Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina Book Poster Image
Ballerina's frank, inspiring tale of perseverance and hope.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

An inside look on the conflict in Sierra Leone as well as the ballet world. Lots of technical dance terminology.

Positive Messages

A message of hope and faith despite terrible hardship and suffering. It also offers an intimate glimpse of international and interracial adoption.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though plenty of adults in positions of power regularly abuse and harm children, there's also Michaela and a close group of individuals who serve as moral support and guidance to little girls.


Rebels are described as killing villagers and cutting off hands or shooting them en masse. The destruction of a town and the brutal murder of a pregnant woman are seen through the eyes of a frightened child. The blood, the act of cutting the fetus out of the dying woman's stomach, and the murder of the child are all described.


A man is described as having several wives, in accordance with Islamic culture. A woman is discussed as being a seductress.


Several instances in which the African children are called names, including "wild animals," "beasts, "devil child," "nappy headed," "ugly." Also some middle school verbal bullying is described.


Some brands are described to set the mood or demonstrate the type of event. Several mentions of dance competitions, schools, and the like.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults are described as being drunk and violent, and some young adults are shown trying cigarettes, one before she's legally eligible to do so. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina, by Michaela DePrince with her mother, Elaine dePrince, is a frank and honest look at Michaela's life as a orphan in Sierra Leone, including the malnutrition, abuses, and atrocities she witnessed and suffered. There are descriptions of death, including the horrific murder of a pregnant teacher and her newborn. There's also discussion of Michaela's life in America, including her adjustment as an international adoptee, the death of her brother from AIDS, and her experience of racism in the dance world. Parents should be prepared to discuss child abuse, war horrors, interracial families, and cultural views of ballet.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byksmccc December 28, 2015

Not for middle schoolers

This book is marketed to be for middle school students who enjoyed "I Am Malala." It is an important book that I think should be read, but not by midd... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byCanDAmeChibi March 2, 2020

Such a Role Model

This book is very sad, but I learned a lot. You should definitely read this, but be ready to cry.

What's the story?

Born Mabinty Bangura, Michaela became known as the "devil's child" because of her skin condition known as vitiligo. She was a loved and cherished child until rebels killed her father and her mother died of starvation. Shunted to an orphanage, Orphan #27 has little happiness to cling to as war rages and abuse dogs her, until she finds an old magazine with the photo of a beautiful ballerina on the cover. From that moment, she sets out to find the happiness she believes is onstage in a pair of pointe shoes.

Is it any good?

Horrifying, sad, soaring, and hopeful, this autobiography captures the imagination of the reader from the first few pages. There are times when little Mabinty's abuse is too much too bear, but her hope helps readers turn to the next page. After suffering through loss, illness, neglect, and outright contempt, Mabinty becomes Michaela and begins a journey that seems like a fairy tale but in reality is a story of the strength of the human spirit and the hope that comes with finding loving support and a passion for your calling.

Parents and kids will love the novel for its dynamic pacing and triumphant message. It's heavy on ballet jargon, which may be difficult for readers unfamiliar with dance to understand, but it shouldn't get in the way of most readers' enjoyment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about following your passion. How did Michaela's dedication to ballet lead her to make significant sacrifices to pursue her dreams?

  • What's "different" about each one of us? How do you overcome insecurities about your physical appearance?

  • How important is it to have a positive body image in dance -- and in life?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love strong girls

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