The Children’s Book Review | January 28, 2017
Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer
Written by Michaela DePrince and Elaine DePrince
Illustrated by Frank Morrison
Age Range: 7-10
Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books (2014)
What to expect: Ballet, Biography, Loss, Loneliness, Adoption, Dedication, Practice, Goals, Diversity
In Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer, Michaela DePrince gives readers a first-person account of her long, sometimes heartbreaking, and sometimes uplifting journey to becoming a professional ballerina.
“I am the ballerina!”, thinks Michaela DePrince, as she dances onto the stage at the beginning of Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer. After the brief introductory chapter, subsequent chapters provide readers with Michaela’s fascinating background story. Michaela’s earliest memories are as an orphan in Sierra Leone; her parents have died in the war-torn region. She recalls feeling isolated from the other orphans not only because of her natural shyness but also because of vitiligo, a skin condition which gives her dark skin multiple white spots. One day, Michaela finds a magazine on the road outside the orphanage and its cover has a picture of a smiling woman in a pink dress standing on her toes in pink shoes. Michaela tells the picture, “I want to be happy and beautiful like you someday!” Her teacher at the orphanage explains that the woman in the picture is a ballerina. More importantly, the teacher does not discourage Michaela when she expresses a desire to dance; the teacher does note, however, that ballet, like all endeavors, requires hard work and practice. As the war increases in Sierra Leone, Michaela and the other orphans move to a safer location and meet families ready to adopt them. An American woman named Elaine adopts Michaela and promises her that she will be able to dance in America once she has learned enough English. Michaela demonstrates a natural proclivity for ballet once lessons begin. Eventually, Michaela goes on to study with the American Ballet Theatre in New York City, to perform in a movie, and to dance on several television shows. She currently dances with the Dutch National Ballet. Michaela loves the idea that, through her film, her television appearances, and her live performances, she can inspire other children to study dance, “just as the woman in the magazine picture had inspired me.”
Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer is a great introduction to biographies for younger readers. The writing style is welcomingly familiar and flows easily from chapter to chapter, providing interesting detail without complicating the story. Much appreciated are the pronunciation guides in parentheses for multisyllabic words and for French dance terms. The illustrations are vibrant and complement the action perfectly. One particular illustration shows Michaela’s dance class, a place filled with children of multiple races and, yes, girls and boys; this picture should encourage any child who wonders if she or he can really enter the world of ballet. Photographs are also included throughout the text and they effectively reinforce the heartbreak, the hope, and the joy of this beautiful story.
Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer is essential reading for any children who doubt themselves and their goals. Michaela DePrince overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds with optimism, devotion, tireless work, and her adoptive mother’s support. Parents will appreciate the chance to introduce their children to possibly new concepts: dance terminology, other countries and cultures, and adoption. Michaela’s parting words should become every child’s motto: “Every dream begins with one step. After that, you must work hard and practice every day. If you never give up, your dream will come true.”
About Michaela DePrince
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.
MichaelaDePrince.com | Facebook | Twitter | RandomHouseKids.com
Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer, written by Michaela DePrince and Elaine DePrince, illustrated by Frank Morrison, was reviewed by Kelley Smith. Discover more books like Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer by following along with our reviews and articles tagged with Adoption, Ballet, Biographies, Books About Losing A Parent, Diversity, and Dream Big Books.