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Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  3,569 ratings  ·  569 reviews
The extraordinary memoir of Michaela DePrince, a young dancer who escaped war-torn Sierra Leone for the rarefied heights of American ballet.
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 Michael
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 14th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
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La Tonya Jordan Papa thought it was funny that most of our experiences with racism happened in the parking lot of our supermarket, and usually involved women. He woul…morePapa thought it was funny that most of our experiences with racism happened in the parking lot of our supermarket, and usually involved women. He would make a joke of it. Before he'd let us out of the car in the parking lot, he would ask us, "Did you lotion your arms and legs? Did you pick your hair? We don't want the nappy-hair-and-ashy-skin policewomen after us."


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Average rating 4.22  · 
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Ellis Amdur
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is somewhat of a personal review (at one remove), as I am married to the "magical ballerina," whose picture on a magazine was blown to Michaela DePrince's feet at the beginning of the story. The story being well-summarized elsewhere, I will only touch on a couple of points that make this book special.
1. Background is not destiny - not only Michaela, but her other sisters and brothers have gone through terrible, horrifying experiences, yet through love and surely very strong parenting from
La Tonya  Jordan
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to La Tonya by: Palladium Bookies
Shelves: good-read
This is a very enjoyable novel of the American dream. It reminds you of when fairy tales become true. Michaela Deprince was born in torn war Sierra Leone and suffered indignities as a child that will bring tears to your eyes. She was adopted by an American family who invested in her love for ballet and she went on to become a member of the world-famous Dutch National Ballet.

Her story is one of love, friendship, hardship, joy, family, understanding, pain, and forgiveness. Michaela Deprince, at a
Jan 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Damn, what a story.


Oct 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
What an inpsirational story.
I really enjoyed this book. Michaela's story I'd just so amazing.
She had such a rough couple childhood in Sierra Leone and it broke my heart to read about women and children treated as they were.
She was so fortunate and she was adopted into a loving caring family.
Overall four stars!
Incredible story
Oct 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Michaela DePrince recalls her journey from orphaned child, struggling to survive against malnutrition, disease and unimaginable violence in Sierra Leone, to a thriving young ballet dancer struggling to break into the harsh world of professional classical ballet in the United States.
I frequently found myself having to put the book down for a minute, in sheer admiration of DePrince's resiliency, and in sheer horror of everything she went through. I think it's safe to say, that many Americans have
Mabinty Bangura was just a tiny little girl when both her parents died during the war in Sierra Leone. Her uncle left her at an orphanage where she became Number 27. Even at such a young age, and against nearly insurmountable odds, Mabinty dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer.

Mabinty’s story is one of bravery, hope and perseverance in the face of unimaginable hardship. After being adopted by a family in the United States, Mabinty was renamed Michaela. With the support, encouragement, and love of
Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
This memoir, written by Michaela DePrince and her adoptive mother tells a remarkable story of a young African girl who is loved by her parents, but shunned by her culture. As war breaks out in her home of Sierra Leone, she becomes a refugee orphan. Had I not known that this girl's story ended up a happy one, I don't know if I could have read past the first part of the book because her story was so sad and what she witnessed was unbearable to think about. That does not mean it's not good writing- ...more
Oct 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Tessa by: my boss O_o
Ballet is one of my 'things' so I'll read almost anything with a dancer on the front. This one did not disappoint. Miss DePrince's story is a fascinating and inspiring read. I think it's safe to say that she is one of my new heroes.

The only negative is the pacing of this book--we spend more than half of it on her early childhood, and then four years are glossed over in a few pages.

Despite this, I'm very interested to see what Michaela DePrince does next. I'll bet it's going to be grand.
Camille Dent
Oct 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
About the first half or so is very heartbreaking and moving, but then it turns into a dry timeline of her progression into a ballet career. Including that information was definitely important towards the goal of her autobiography, but most of it is presented very mechanically compared to the rest of the book. However, this was still a wonderful read! I was always eager to pick it back up, even during the second half, and I probably would have read it all in one sitting if I were a faster reader.
Nov 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I knew beforehand who Michaela was because I saw the documentary she was on, First Position (2011). In the documentary the spectators are able to see her progress and rehearse as she is about to compete on Youth America Grand Prix which is one of the most prestigious ballet competitions and every year thousands of dancers audition and compete hoping to get noticed either by winning medals or more importantly, a scholarship. Michaela was one of those young dancers competing (she was 14 at the tim ...more
Stacie C
Aug 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: black-authors, 2016
She was known as Mabinty Bangura in Sierra Leone. She wouldn’t become Michaela DePrince until she had lost both of her parents. Her father was shot in the diamond mines by the rebels. Her mother would die from sickness. Mabinty would become known simply as a number by the guardians at the orphanage. When the rebels removed the children from the orphanage everyone would escape to Ghana, where her new mother Elaine would take her and her best friend, also Mabinty, to the United States of America. ...more
Nov 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: ya-non-fiction

I wanted to love this book, and it is certainly an interesting and inspiring story - I just don't think it is that well done. I think having someone else write the book, possibly from a 3rd person perspective, would have made it a lot better. Having Michaela writing in the 1st person narrative made it sort of confusing and a little less credible, at least until she's maybe 7 or 8 in the book. I just don't think someone would remember with such clarity what happened when she was 2-3 years o
The beginning of this book felt like a real memoir. I could feel the suffering and the pain that Michaela describes as a young orphan child. I had to keep reminding myself this wasn’t a made up story; these events really happened to her. So many times I wanted to just hug the real Michaela and tell her she survived and she made it. Being a former dancer as well as a manager for 5 years of a dance store, I loved being able to relate to what she was talking about as well as be familiar with the na ...more
Feb 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Enjoyed this book. It gave me a better picture of what life is like for children growing up in countries like Sierra Leone in civil war. I also appreciated the many specific examples she gave of what it was like growing up as a black daughter of white parents once she was adopted, and all the different things she heard people say about that, and about her being a ballerina as a black woman. It was an easy read, not earth shaking, just a good perspective to help see through her eyes and gain a be ...more
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Michaela's story is the personification of the American dream, and her wisdom and understanding is amazing for someone so young (she's close to my younger sibling's ages!) It breaks my heart to know that Michaela's childhood is one shared by many kids; I am so glad that she and her parents found each other, even countries apart. I wish Michaela had been the narrator in the audio book... I would have loved to hear her voice as she told her story. Her perspective is so unique and her story is incr ...more
Maria Baker
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was such an inspirational story. Michaela's determination and courage throughout all that she faced is a testament to her birth parents and their desire for a better world for their only child. Her adoptive parents are amazing people who have a huge capacity for love. God Bless her and all the people she inspires with this true story of a girl who went from Sierra Leone to the US and all over the world. ...more
Jul 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was a great book! I loved the straightforward way the author told her story! She didn't sound sorry for herself, even though she had reason to be. Neither did she apologies for things that happened to her that were beyond her control.
I loved her enthusiasm for life. And kudos to her mom for being such a great woman!
Winter Sophia Rose
Sep 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Inspiring, Captivating, Encouraging & Touching! A Beautiful Read! I Loved It!
DePrince was born in Sierra Leone, but after rebels killed her father and Lassa killed her mother, she was first sent to an orphanage and then adopted to the U.S. While at the orphanage, she came across a magazine cover featuring a ballerina, and -- although she did not at the time know what ballet was -- that cover was a catalyst that helped shape her future.

Midway through the book, DePrince talks briefly about some of the lasting impacts of her childhood in Sierra Leone (more to the point, the
Oct 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I first heard about Michaela DePrince when I saw the documentary "First Position" on Netflix. I loved the documentary and particularly her story the best. When watching a really good ballerina, it is when they extend and hold a position beyond what you think is possible. When they take your breath away for a few moments you know there is something special about them and Michaela DePrince is that good. Her leaps and technique is beyond many her age.

I was pleasantly surprised when she and her mot
This is the true story of ballerina Michaela de Prince, who was born in Sierra Leone and adopted and raised in the U.S. As a young child, she witnessed starvation, abuse, murder, and other horrors, but she survived and thrived in her life once she came to America.

I watched the documentary First Position, in which she is featured, because it was mentioned in the book, and the documentary is also worth a look.

I thought this was a very good book. The writing is not flowery, but to the point, and v
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed reading about Michaela's young life. I've never met her but certainly have worked with and have known a few people she mentions in her book, which was a lot fun. Her story got me to thinking about my own childhood which was innocent, happy, and rich with love, family, friends, education, ballet lessons, vacations, and anything else I needed or required. I was treated like a princess and pursued being a princess in ballet. Reading of her time in the orphanage in Sierra Leone, how ...more
Chloe Staudenmaier
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mabinty Bangura, an intelligent, "spotted" girl from Africa became an orphan at a young age.War and rebel groups lead to her parents deaths. Before her father's death, he made sure Mabinty was well-educated. Because of this, Mabinty's uncle despised her. Once Mabinty's father died, Mabinty and her mother went to live with her uncle. Her uncle mistreated them both because her mother would not marry him. After Mabinty's mother died, her uncle sent her to an orphanage. Throughout the story, it expl ...more

This was a sweet, touching “Africa to America” story. The author is likable and interesting, if not childlike in her writing. The memoir follows her journey from an orphanage in Africa to her life as a professional ballerina, and chronicles the hardships of getting into the industry not just as one of many competing young women but also as a minority. There is a fair bit of “ no one likes me cause I'm black” in this story, however considering the context (Classical Ballet), I felt that the whini
Sep 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wow. That really says it all, but I know it deserves more words!!! I wish I had read this three months ago, so when kids came into the store looking for a non-fiction book for summer reading I could have recommended it. Even if you are not into ballet or never danced, this story will make you laugh, cry and marvel at the strength of some people to get through true horrors...and still achieve their dreams! It made me miss ballet, and feel a bit guilty about quitting at fourteen, now seeing how lu ...more
Feb 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africah
Written in a very simple style, it is very easy to binge-read the book in two days (or less). The story of Michaela is very inspiring in its simplicity and I enjoyed seeing that she bypassed all the clichés about ballerinas (weight, eating disorders, injuries), in order to focus on her dreams and ambitions. Of course, she does not ignore those issues completely, but she does offer a rather healthy perspective on her craft. Having said that, the account on her life in Sierra Leone is very disturb ...more
Jessamyn Leigh
Jun 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
I had seen Michaela DePrince in the ballet documentary First Position a few years ago. Adoption and the Arts are two things near and dear to my heart so I was intrigued to hear more of her story.

Though I've never been a seriously ballerina, I've spent enough time dancing to thoroughly enjoy hearing ballet stories. I loved reading about her experiences in dance class growing up, performing and competing, picking choreography and her mom making her costumes (that is an impressive feat btw, tutus
Oct 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I was really moved by Michaela DePrince's story as shown in the documentary, First Position. It's been wonderful watching her career take off with her move to HET National Ballet Company. I kept my eye on the American release date for this book and bought it the day it was released. I had a few hours yesterday so I sat down and read it cover to cover. It's heart wrenching and victorious. Her struggle in Sierra Leone as little more than a baby to discovering what it is to be a minority in a mixed ...more
The prose here is pretty straightforward; the story is extremely inspirational and makes me feel like a garbage person who has accomplished nothing with my life. The subtitle "from war orphan to star ballerina" pretty much says it all.

I'm definitely planning to booktalk this to junior high kids; I think it'll be a great read for tweens & teens looking for a sad/inspiring story of a girl overcoming EXTREME hardships with EXTREME grace and poise. Also, kids interested in ballet/music, of course. M
Mar 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

I really adored this book and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to everyone I know. The only thing I would have loved was for the story to be longer, since Michaela DePrince (and her mom) basically managed to tell her whole life story in no more than 250 pages. It worked and I felt like a lot of things were included but I would have loved for some more detail at some points.

I realize however that when being a student and a star ballerina, writing a book might take a lot of extra time
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Michaela DePrince was born in war-torn Sierra Leone during the decade long civil war that took place there. After rebels killed her father, and her mother died, her uncle left her at an orphanage. There she was taunted and abused by the women who cared for the children because she had a skin condition called vitiligo, which made her appear spotted. While there Michaela found a magazine stuck to th ...more

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