Oct. 23, 2008 -- There isn't much Whoopi Goldberg hasn't done in life. She's become a successful actress and banked an Oscar. She's been a popular comedian for decades and now moderates ABC's daytime chatfest "The View."
Goldberg has now taken on the world of children's books and has written "Sugar Plum Ballerinas," a tale about a girl picked to be in a school recital. Read an excerpt of the book below and click here to check out more books from the "GMA" library.
I look at myself in my bedroom mirror—the mirror with little pink ballet shoes painted around it, which is on top of the dresser with the little pink ballet shoe drawer handles, which is beside the lamp with the little pink ballet shoes on the shade, which is next to my bed, which has—you guessed it—little pink ballet shoes on the comforter and pillowcases.
You might think the person who just moved into this room likes ballet. You would be wrong. My mom is the ballet-crazy one. Ever since I was born, she's had her mind set on one thing: turning me into a ballerina. She even stuck me with Petrakova for my middle name. Alexandrea Petrakova Johnson! The closest I've ever been to Russia is Atlanta. At least until we moved here to Harlem last week.
After I packed all my ballet stuff up, I told one of the Muscle Men Movers it would be okay if they lost that particular box. I even wrote lose this box on the side in purple felt pen in case they forgot.
But when Aunt Jackie dropped us off at our apartment on 123rd Street, there it was, right on top of the mountain of moving boxes in our living room. So out came the ballet mirror and the ballet lamp and the ballet comforter and the ballet pillowcases. They looked bad enough in my old room, but at least I'd gotten used to them there. My new room is a wall-to-wall ballet nightmare. The good thing is that we're way up above the street. Maybe if I put my fan just right, the ballet stuff will blow out the window.
Just as I think that, I look at the ballerina posters on the wall (all courtesy of Mama, naturally). There's Maria Tallchief, who danced with the New York City Ballet. Virginia Johnson, who was the prima ballerina of the Dance Theater of Harlem. Janet Collins, the first black prima ballerina of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. They stare down from their frames with stern looks on their faces, their eyes fixed on me as if they can tell I'm thinking Bad Ballet Thoughts. The only person on my wall who's smiling is my idol, champion speed skater Phoebe
Fitz. Aunt Jackie gave me an autographed poster of her for my last birthday. Phoebe looks as out of place among all the ballerinas as I feel in my ballet-themed room. I imagine Phoebe giving me an encouraging wink; then I turn back to the mirror.
A skinny nine-year-old looks back at me. I have Mama's brown skin and my dad's mixed-up eyes—one is green and one is brown—and my hair is dark and wavy, just long enough to stick in a ponytail.
Phoebe Fitz is really strong. She does one hundred push-ups every day. I can only do twenty-three so far, but I'm pretty sure I can see arm muscles popping out already.
I look good, except for one major problem: I'm wearing a big old pink puff pastry, the tutu to end all tutus. Layers and layers of netting droop down to my knees. Little rhinestones sewn into the netting glint like diamonds in pink marshmallow cream. A row of pink roses marches around my waist, and silver ribbons flutter when I move.
Ugh. I'll bet Phoebe Fitz never had to wear a tutu.
"Mama, you know we aren't supposed to wear this junk to class!" I yell down the hall. No response.
I march into her workroom, the tutu flopping up and down like it's trying to take off. There are moving boxes everywhere, but instead of unpacking, Mama's gluing huge feathers onto what was once probably a nice hat. She mostly makes costumes, but she's been on a hat kick lately. I know Mama is very talented—lots of people have said so—but to me, that hat looks like an ostrich's backside. Loose sequins in a rainbow of colors shimmer on the floor.
Mama doesn't notice me come in. Normal people hang out in jeans at home, but not her. She's wearing one of her creations; she calls it the Gold Mine Dress. She got the idea for it from a book about the California gold rush. The skirt of the dress is supposed to look like a mountain, so it flares out at the bottom. When Mama's standing still, the only colors you see are chocolate brown and gray, like soil and rocks, but when she moves you can see flashes of gold from the shiny threads and beads she's sewn deep into the creases. She loves it, but says it doesn't read well onstage. That means it looks good close up, but from far away you'd miss the interesting details. ("Interesting details" are things that make clothes special. I wish my tutu did not have so many of them.)
The hat she's working on would read well onstage even if the stage were on Mars and you were looking at it from Earth. "Fabulous . . . mm-mmm, perfect; maybe one more orange . . ." she says to herself as she chooses feathers and holds them up to the hat to see how they look.
The ballet school letter is lying by her sewing machine. I wave it in front of her face. "Mama!"
She looks up, a little dazed. I'd be dazed too if I'd been staring at purple and orange feathers all morning. "Why, Alexandrea!" she says, standing up to look me over. "You look wonderful. All ready for class?"
"Mama, listen to this." I read from the letter. "Students at the Nutcracker School shall wear standard ballet leotards and tights. Dress code shall be strictly enforced."
Mama puts down the feathers. "You are wearing a leotard. It's fabulous and unique. Can you imagine how it will stand out onstage?" She strikes a dramatic pose, as if an audience of 3,000 were watching her every move.
Sure, the tutu would look great onstage. However, I am not going onstage. I am going to a ballet class at a strange school in a strange city. Mama seems to have missed this critical point.
"And it doesn't say you can't wear a tutu over the leotard," Mama continues. "You are wearing those gorgeous tights I set out for you, yes?" She tries to peek at my behind, but I hold the tutu down. The tights I'm wearing are one of Mama's favorite creations. The legs look like normal tights, but the rear end is covered with shiny pink lightning bolts. You have to wear them over your leotard, not under, or you wouldn't be able to see the lightning (which would be fine with me). Mama calls the outfit Girl Power—Girl for the tutu and Power for the lightning. She says the contrast between the delicate tutu and the powerful lightning makes an interesting artistic statement. The dress code says we're supposed to wear tights, not interesting artistic statements. At least no one will see them under the tutu.
"Mama, pleeeeease." Thinking about the new ballet class makes my stomach hurt. I won't know anyone. I won't know where the bathroom is. And on top of all that, I get to walk in looking like an electrified bride on a wedding cake.
Mama drops the feathers and puts her hands on her hips. "Alexandrea, that is enough. When I was growing up, I dreamed of taking ballet from Ms. Debbé at the Nutcracker School, but my mother couldn't afford it. Now that my own little girl is going, she is going in style. Understand?"
It's hopeless. "Yes, ma'am."
"You only have one chance to make a first impression, you know," she says. "When they see you in that creation of mine, I guarantee you'll stick in their minds that way forever."
That's what I'm afraid of.