Random House Children's Books
Rating: 5 stars
Here's a review I did a little while ago for Washington FAMILY Magazine about the true story of one talented, amazing, determined young woman:
I dare you to read this book and not get goosebumps up and down your arm. Michaela DePrince’s rags-to-riches tale is almost unbelievable, from its tragic beginnings to fairytale ending. And it’s all true.
This book is a Step Into Reading book, rated Level 4, geared towards 7 to 9 year-olds. I say this first because DePrince’s story has some difficult facts for young kids to absorb, and the questions kids will likely ask have some sobering answers. Despite the image of the graceful ballerina on the cover, know that this is not your typical ballerina children’s book.
In this easy reader, DePrince glosses over the death of her parents in an age-appropriate way. “My parents died [in Sierra Leone] in an ongoing war.” That sentence will satisfy some readers; others will want to know more. The whole truth is that DePrince was born in Sierra Leone in 1995, during the civil war. Her father was shot by rebels. Her mother starved to death. She was sent to an orphanage with other children with similar stories.
In addition to this tragic beginning, DePrince suffered from vitiligo, a skin disease that made white spots appear on her brown skin. Kids at the orphanage teased her. DePrince worried she would not be adopted because of her imperfections.
While at the orphanage, DePrince saw a ballet magazine and was carried away with the image. When she was adopted (by Elaine DePrince, whose story is equally heartbreaking and inspirational, but not told in this story), she kept the image with her. Her adoptive mother saw it and promised that in America, she could dance ballet.
This is where the story takes a welcome positive turn. DePrince is not the only child adopted by Elaine DePrince. Her best friend is also chosen, and the two friends become sisters in America. They both start dancing, though it is Michaela who excels and advances. Because there are so few African American ballerinas and because she is a superior dancer, she is asked to dance for a documentary about ballet. At her mother’s urging, she says yes. “First Position” was a huge success, and DePrince’s fame grew.
DePrince’s story is incredible—I was so glad that such good things came from such horrible beginnings for this young lady. In case you or your child are curious to learn more, you should know that Ballerina Dreams was written after DePrince wrote and published Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina (2014, Alfred A. Knopf). This is her memoir targeted for young adult audience and goes into more detail about all parts of her story.
I was also glad to discuss this book after my second grade daughter read it. She had a lot of questions about DePrince’s beginnings, and the conversation about war and parents dying wasn’t an easy one. But I think therein lies the beauty of books with difficult subject matter: they provide the opportunity to talk about tragic and sad realities in a safe place, in an appropriate manner, and with a loved one.
Review originally posted HERE.