Books for Ballet Lovers

My voice mail greeting explains to callers that I’m busy chasing ballerinas.

The ballerinas, however, say I got it wrong. They say they’re only ballet dancers. They say they aren’t yet worthy of the title of ballerina.

But then I say – as the dizzy one driving them around and around, dashing to and from the dance studio umpteen times a week for the last eight years, dashing off in search of yet another pair of tights, another pair of flats, or another tube of hair gel  – I say they’re mine. And if they look like ballerinas, I’ll call them ballerinas if I want to, thank-you-very-much!

Ballet is, of course, what they do when they aren’t reading, playing piano or drawing. They speak French terms to each other, they make lovely poses, and they then flutter gracefully across the kitchen floor, often counting to eight under their breath. “What was that?” I ask. I never pretend to understand it. But because they are 11 and 14 and still twirling around the house daily, it is ever-so precious to me, and I thank God for those moments.

Then onward to the dance studio I drive. I love to watch them practice when they invite me. It’s always lovely and beautiful and sometimes smells like sweaty feet. (But don’t tell the ballerinas I said that.) They work super hard, and then they smile big toothy smiles, move ever-so gracefully across the floor, and somehow make it look as though it’s not one bit of trouble.

Dancers inspire me. They remind me of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8, “…whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”

Maybe you have a trained dancer in your family, too? Or a little girl pitter-pattering on tip-toe throughout your home? Or maybe a quiet girl who paints or writes or just daydreams of beautiful things? If so, grab this list of lovely books about ballet and twirl right on over to the library or bookstore!

Chasing Degas by Eva Montanari – This is a gorgeous picture book with a lively story and illustrations inspired by Impressionist paintings. Images of such paintings by Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas and others are included at the end.

I Dreamed I was a Ballerina by Anna Pavlova – Another beautiful picture book, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, features Impressionist artwork by Edgar Degas and the words of prima ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931). Pavlova is best known for her role as the Dying Swan in Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals.

Ballet Spectacular by Lisa Miles – With breathtaking photographs, this book is a treasury of all things ballet – history, famous ballets, ballet school, life in a ballet company, and a glossary of ballet terms. It’s a lovely guide for young ladies interested in dance.

Tallulah’s Tutu, Tallulah’s Solo, Tallulah’s Toe Shoes, Tallulah’s Tap Shoes and Tallulah’s Nutcracker by Marilyn Singer and Alexandra Boiger – Sweet illustrations with a bit of sparkle make this delightful series of five easy picture books just perfect for little girls. Simply adorable.

The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple – This is a stunning treasury of captivating ballet stories along with thorough details about each dance and a concise history of classical ballet.

A Child’s Introduction to Ballet by Laura Lee – Ideal for younger readers, this book includes simple illustrations and ballet stories along with a music CD featuring a track for each story. It also has a glossary of ballet terms.

Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer by Michaela DePrince and Elaine DePrince – With easy text and a mix of illustrations and photos, this autobiography features the endearing story of Michaela DePrince, a well-known ballet dancer who starred in the 2011 documentary First Position. This is a Step-into-Reading Level 4 book.

The Nutcracker Ballet retold by Deborah Hautzig – Easy text and sweet illustrations make this a great fit for beginning readers. It is a Step-into-Reading Level 3 book.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – First published in 1937, this chapter book relays the charming story of three orphans in England who become part of the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training.

Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – This chapter book is an interesting tale about two orphaned sisters involved in theatre and the Royal Ballet. It was first published in 1957.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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11 Great Picture Books for History

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Nearly every time I try to sit on our living room couch, I can’t actually sit. That’s because of the trail of two or three wide-open chapter books left on the cushions by my 11-year-old. She really loves being a bookworm, but she has yet to learn the purpose of a bookmark. Sigh.

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I suppose this is a symptom of her book obsession. She reads all sorts of books — classics, biographies, historical fiction, children’s fantasy, devotions and poetry — and usually has several in progress at once. One book I frequently try not to sit on is The Racketty-Packetty House, which she is in the process of converting into a script for a play she hopes to direct this summer. That seems like such a grown-up endeavor!

To my great delight, though, this dear bookworm has not yet outgrown the ritual of curling up on the couch with me to enjoy a lovely picture book from the library. I really don’t know what I will do with myself if she ever does outgrow such a ritual because I have a serious weakness for picture books.

My favorite read-alouds for this upper elementary age are historical picture books that bring the past to life. It’s always delightful to read well-illustrated, factually accurate books about real people and real events. Here’s a list of books in this genre that we’ve really enjoyed reading together as part of our homeschooling adventures.

1. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick is the best new book I’ve read in this genre.

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I fell hard for it immediately because it is a sweet, well-told story as well as a beautifully illustrated work. You may have guessed this: it features the real bear who inspired A.A. Milne’s much-loved character Winnie-the-Pooh. But it’s also a great World War I story about Canadian soldier Harry Colebourn. I simply adore it.

2. Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff is another fabulous book I’ve come across in this historical picture book genre.

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The book, which features Ben Franklin and Franz Mesmer, has mesmerized my whole family. The eye-catching typography and magnificent illustrations make it exceptionally fun to read; plus the fascinating story could easily count as a read-aloud for science as well as history, not to mention a tiny French lesson, too!

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3. Lily: The Girl Who Could See by Sally Oxley and Tim Ladwig is a lovely book about English artist Lilias Trotter, who faithfully served the Lord as a missionary in North Africa in the late 1800s. After you read it, consider watching the documentary film about Trotter’s life: Many Beautiful Things, which is available at manybeautifulthings.com.

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4. A Bear in War and its sequel, Bear on the Homefront, both by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat, tell the bittersweet stories of one small stuffed bear, Teddy, and a family’s experiences during World War I and World War II. You can see Teddy at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

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5. A Voyage in the Clouds by Matthew Olshan is about the first international flight by balloon in 1785. It includes fantastic illustrations by Sophie Blackall, who also illustrated Finding Winnie.  The Frenchman and the English-American in this notable crossing of the English channel did not get along, and the author uses that angle to make this telling of the event quite interesting. Disclaimer: A wee bit of what you might categorize as bathroom humor appears in the text and illustrations, but only because it’s a true part of the event. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end to clarify where some liberties were taken.

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6. Fly, Cher Ami, Fly! by Robert Burleigh is about a truly heroic carrier pigeon that helped rescue a lost battalion of soldiers during World War I. The illustrations are quite captivating, and the tale is a memorable piece of American history. This remarkable bird can be seen at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

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7. Stubby: The Dog Soldier by Blake Hoena tells the story of another animal from World War I that’s also on display at D.C.’s National Museum of American History. Stubby braved the battlefields alongside soldiers in the U.S. Army’s 26th Division.

A few other favorites in this genre that we have checked out from the library are:

8. Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan

9. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant

10. Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Ferris

11. Papa is a Poet: A Story about Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alive in the Spirit

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“I cannot start a Reformation like Martin Luther did. However, I can have within me the same Spirit that drove him in that direction. It is the Holy Spirit that we need in our midst today.” -A.W. Tozer, Alive in the Spirit

In his never-before-published book titled Alive in the Spirit, A.W. Tozer encourages Christians to study church history and learn about the women and men on whose shoulders our faith stands.

“…it is imperative that we read and understand our past,” Tozer argues. “If we do not understand our past, we will never fully comprehend our future. What God has done in the past is what He will do for us today…If I do not know what He has done, how can I have faith for what He will do for me today?”

One of the most-honored figures in church history is Martin Luther. And this year, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation started by Luther, who protested the teachings of the Catholic Church by nailing his ninety-five theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

These ninety-five theses, and nearly all of Luther’s other works, proclaim Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and point to God’s gift of salvation by grace through faith, not through works or indulgences as the church leaders of his day were teaching.

At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther said before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils…My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything.”

A few weeks ago at our local art museum, I saw the touring exhibit “Martin Luther: Art and Reformation,” which features many historical objects, artwork and artifacts from the 1500s. Along with my daughters and three of our dear friends, I beheld dozens of remarkable items: an early copy of the ninety-five theses that was widely distributed during Luther’s day, woodcuts by German painter and engraver Albrecht Dürer, and a cooking pot used in Luther’s boyhood home until it was buried in a heap of plague-infected household items. Most remarkable to me were the stunning gotha altar, a wooden window seat from Luther’s home, and the habit of an Augustinian monk.

Because the exhibit hall was overly crowded and uncomfortably warm, it was difficult to maneuver through the museum and fully ponder the historical significance of each artifact on display. And since my cell phone battery had died, I didn’t capture a single image of this memorable experience. But what I took away was meaningful nonetheless and quite beyond what my camera could have captured anyway.

Focusing on all of Luther’s notable accomplishments as a writer, translator, hymn composer, professor, theologian and pivotal figure in the Protestant Reformation, Luther seems larger than life. But after studying some of his personal belongings and even some letters he wrote by hand, I began to see a much more humble and human side of him. He was, after all, a man of flesh and blood. He sat at a table to eat and write, he sat at a window seat to pray and meditate, and he sat before people who misunderstood him, misunderstood Scripture and misunderstood Jesus’ finished work on the cross.

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So where did this simple man get such a mighty vision of the righteousness of God and the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus? What provoked him to protest and boldly debate the church leadership, refusing to accept its authority? What fueled his work of translating the Scriptures into German and writing powerful hymns like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God?”

In his biography Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Roland H. Bainton says, “Luther did the work of more than five men.”

How is that even possible?

Having just read Tozer’s book about experiencing the presence and power of God through the Holy Spirit, I am convinced that Luther was alive in the Spirit. Surely he was prompted, encouraged and empowered by the Holy Spirit as he acted in response to the living and active Word of God, particularly the Psalms and the book of Romans.

“Whenever God gets ahold of someone who is totally surrendered and one He can trust, God begins His work,” Tozer writes. “The quality of the work is not so much in the individual as it is in the individual possessed by God.”

Certainly Luther acted in obedience to God, but perhaps we give Luther too much credit as an individual and the Holy Spirit too little credit for Luther’s work.

Tozer explains that “…it is the Holy Ghost’s business to witness to the person and works and words of Jesus and confirm that He is the Messiah, the Son of God.” And likewise, Luther’s work confirmed Jesus as Christ and reinforced His works and words.

Tozer says that God has chosen to work within “the confines of His redeemed people” but is not restricted by the limits of human ability.

“God does not work within the confines of our strength; God works according to His character and nature and power,” he says.

Near the end of his life, Luther was not thrilled when his friends began gathering up his works for publication. He was willing to let much of it go because, “what mattered most was nothing that he had done but what God had done for him,” says Mark A. Noll in Invitation to the Classics.

Boldly proclaiming the truth of God’s Word to the world around us, just as Luther did, is what the Holy Spirit empowers Christians to do, Tozer says. And so it is imperative that those who follow Christ are aligned with God and His will as revealed in His Word by the Holy Spirit.

“The Bible gives us the power to do and to witness. We are to tell what we have seen, heard, felt and experienced. It all centers on the person of Christ,” he says.

“Our faith,” he concludes, “does not rest upon nor depend upon historical evidence, but upon the invisible presence witnessing to the inner life and our response to that voice.”

NOTE: Often quoted and frequently referred to as a “modern-day prophet,” A.W. Tozer, like Luther, was a theologian, pastor and author. He lived from 1897 to 1963. As an authority on Tozer’s ministry, Rev. James L. Snyder compiled and edited a series of Tozer’s sermons to create this book about the Holy Spirit. Although the content comes from sermons given many decades ago, the book is quite relevant for followers of Jesus today. To equip me for this review, Bethany House Publishers provided a free copy of the book.