NPR Staff

The latest films in the Star Wars and Hunger Games franchises were not just box office smashes. They also shared something else in common: Both tapped into a widespread debate about casting.

The Old Vic Theatre in Bristol, England, is spending this year celebrating its 250th anniversary. And they're doing something pretty dramatic. They're taking a cue from their predecessors, by reviving some of the antique ways of producing sound effects for the stage.

For this summer's production of King Lear, the theater is using technology from the 18th century to create effects for rain, wind and thunder. Using old-fashioned wooden wheels, wooden gutters and wooden balls, they can recreate the sounds of a thunderstorm.

It's 1977 and an 11-year-old dancer named Mira is struggling to find her place in the competitive world of New York City ballet. Dance is her escape from her parents' failing marriage — but instead of a sanctuary, Mira finds the opposite: a dark threat intermingled with her dreams of being a star ballerina. Sari Wilson gives us a glimpse into this world in her new novel — it's called Girl Through Glass. Sari spent her own childhood dancing, like her protagonist, and she tells NPR's Rachel Martin that she found it exhilarating, in the beginning.

Forgive us if you've heard this (and heard it, and heard it) already: The East Coast is getting its fair share of snow this weekend.

If you have, chances are you've also heard another little anecdote. When folks get snowed in for a couple of days — the urban legend goes — the population in that area is likely to see a boost in births just nine months later. In other words: Blizzards might be prime baby-making time.

Julia has a gift — or is it? Ingrid Betancourt's new novel, The Blue Line, is about a woman in 1970s Argentina who can see the world through the eyes of others. Usually what she sees are terrible events, and that makes her different from the millions of Argentines who say they don't know about the detentions, disappearances, tortures and murders by which Argentina's military government ruled and quashed dissent in what is known as The Dirty War.

In their book published this month, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism, journalists John Donvan and Caren Zucker delve into the history of the good and bad intentions, sometimes wrongheaded science and shifting definitions that can cloud our understanding of what has come to be called the autism spectrum.

The country remembers the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday. More than four decades after his death, many people see the Black Lives Matter movement as the modern incarnation of the drive for human dignity and legal standing that Dr. King embodied.

But others, including members of an earlier generation of activists, find fault with the group, seeing it as an aimless, formless group that still lacks direction and follow-through. Meanwhile, younger activists sometimes see their seniors as too narrow in their focus and rigid in their methods.

The Sesame Street of your childhood has changed. Elmo has moved into a new apartment, Big Bird has a new nest and Oscar the Grouch is hanging out in recycling and compost bins, alongside his usual trash can.

But the biggest change may be how you watch Sesame Street. The 46th season of the classic children's show premieres Saturday on HBO, the subscription-based network that's home to provocative shows like Game of Thrones and Girls. New episodes of Sesame Street will air on its traditional home, PBS, nine months later.

Investigative reporter Dawn Anahid MacKeen's latest story is one her mother always wanted her to tell. It's about her grandfather and how he survived the 1915 Armenian genocide in which 1.5 million Armenians living in modern-day Turkey were killed. (Turkey doesn't recognize the slaughter as a genocide, but says they were the result of widespread conflict across the region.) In journals that became the seeds of MacKeen's new book, The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey, her grandfather told the story of how he escaped a forced march through the desert.

Many Americans know Dame Maggie Smith as the elegant and formidable Dowager Countess of Grantham. But at 81, Smith is now starring in a role that's a long way from Downton Abbey. In The Lady in the Van, Smith is Mary Shepherd — a homeless woman who lived in a derelict van parked in playwright Alan Bennett's driveway for 15 years.

"She was quite happy on the street," Smith tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "But I think Alan was so distressed watching her outside his window all the time that he thought he just had to help."

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