15 Children & Young Adult Books That Feature Black Ballerinas

History was made this past June when Misty Copeland was named the first black female principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.  It was a momentous announcement that brought Copeland—and many others—to tears. As the title of her memoir states, Copeland is an “unlikely ballerina,” someone who didn’t even began dancing until she was 13 years-old. Some may find it disconcerting that in 2015, we’re still celebrating “black firsts,” but Copeland’s Life in Motion as well as Michaela DePrince’s Taking Flight discuss how they persevered against personal struggles and racism in the world of ballet. DePrince, who danced for Dance Theatre of Harlem, is now with Dutch National Ballet. Their stories matter to so many black girls who aspire to become ballerinas. The books featured include fiction and nonfiction picture, chapter and young adult titles.

Firebird – Misty Copeland

Firebird – Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland tells the story of a young girl—an every girl—whose confidence is fragile and who is questioning her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached. Misty encourages this young girl's faith in herself and shows her exactly how, through hard work and dedication, she too can become Firebird.

Dancing in the Wings – Debbie Allen

Dancing in the Wings – Debbie Allen
Sassy is a long-legged girl who always has something to say. She wants to be a ballerina more than anything, but she worries that her too-large feet, too-long legs, and even her big mouth will keep her from her dream. When a famous director comes to visit her class, Sassy does her best to get his attention with her high jumps and bright leotard. Her first attempts are definitely not appreciated, but with Sassy's persistence, she just might be able to win him over. Dancing in the Wings is loosely based on actress/choreographer Debbie Allen's own experiences as a young dancer.

Beautiful Ballerina – Marilyn Nelson

Beautiful Ballerina – Marilyn Nelson
Every little girl has the dream to become a prima ballerina! On today's ever-changing cultural stage, ballerinas come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities. To celebrate the beauty of black ballerinas, here is a lush photographic picture book with a brilliant poetic narrative, brought to young readers by two amazing talents. The minimal text balances the harmony of the photos and demonstrates the joy of movement.

Sugar Plum Ballerinas #1: Plum Fantastic – Whoopi Goldberg & Deborah Underwood

Sugar Plum Ballerinas #1: Plum Fantastic – Whoopi Goldberg & Deborah Underwood
Alexandrea Petrakova Johnson does not want to be a beautiful ballerina, and she does not want to leave her friends in Apple Creek. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop her ballet-crazy mother from moving them to Harlem, or from enrolling Al at the Nutcracker School of Ballet.

Sugar Plum Ballerinas #2 Toeshoe Trouble - Whoopi Goldberg & Deborah Underwood

Sugar Plum Ballerinas #2 Toeshoe Trouble - Whoopi Goldberg & Deborah Underwood
Brenda Black prides herself on her logical and orderly mind. She studies anatomy books to get a twelve-year head start on medical school, and she idolizes Leonardo da Vinci. But things go haywire when her spoiled cousin Tiffany comes to visit. At first Brenda tries to ignore Tiffany's constant bragging. But when Tiffany implies that Brenda is not cultured enough to know who Miss Camilla Freeman is--Miss Camilla Freeman, the very famous prima ballerina--Brenda snaps.

Sugar Plum Ballerinas #3 Perfectly Prima - Whoopi Goldberg & Deborah Underwood

Sugar Plum Ballerinas #3 Perfectly Prima - Whoopi Goldberg & Deborah Underwood
Perfectionistic Jerzey Mae desperately wants to be a ballet dancer. But she's frustrated by her own lack of talent--and by her friends' jokes about her terrible dancing. Things get even worse when her little brother Mason attends her ballet class, totally embarrassing Jerzey in front of her prima ballerina idol, Miss Camilla Freeman.

Sugar Plum Ballerinas #4 Terrible Terrel - Whoopi Goldberg & Deborah Underwood

Sugar Plum Ballerinas #4 Terrible Terrel - Whoopi Goldberg & Deborah Underwood
Terrel is always in charge, whether she's making lists for grocery shopping (her favorite hobby, AFTER ballet), keeping her brothers in line, or organizing father-daughter time in with her dad. Lately, though, her dad's been acting a little strange--wearing new clothes and way too much aftershave. Things get even weirder when he surprises Terrel with his new girlfriend during a night out at the ballet - a night that was supposed to be father-daughter time.

Sugar Plum Ballerinas #5 Sugar Plums to the Rescue! - Whoopi Goldberg & Deborah Underwood

Sugar Plum Ballerinas #5 Sugar Plums to the Rescue! - Whoopi Goldberg & Deborah Underwood
Jessica is worse than worried when she learns that the Nutcracker School of Ballet might lose its lease! Life just wouldn't be the same without the ballet classes she shares with her Sugar Plum sisters. Her problems mount when she rescues an adorable stray kitty on her way home from class.

Sugar Plum Ballerinas #6 Dancing Diva - Whoopi Goldberg & Deborah Underwood

Sugar Plum Ballerinas #6 Dancing Diva - Whoopi Goldberg & Deborah Underwood
Epatha knows she's the perfect pick for the lead in the new Sugar Plum ballet. But her dream role isn't as fabulosa as she imagined. When she tries to spice up the choreography with her free-spirited style it's up to the rest of the Sugar Plum Ballerinas to keep Epatha's toes in line. Will Epatha listen to her friends or can she convince the other ballerinas that her way is the best?

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina – Michaela & Elaine DePrince

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina – Michaela & Elaine DePrince
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.

Dancer – Lorri Hewett

Dancer – Lorri Hewett
Ballet is the most important thing in Stephanie’s life. Her good-girl reputation, her humiliation about her father's job--everything disappears for those brief, amazing moments when she is in flight. But the reality of dance is tough, and Stephanie's parents fear that she doesn't realize the most painful obstacle of all: how few opportunities there are for black ballerinas. Then the remarkable Miss Winnie and her talented nephew, Vance, show up in ballet class one day. And as Miss WInnie focuses her attention on Vance and Stephanie's success, Stephanie begins to discover a very different kind of love . . . and a different understanding of what's important.

Blue Tights – Rita Williams-Garcia

Blue Tights – Rita Williams-Garcia
Joyce Collins desperately wants to be accepted into the popular circle, and when she is cut from the ballet recital, she is devastated, until she joins an African dance troupe and quickly discovers a place where she truly feels she belongs.

Another Way to Dance – Martha Southgate

Another Way to Dance – Martha Southgate
Fourteen-year-old Vicki Harris's dream has come true. She has been accepted into the summer program at New York City's prestigious School of American Ballet. It will be hard work and highly competitive, but Vicki feels ready. She is totally committed to dancing. Vicki isn't prepared to be one of only two African-American students in the program. Nor is she expecting the racism she finds within the school. And Michael, from Harlem, takes Vicki completely by surprise. He shakes up her dream world--where Baryshnikov is her idol, her parents never really got divorced, and every pirouette is perfect--and shows her that the real world is bigger than a stage.

Pointe – Brandy Colbert

Pointe – Brandy Colbert
Theo is better now. She’s eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.

Tiny Pretty Things – Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

Tiny Pretty Things – Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton
Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette's desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

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