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Taking Flight
Cover of Taking Flight
Taking Flight
From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
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SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE DIRECTED BY MADONNA! The extraordinary memoir of an orphan who danced her way from war-torn Sierra Leone to ballet stardom, most recently appearing in Beyonce's...
SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE DIRECTED BY MADONNA! The extraordinary memoir of an orphan who danced her way from war-torn Sierra Leone to ballet stardom, most recently appearing in Beyonce's...
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  • SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE DIRECTED BY MADONNA!

    The extraordinary memoir of an orphan who danced her way from war-torn Sierra Leone to ballet stardom, most recently appearing in Beyonce's Lemonade and as a principal in a major American dance company.

    "Michaela is nothing short of a miracle, born to be a ballerina. For every young brown, yellow, and purple dancer, she is an inspiration!" —Misty Copeland, world-renowned ballet dancer

    Michaela DePrince was known as girl Number 27 at the orphanage, where she was abandoned at a young age and tormented as a "devil child" for a skin condition that makes her skin appear spotted. But it was at the orphanage that Michaela would find a picture of a beautiful ballerina en pointe that would help change the course of her life.

    At the age of four, Michaela was adopted by an American family, who encouraged her love of dancing and enrolled her in classes. She went on to study at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre and is now the youngest principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has appeared in the ballet documentary First Position, as well as on Dancing with the Stars, Good Morning America, and Nightline.

    In this engaging, moving, and unforgettable memoir, Michaela shares her dramatic journey from an orphan in West Africa to becoming one of ballet's most exciting rising stars.
    "Michaela DePrince is the embodiment of what it means to fight for your dream." Today

    "Michaela DePrince is a role model for girls on and off stage."NYLON

Excerpts-

  • From the book Before I was the "vile" and "chilly" Odile, I was Michaela DePrince, and before I was Michaela, I was Mabinty Bangura, and this is the story of my flight from war orphan to ballerina.

    In Africa my papa loved the dusty, dry winds of the Harmattan, which blew down from the Sahara Desert every December or January. "Ah, the Harmattan has brought us good fortune again!" he would exclaim when he returned from harvesting rice. I would smile when he said that because I knew that his next words would be "But not as good a fortune as the year when it brought us Mabinty . . . no, never as good as that!"

    My parents said that I was born with a sharp cry and a personality as prickly as an African hedgehog. Even worse, I was a girl child—and a spotted one at that, because I was born with a skin condition called vitiligo, which caused me to look like a baby leopard. Nevertheless, my parents celebrated my arrival with joy.

    When my father proclaimed that my birth was the high point of his life, his older brother, Abdullah, shook his head and declared, "It is an unfortunate Harmattan that brings a girl child . . . a worthless, spotted girl child, one who will not even bring you a good bride-price." My mother told me that my father laughed at his brother. He and Uncle Abdullah did not see eye to eye on almost anything.

    My uncle was right in one respect: in a typical household in the Kenema District of southeastern Sierra Leone, West Africa, my birth would not have been cause for celebration. But our household was not typical. First of all, my parents' marriage had not been arranged. They had married for love, and my father refused to take a second wife, even after several years of marriage, when it appeared that I would be their only child. Secondly, both of my parents could read, and my father believed that his daughter should learn to read as well.

    "If my brother is right and no one will wish to marry a girl with skin like the leopard, it is important that our daughter go to school. Let's prepare her for that day," my father told my mother. So he began to teach me the abjad, the Arabic alphabet, when I was just a tiny pikin, barely able to toddle about.

    "Fool!" Uncle Abdullah sputtered when he saw Papa molding my little fingers around a stick of charcoal. "Why are you teaching a girl child? She will think that she is above her station. All she needs to learn is how to cook, clean, sew, and care for children."



    My spots scared the other children in our village. Nobody would play with me, except my cousins on occasion, so I would often sit alone on the stoop of our hut, thinking. I wondered why my father worked so hard panning for diamonds in the alluvial mines, diamonds that he would not be allowed to keep. It was hard, backbreaking work to stand bent over all day. Papa would hobble home at night, because his back, ankles, and feet ached. His hands would be swollen and painful from sifting the heavy, wet soil through his sieve. Then, one night while Mama was rubbing shea butter mixed with hot pepper into Papa's swollen joints, I overheard a conversation between them, and understood.

    "It is important that our daughter go to school to learn more than we are capable of teaching her. I want her to go to a good school."

    "If we are frugal, the money from the mines will eventually be enough to pay her school fees, Alhaji," my mother said.

    "Ah, Jemi, count the money. How much have we saved so far?" Papa asked.

    Mama laughed. "This much, plus the amount I counted the last time you asked," she said, holding up the coins he had brought home that evening.

    I smiled a secret...

About the Author-

  • Michaela DePrince graduated from the American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis school in New York, and is a dancer with the Dutch National Ballet. She travels between Amsterdam and New York City, where she lives with her family.

Reviews-

  • DOGO Books igotswag - Awesome book. It is awesome and cool. It is about Michaela DePrince was known as girl Number 27 at the orphanage, where she was abandoned at a young age and tormented as a “devil child” for a skin condition that makes her skin appear spotted. But it was at the orphanage that Michaela would find a picture of a beautiful ballerina en pointe that would help change the course of her life. At the age of four, Michaela was adopted by an American family, who encouraged her love of dancing and enrolled her in classes. She went on to study at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre and is now the youngest principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has appeared in the ballet documentary First Position, as well as on Dancing with the Stars, Good Morning America, and Nightline. In this engaging, moving, and unforgettable memoir, Michaela shares her dramatic journey from an orphan in West Africa to becoming one of ballet’s most exciting rising stars.
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 11, 2014
    A compelling narrative of the journey of an African orphan whose hard work, emotional strength, and supportive adoptive American parents helped her build a life as a professional dancer, 19-year-old Michaela DePrince’s memoir, coauthored by her mother, holds many stories. Chapters on Michaela’s early childhood in Africa present a powerful portrait of family love and affection set against horrific images of the violence enacted by rebels in Sierra Leone in the 1990s. Later chapters offer a close look at the ups and downs of adapting to life in America for the four African girls Elaine DePrince and her husband ultimately adopted. The book’s strong thread is Michaela’s lifelong passion for ballet and her candid depiction of the physical and emotional struggles of becoming a black classical ballerina. There is plenty of ballet detail for dance lovers to revel in, and the authors achieve a believable, distinctive teenage voice with a nice touch of lyrical description: “I... learned that pain, like the green of the jungle leaves, comes in many shades.” Photos not seen by PW. Ages 12–up. Agent: Adriana Dominguez, Full Circle Literary. (Oct.) ■

  • Kirkus

    August 1, 2014
    Dancing becomes a dream fulfilled. She is born Mabinty Bangura in Sierra Leone during the Harmattan, a season of Saharan winds. Despite her vitiligo, a skin condition causing spotting, her parents love and nurture her. In 1991, civil war destroys that life, as "debil" (rebel + devil) soldiers bring destruction and the deaths of her parents. A white couple from America adopts her from an orphanage, and Mabinty, now Michaela, leaves starvation and atrocities behind-but not the nightmares. A magazine cover of a ballerina gives her a dream of dancing on stage in tutus and toe shoes, and her American family encourages that dream with classes and attendance at performances. Unfortunately, American racism also becomes part of her life in shopping malls and at ballet schools. With incredible perseverance, family support and talent, Michaela succeeds: She is now dancing with the Dutch National Ballet. She has been a media star and was one of six dancers featured in the 2012 documentary First Position. Readers will find her life story gripping whether or not they are dance fans. The dialogue is fictionalized, but the heart of the journey resonates in this mother/daughter collaboration. A revealing and absorbing journey through dance classes and competitions to success. (Memoir. 13-18)

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    November 1, 2014

    Gr 6 Up-In this moving memoir, DePrince, who in 1995 was born in war-torn Sierra Leone but went on to become an acclaimed professional ballerina, tells her story. Her struggles started early: it was discovered that she had vitiligo, a medical condition that results in blotchy, irregular patches of skin, and her biological parents both died when she was only three. DePrince was sold to an orphanage, where she was starved and abused and where she witnessed the brutal murder of her pregnant teacher, a memory that would forever haunt her. After the orphanage was bombed, DePrince and the other orphans fled to a refugee camp. When she was four years old, she and her best friend, Mia, were adopted by the same family and taken to live in the United States. Just before leaving, DePrince found a magazine photograph of a ballerina, and her dream of becoming a dancer was born. Her supportive family did everything they could to help her attain her goal, but the girl still encountered challenges, including prejudice from those who believed African American dancers to be less suited for the craft ("'Black girls just shouldn't be dancing ballet. They're too athletic. They should leave the classical ballet to white girls.'"). However, she persevered and succeeded, becoming the youngest principal dancer for the Dance Theatre of Harlem and joining the Dutch National Ballet. Though the text is accessible and engaging, there are events that are glossed over or not fully fleshed out, such as details of her adopted sister's medical problems. Overall, though, DePrince is an inspiring narrator, wise beyond her years. An uplifting story about overcoming the odds.-Stephanie Farnlacher, Trace Crossings Elementary School, Hoover, AL

    Copyright 2014 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus Reviews "Readers will find her life story gripping whether or not they are dance fans...the heart of the journey resonates in this mother/daughter collaboration. A revealing and absorbing journey through dance classes and competitions to success."
  • Misty Copeland, world-renowned ballet dancer "From her earliest days as an orphan in Sierra Leone to the stages of world-renowned theaters, Michaela's incredible determination to not only survive, but triumph in the face of unthinkable adversity is an inspiration to anyone who has fought for a dream. Her grace and strength bleed through in each of her breathtaking performances. This is a story of great courage that all women--young and old--should read."

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