and “You don’t need stars in the sky to make your dreams come true.” Janet Collins inspires the dreams of young ballerinas everywhere, showing them that talent and hard work, not the color of their skin, lead to success. Floyd Cooper’s lively and passionate illustrations are painted in hues of brown and pink and beautifully capture the child’s dream of dancing on the stage.

Resources:   There is an author’s note at the end of the book.  One interesting note, Janet Collins danced at the Met four years before singer Marian Anderson made her debut.  Visit Kristy Dempsey’s website.  This is a good book to pair with When Marian Sang by Pamela Munoz Ryan and Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell during black history month.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.