Alex Ko: From Iowa to Broadway, My Billy Elliot Story

Alex Ko: From Iowa to Broadway, My Billy Elliot Story

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by Alex Ko

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Alex Ko’s moving autobiography will inspire tweens to dare to dream big.
Alex Ko: From Iowa to Broadway, My Billy Elliot Story follows Alex’s journey from small town Iowa to becoming a famous Broadway performer in New York City. Despite all the odds he had to overcome—facing his father’s tragic death from cancer,


Alex Ko’s moving autobiography will inspire tweens to dare to dream big.
Alex Ko: From Iowa to Broadway, My Billy Elliot Story follows Alex’s journey from small town Iowa to becoming a famous Broadway performer in New York City. Despite all the odds he had to overcome—facing his father’s tragic death from cancer, financial difficulties, countless auditions, and serious injuries, Alex triumphantly lands the starring role in the musical Billy Elliot at age thirteen.
For theater fans who want an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the world of backstage Broadway to kids determined to achieve dreams of their own, Alex Ko’s story, told in his own words, is powerful and personal.
A collection of black-and-white photos from both Billy Elliot productions and Alex’s childhood brings his world vividly to life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ko opens his autobiography on a dramatic note, ushering readers into his Broadway dressing room on the October 2009 evening when he first appeared in the title role of Billy Elliot on Broadway at age 13. He then steps back in time to chronicle his first forays into dance and gymnastics in Iowa City, Iowa, detailing his instruction, accomplishments, and setbacks due to injuries. Ko’s prose is crisp and heartfelt, with effective end-of-chapter foreshadowing. Most affecting is his description of his rapport with his father (to whom he dedicates the book), who died of cancer two years before Ko’s Broadway debut, but remains a guiding influence in his life. The book’s pace accelerates after Ko arrives in Manhattan to audition for the part of Billy. Theater and dance aficionados will especially appreciate his candid revelations about the rigors of auditioning, rehearsing, and performing. Though Ko’s devotion to his craft is at the heart of his story, he also shows his playful side (in one funny scene, he filches toilet paper for a souvenir while performing at the White House). An ingenuous, enlightening memoir. Ages 8–12. (May)
Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
The Broadway musical, Elton John's Billy Elliot, was the scene of Alex Ko's triumph as a child actor and dancer. Strangely, there were many parallels between Alex's life and the fictional Billy's. Both yearned to dance, both had lost a parent, both worked intensely, overcame obstacles, and at last succeeded. Alex had the advantage of a happy family life in Iowa with two brothers, his beloved father, and his devoted mother. Filled with energy and exceptional talent, Alex started classes at age five and never doubted he was destined to become a dancer. The death of his father (Alex was eleven) nearly derailed his budding career, but his mother worked, sacrificed, and applied for scholarships until, one day, Alex was invited to audition for one of the Billy's on Broadway. Now seventeen, he has written with unusual intimacy and passion of his hopes, devastation at his father's loss, and his utter determination, even to dancing with injuries (he does not recommend it). Alex candidly reveals his abiding faith and the feeling that his father is always near. His debut on Broadway was the high point of his life—unfortunately, his run was cut short: after only nine performances, Alex was badly injured and had to rest. By the time he was strong again, he was becoming too old for the part. Dancers or not, young readers will be drawn into this heartfelt autobiography, sharing Alex's triumphs, giggling at adventures in the White House, when he stole presidential toilet paper and met Michelle Obama. Though he continues to study dance, Alex's unusual maturity allows him to contemplate college and be ready for whatever the future holds. For career comparisons, admirers might like to try child actor Henry Hodges's How to Act Like a Kid (Disney, 2013). Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Ko focuses on the two main events in his young life: the loss of his dad from cancer when he was 11, and his subsequent foray into ballet, leading to a starring role, at age 13, on Broadway. After being sidelined from gymnastics to work through an injury, Ko finally received his father's blessing to pursue dance. His passion for it, both as an athlete and as an artist, is evident. Despite his family's financial hardships and many setbacks, Ko never lost his upbeat disposition. He describes in heartbreaking detail his father's struggle with cancer, including a failed liver transplant and their last family trip to California. Ko's father remained very much on his mind, and he connected to his dad in nightly prayers. A dance choreographed in the man's memory became the audition piece that won Ko the starring role in Billy Elliot. Ko experienced equal parts camaraderie and competition with the two other boys who shared the role. Readers will be fascinated by the backstage details of working on Broadway and impressed by Ko's humble nature. Even after appearing on Broadway, he remains starstruck by some of the celebrities he meets, including Rosie O'Donnell and President Obama. An appealing memoir.—Madigan McGillicuddy, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library, Atlanta, GA
Kirkus Reviews
Broadway lights beckoned bright for a boy from Iowa who leapt into the title role of the long-running Billy Elliot. In his own words, Ko recounts his longtime love of gymnastics and dance. With the support of a loving family, he was able to take part in gymnastics competitions and study ballet. The death of his father was a terrible blow, but Ko used prayer to overcome his sorrow and choreographed a solo dance to honor him. Despite financial difficulties, he found his way to Broadway, where, at 13, he became the first replacement within the original trio of Billys a year into the run. He shared the role with two other boys; it was a difficult one, requiring ballet, singing and acting. The journey was grueling, filled with hours of practice and classes and marked by a serious injury. Readers will gain an insider's knowledge of a Broadway production and share in the great thrill of Ko's first Broadway performance. His winning personality, drive and strong faith come through on every page. Kudos to his mother for managing the fine line between good mother and stage mother. Alex is currently studying ballet in New York City with an eye on more star turns in the future. Black-and-white photographs (not seen) illustrate the text. An enjoyable and fast-paced read for not only star-dreamers, but also the star-stuck. (Memoir. 9-14)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)
780L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Alex Ko made his Broadway debut at age thirteen in the title role of Billy in the Tony Award-winning Billy Elliot: The Musical. Alex studied dance from the time he was five years old, and at the age of twelve he was the youngest student admitted to the University of Iowa Dance Department, where he received college credit with honors distinction. Alex was guided by ballet masters Eloy Barragán and George de la Peña in Iowa City and by Peter O'Brien and Wilhelm Burmann in New York City. Alex has had the distinct honor of being a guest dancer at the White House and has appeared on ABC Family's Bunheads. Alex has won national and regional dance titles and is a USA gymnastics champion coached by 1996 Olympic gold medalist Dmitri Trouch.

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Alex Ko: From Iowa to Broadway, My Billy Elliot Story 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a Billyver (nope, didn't misspell that). I'm a Billy Elliot fan and proud of it! I've seen the show 15 times in 9 different states and I've seen 11 boys play the role of Billy. They all bring something unique to the role, so when  I heard that Alex had written a book about his story, I pre-ordered. I read this book in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. This doesn't feel like it was written by a young adult. There is real depth and emotion in Alex's story and he doesn't hold back on what he shares. There are good times and bad, but his friends and family get him through. I loved reading about all the auditions and the stories from behind the scenes. Even if you aren't a die-hard Billy fan (yet), I recommend this book. Alex is a child prodigy in dance and gymnastics, but natural talent is never enough. His drive and his passion are what got him where he wanted to go and I cannot wait to see where he goes next.