Book Reviews

The Sugarless Plum: A Ballerina’s Triumph Over Diabetes

The American Library Association gave The Sugarless Plum a star— which indicates a work is outstanding in its genre— in the November 1, 2009 issue of Booklist Magazine.

“After learning to dance in Thailand during her dad’s army tour, Karz studied at George Balanchine’s School of the American Ballet, the training ground for the New York City Ballet. At 17, she danced as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, and at 20 she danced in company cofounder Jerome Robbins’ Goldberg Variations. Loving the “order and control” of dance, Karz was shaken to the core when she was diagnosed with diabetes at age 21.

Failed attempts at self-healing were followed by insulin injections and blood tests throughout her demanding routine of classes, rehearsal, and evening performances—all in secret to conceal the severity of her illness.

Six years later, after she’d toured internationally despite frightening fluctuations in blood sugar levels, she remained in the corps de ballet, then was promoted to soloist.

One of the pleasures in this empowering journey of talent and determination is Karz’s faultless writing; it’s never awkward or stilted even when she provides medical and technical dance facts. This winning memoir will appeal strongly to readers interested in dance, health, and artists’ memoirs.”

— Whitney Scott

“In 1987, when Karz was 21 and dancing in the corps of the prestigious New York City Ballet, she began to suffer constant thirst and dizziness, frequent urination and oozing sores under her arms.

After an initial misdiagnosis and months of denying the seriousness of her condition, Karz faced the devastating reality that, as a type 1 diabetic, she would have to take insulin injections for the rest of her life, check her blood-sugar levels at least 10 times a day and was at a high risk for infection and even amputation.

Karz details the ups and downs of her childhood, illness and 16-year NYCB career, from a low-blood-sugar episode that almost derailed a performance in Copenhagen to dancing with George Balanchine himself at a School of American Ballet rehearsal; being cast as the Nutcracker’s Sugar Plum Fairy; and her promotion to soloist six years after her diagnosis.

Karz’s prose is simple, and although ballet fans may wish for more insider gossip, Karz offers a satisfying portrait of a dancer making her mark at a competitive world-class company. Diabetics and athletes in particular will gain inspiration from her perseverance, acceptance and control of a debilitating disease.”

— Publishers Weekly

From the very first sentence I was pulled into a magnificent story of triumph over adversity. Zippora’s story gives courage and strength to anyone with diabetes.

— Lois Jovanovic, M.D., Sansum Diabetes Research Institute

A must read for anyone with diabetes or knows someone who does. Zippora followed her passion and found a balance necessary for a full and rich life.

— Kay Mazzo, Co-chairman of Faculty, School of American Ballet

Zippora has enabled us to realize that with support and commitment dreams can come true and diabetes can be conquered. Her story is an inspiration for us all.

— Francine R. Kaufman, M.D., author of Diabesity

With generosity and courage, Zippora vividly describes her passion to dance while balancing her ever-changing need for medication. She was an exquisite dancer and this is a beautifully written and inspiring book.

— Allegra Kent, former principal dancer, New York City Ballet

Zippora masterfully integrates her experience at the highest echelon of ballet with a life-threatening disease to provide an inspiration for all who struggle with diabetes.

— Anne Peters, M.D., author of Conquering Diabetes

Zippora was an enormously talented dancer and she brings to this book her unique perspective on being an athlete with diabetes. Her wonderfully positive outlook provides invaluable information that readers will find both helpful and fascinating.

— Peter Martins, Ballet Master in Chief, New York City Ballet

Zippora Karz had what the great dancers have: a pure-hearted musicality that could bring audiences to tears. You won’t be able to put this book down.

— Elizabeth Kendall, author of Autobiography of a Wardrobe


Ballerina Dreams: A book for Children with Diabetes

Charming: New “Ballerina Dreams” Book for Little PWDs

“The diabetes community’s favorite prima ballerina, Zippora Karz, has added “children’s author” to her resume. She’s just published a thoroughly charming book about a school-age girl with a passion for ballet who gets diagnosed with type 1 diabetes right before the biggest performance of her little life.

Parents of little girls will find “Ballerina Dreams: A Book for Children with Diabetes” reminiscent of the “Nina Nina Ballerina” series, but with a sophisticated diabetes twist. In other words, Zippora does not “dumb down” this disease at all, but rather presents it in very clear and frank terms. An excerpt:

… “Diabetes isn’t easy to explain,” the doctor continued. “It involves a chemical in the blood called insulin. When we eat, food is broken down into sugar. This sugar is what will feed the cells of the body, from our eyes to our toes, so they can work properly. But something has to help get the sugar from the blood into the cells. Insulin is like a key that opens a door; it is what opens a cell up so the sugar can get in. Some bodies… have problems making insulin, so they do not have enough.”

Plus there’s a nice two-page section at the back of book called “Diabetes Explained” written by none other than the legendary endo Dr. Fran Kaufman of the USC School of Medicine and Medtronic Diabetes.

The book is mildly biographical, with the main character being a young girl named Zippy — although the real Zippora was actually diagnosed at age 21, when she was already an aspiring ballerina with the New York City Ballet.

In the book, Zippy is so excited to be chosen to dance as leading ballerina in her first performance! But soon she’s feeling weak, peeing a lot, and even collapses during rehearsal. Her parents take her to a (surprisingly relaxed and upbeat) doctor, who confirms that she can continue dancing, as long as she learns to do her shots, test glucose regularly, and “keep some sugar off-stage, just in case your blood sugar drops too low.” She’s fiercely determined not to give up her dancing, especially after a fairy-godmother-ballerina appears in her dreams.

But when Zippy returns to dance class after being out several weeks adjusting to her diagnosis, she finds she’s been replaced in the lead role — oh no! But then… well, I won’t give it all away.

The happy ending is this final sentence: “She knew it would give her strength to succeed despite any challenge, on-stage and off.”

Charming, charming! As are the illustrations.”

More information on Zippora Karz and Ballerina Dreams available at Diabetes Mine.

— Amy Tenderich