A Time to Dance: Virginia's Civil War Diary Discussion Guide
- Grades: 3–5
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
The My America books build on the success of the Dear America series and answer the need for quality historical fiction for young readers. Unlike the Dear America books, this series follows the adventures of a single main character through several books as that youngster serves as an eyewitness to a major event in American history.
Mary Pope Osborne, the award-winning author of such popular books as the Magic Tree House series, turns her writing talents to historical fiction set during the period of the Civil War. In Virginia's first diary, My Brother's Keeper, Osborne has her main character witness the Battle of Gettysburg. In the second book, After the Rain, Virginia settles into a new life in Washington, D.C. where they suddenly join the rest of the nation in shock at the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
A Time to Dance chronicles the experiences of Virginia and her extended family as they relocate again, this time to New York City in 1865. As Virginia's father looks for work playing his violin in an orchestra, her brother, Jed, takes a job as a newspaper reporter. When money is tight, even eleven-year-old Virginia decides to take a job and becomes a backstage dresser in the theatre. Building on Will Osborne's years in the theatre, Mary Pope Osborne joins her husband to write about the New York theatre of 1865. Shadows of the Lincoln assassination are cast over the New York stage when Edwin Booth, the celebrated actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth, returns to the theatre amid fears that audiences will heckle him off the stage because of his brother's horrible crime.
A Time to Dance finds Virginia Dickens realizing the wisdom of the Bible verse that says for everything there is a season. In the course of these three novels Virginia has seen killing, healing, crying, laughter, mourning, and now that blessings seem to be finally shining on the Dickens family, she knows it is their time to dance.
"At last we are settled in New York City," writes eleven-year-old Ginny Dickens, as she begins her third diary. "I think I am going to love our life here." Ginny, Pa, her brother, Jed, his wife, Jane Ellen, and their baby, Abe, have moved from Washington City after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Jed is a reporter for a New York newspaper, and Pa hopes to find work as a violinist in an orchestra.
The sights of New York amaze Ginny: houses that look like palaces, Central Park, and the theater. She eagerly anticipates attending her first play. As the weeks pass, and Pa is unable to find work, Ginny decides she must help out. She takes a job as a dresser at the Olympic Theater and begins to think she might like a career on stage. Pa decides to give violin lessons in the home, and his first student, Charles Edmonds, makes considerable progress under Pa's direction.
Christmas comes, and the family is happy, especially Virginia when she receives a ticket to see "the greatest actor of our time," Edwin Booth, perform in Hamlet. Things continue to go well as Pa gains more students and is offered a job with an orchestra. Ginny gets a small part in a play and looks forward to more acting opportunities. Later, however, after thinking it through, Ginny decides she'd rather "be a good writer than anything on earth."
Pa begins "calling on" Charles's mother, a young widow, and soon surprises the family by proposing to her. The family looks forward to the wedding, which will increase their number to seven. As the family celebrates the engagement, Ginny is filled with joy. "This is," she writes, "our time to dance."
Thinking About the Book
- Why have Virginia Dickens and her family moved from Washington City to New York City?
- P.T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute." Who was P.T. Barnum? Why do you think he might have said this?
- Why did the famous actor Edwin Booth decide to retire from the theatre?
- When Virginia is hired to be a dresser in the theatre, her father first says she cannot take the job. What changes his mind?
- Edwin Booth does return to the stage in Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Virginia and her brother Jed are in the audience. Why was it feared that the audience would boo Mr. Booth? How is he greeted onstage?
- How does Virginia's father finally get a job playing his violin in an orchestra?
- Virginia is very hurt when she hears the prompter, Mr. Ponisi, make a comment about her? What did he say?
- When Edwin Booth finally answers Virginia's letters, what advice does he give her?
- Why do you think Virginia's diary is called A Time to Dance?
- In her diary entry for July 31, 1865, Virginia describes a left-handed penmanship contest. Using the hand that you typically do not write with, write your name and address. Compare your writing sample with the other members of your Discussion Group. Declare a winner and enter that person's writing sample in a contest with the winners of each Discussion Group.
- The actor Edwin Booth was worried that the American people would blame him for his brother's assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. In your groups debate the issue of whether or not a person should be held somehow responsible for the actions taken by another member of that person's family.
- Identify the following terms and explain their significance in Virginia's diary.
*John Wilkes Booth
- Virginia is eleven years old. She tries hard to read Shakespeare's play King Lear but even with Jane Ellen's help, she finds the play hard to understand. Try reading some of this play. Do you feel the same way Virginia did?
- In your Discussion Group create a television commercial for Dr. Brigg's Grecian Compound. Perform your skit for the class.
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Associate Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.