The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

It’s a simple biography of Margaret Wise Brown that tells of the life of one of the greatest children’s book writers ever. There are 42 pages, simple sentences, just a few examples, but what a lovely tribute to her.

Mac Barnett, ©2019, Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-239344-9

The Important Book

One of Margaret Wise Brown’s out popular books was The Important Book. The video below is a reading of The Important Book by Gary Eisenberg. Students will instantly understand that the pattern of the book itself, The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, is totally an homage to her original book. You would have to know her books in order to recognize the homage.

The pattern is:

  1. The Important thing about…
  2. 5 facts about it…
  3. Then repeat, but the Important thing about the…

This is potentially a really successful writing pattern for your students. Use topics from the classroom, or gym equipment, or art materials, or positions on a team, anything that 5 things can be said about. The students construct a list of 5 items for their Important Book—humour matters if possible—and then write. The finished book will seem really easy for them to write, but it has a structure and will result in 7 sentences for each item, 5 items in total—35 sentences in total—and they’ll have a good time doing it. Below are a couple examples:

The important thing about the whiteboard is that it is white. It is in front of the room. It is written on with erasable pens—never with permanent pens unless you want the custodian to be angry. It contains important information about what we are doing. It can get very messy. It isn’t used very often any more. But the important thing about a whiteboard is that it is white.

The important thing about a pitcher is that he throws the ball. It has to be a round white official baseball. He throws in the direction of the home plate. The ball may be hit by the hitter and very rarely can be caught by the pitcher. If the hitter doesn’t swing, or swings and misses, it is caught by the catcher. The catcher throws it back to the pitcher who catches it. But the important thing about a pitcher is that he throws the ball.

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The Dragon’s Robe

Kwan Yin intends to create a dragon robe for the Emperor but on the way she meets an old man, guardian of the Emperor’s dragon shrine. He asks for a favour and she does it, but Lord Phoenix and Lord Tiger who come on the next days steal from the old man. A dragon appears and turns Lord Phoenix into a phoenix, Lord Tiger into a tiger, and for good measure floods out invading tartar armies. The old man then reveals that he is the emperor himself and rewards Kwan Yin.

Deborah Norse Lattimore, ©1993, Harper Books, ISBN 978-0064433211

Comparison
If you wish, students could look at how this story pattern is somewhat similar to a classic European fairy tale. We have an orphan girl, with a simple skill (like Cinderella who cleans), she meets a character in disguise (like in Beauty an the Beast), things happen in threes, the “bad guy” gets his/her comeuppance, the girl succeeds in becoming wealthy and successful. etc. Oh, and the moral of the story: honesty, kindheartedness, and hard work pays off.

Vocabulary
China had emperors—and one empress. Ask students to brainstorm words that mean “a person exercising government over other people.” Add to their list when they have exhausted their own options—it sometimes helps if we name places: “What is the head of Japan called?”

Here are 20 words that mean “a person exercising government over others”: king, ruler, president, tsar, prime minister, dictator, monarch, president, potentate, Caesar, caliph, kaiser, oligarch, sultan, shah, chief, etc. Perhaps ask them to find out in which countries these titles tend to be used. Which are the oldest to newest titles historically? What about power—which are the most powerful (ruler of largest area, most power over life and death, able to raise the largest army? Which are the most likely to e used in a democracy? etc.

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The Dragon Prince

A Chinese Beauty and the Beast Tale
A poor farmer with seven daughters is on his way home from his farm when a dragon seizes him and says he will eat him unless one of his daughters marries him. Seven (who makes money for the family with her excellent embroidery) agrees and they fly away to a gorgeous home, wonderful clothes, a great life…and he reveals he is a prince in disguise. She misses her home, and while there, Three, who is jealous, pushes her in the river and steals her identity. Seven is rescued by an old lady and uses her wonderful sewing skills to make clothes and shoes they can sell in the market. The prince, realizing something is wrong, seeks his real bride and finds her because he sees her embroidery in the market. Happy ending all around—except for Three.

Lawrence Yep, ©1999, Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0064435185

Figures of Speech (Simile)
There are many many similes…well, I counted 9, but there may be more. This might be a good time to teach what a simile is. Perhaps read the story to them first, and then read the story to them a second time, asking them to identify the similes.

  1. The dragon raised a paw with claws as sharp as daggers.
  2. The lakes became silvery sequins.
  3. The Milky Way…like an endless bolt of the whitest silk.
  4. The moon…shone like a giant pearl upon the sea.
  5. I could crush you like a twig.
  6. His scales gleamed like jewels in a golden net.
  7. His eyes shone like twin suns.
  8. Curling his body as easily as a giant.
  9. Moon…like a school of fish darting.

A Craft: Embroidery

 

 

 

You might be able to purchase small embroidery hoops at a local dollar store. Choose a simple pattern, perhaps of a dragon, transfer it to simple white cotton, and have students embroider it in a single colour. There are many times in Chinese stories that silk, embroidery, etc. are a turning point in the story. One of these is The Silk Princess, another is The Dragon’s Robe, and of course, The Dragon Prince.

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Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein

mary who wrote frankensteinMary Shelley is the 18 year old author of Frankenstein (or the Modern Prometheus) and this is the story of how, on a stormy night, in a gathering of recognized Romantic period geniuses, she began to write this story which is the inspiration of the entire Gothic horror genre.

Linda Bailey, ©2018, Tundra Books, Random House, ISBN 978-1-77049-559-3

Frankenfish and Other Cool Characters

frankenfishWhat about an art activity where students combine the features of several animals to create a frankenanimal? An elephant with zebra stripes and butterfly wing ears looks great. You might want to give out some basic animal drawings and some drawings of parts (tusks, horns, claws, patterns, wings, fins, tails, etc.) that they could combine to create their frankenanimal.

The Actual Plot of Frankenstein
If your students are interested, SparkNotes has an illustrated summary of the plot of the story of Frankenstein. Most people think Frankenstein is the monster and most people know how the monster was created, but they don’t know the actual plot—which is actually very strange and convoluted in today’s ears.

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Nothing Stopped Sophie

nothing stopped sophie cheryl bardoeThe Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain. Sophie Germain was an 18th century math prodigy who simply refused to accept the assigned roles for a female. Her parents, the schools, the science establishment—nothing stopped her insatiable need to understand and use mathematics. She eventually found the formula that would predict patterns of vibration. We use it today to build bridges, skyscrapers, skytrains, earthquake scenarios…anything that has a structure and can vibrate. In 1816, she became the first woman to win a grand prize from the Royal Academy of Sciences.

Cheryl Bardoe, ©2018, Little Brown and Company, ISBN 978-0-316-27820-1

Writing to a Pattern

One of the things that holds this story together is the repeated line, “But nothing stopped Sophie.” Ask students to write of something they wanted to do and worked hard to do—it can be as simple as mastering a computer program or a game, riding a bicycle, learning to type, playing an instrument, reading a map…it doesn’t have to be amazing, it just has to be a challenge.

Ask them to set up the scenario of failing at first, then having 3 tries before the final success. At each stage it would be “But nothing stopped (name of student)”.

The French Revolution and Sophie

A great way of remembering lists of things or connections of things is through mnemonics—memory devices. Most students easily remember, “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” because it rhymes. We can remember HOMES as the names of the Great Lakes—Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior—because we can think of them as being in your HOME country,

Well, to remember when the French Revolution was, we need to think of the song, The Marseilles, and then sing,

Louis the Sixteenth was the king of France, in 1789,
He was worth than Louis the fifteenth
He was worse than Louis the fourteenth
He was worse than Lou-o-ie the Thirteenth
He was the worst…da, da, da, da
Since Louie the First.

Why does this matter to this book? It doesn’t, except that Sophie lived in France, during the French Revolution, and it affected how she saw math—as something solid, unchanging, and true in a world that was chaotic.

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Mother Bruce

Bruce, the bear, is gathering eggs for his dinner recipe, but unfortunately they hatch. The ducklings immediately imprint on Bruce and follow him everywhere. After trying to get them to leave he gives up and raises them, even trying to teach them to migrate. When that fails, they end by vacationing in Miami every year.

Ryan T. Higgens, ©2015, Disney Hyperion, 978-1-4847-3088-1

Teaching About Imprinting

The first research on imprinting was by Konrad Lorenz around 1935. He observed that certain birds will develop a rapid strong attachment to a certain individual, often a mother. Geese will imprint on the first suitable moving stimulus in the first 13-16 hours (called the critical period). After that it is hard to change. It can even be a box moving on a track.

It is particularly associated with “nidifugous” birds, that is, ones that leave the nest shortly after hatching. They are born with open eyes, are capable of independent motion, and leave the nest almost immediately. It is from Latin for “nidus” meaning “nest” and “fugeri” meaning “to flee” (hence the word fugitive).

The purposes of imprinting are to learn what species you are, how your species behaves, what the sounds of your species are, what would be the appearance of an appropriate mate, for protection by staying near mother, and to learn to find food.

Typical birds that imprint are chickens, ducks, geese, crows, kestrels, vultures, eagles, raptors, and wading birds.

Ask students to first brainstorm what questions they would have about what animals imprint:

  1. What kinds of birds imprint? List some. What other animals imprint?
  2. Why do they imprint—what is it for?
  3. What are some of the birds that don’t imprint?
  4. What are some of the birds that do imprint?
  5. What are the characteristics at birth of birds that imprint?
  6. How are the birds that don’t imprint different?
  7. Who discovered imprinting?
  8. What is the problem if birds imprint on humans?

It’s Bad Science

In the end of the story, a little baby turtle approaches a duck and says, “Mama?” It’s cute—but not good science. Ask students why? As mother turtle lays hundreds and hundreds of eggs that the male fertilizers, the eggs are buried, and both parents leave. The babies hatch and must flee to the sea under the assault of predators who have gathered for “lunch”. Barely 1 in 100 survive to return to the beach. They have no parent to which to imprint.

Extreme Writing and Grumpy Cat

Mother Bruce is grumpy, but not as grumpy as Grumpy Cat. For Extreme Writing, go to my Grumpy Cat Pinterest page that contains 26 Grumpy Cat statements with three choices for Extreme Writing topics.

For the Good luck… You’ll Need It image, for example, the three prompts are:

  1. Lucky things that have happened to me—or a friend.
  2. Good luck and bad luck—superstitions I know.
  3. “It started as a normal Monday morning,” and continue with alternating good and bad luck.

For 10 creative writing ideas, click Mother Bruce to download.

Yeh Shen: A Cinderella Story from China

Yeh-Shen was the orphan daughter in her stepmother’s home, but the stepmother favoured her own daughter. Yeh-Shen’s friend, the fish, would come out of the water, rest on the shore, and she should feed it from her scarce resources. Her stepmother put on Yeh-Shen’s coat, lured out the fish, and killed it. As Yeh-Shen grieved, an old man appeared and told her to retrieve the bones, for they had power to grant wishes. Yen-Shen then wished on the bones for food. When the spring festival arrived (where young men and women could find partners), Yeh-Shen was not allowed to go. The bones of the fish made her an azure gown, a kingfisher feather cloak, and shoes of solid gold. When it looked like her stepmother would recognize her, she fled, leaving behind one gold slipper. In searching for his “bride”, the king noticed Yeh-Shen’s tiny feet, and when she tried on the slipper, her spring festival clothes reappeared on her. Ta da!

Ai-Ling Louie, illustrated by Ed Young, ©1982, Philomel Books, 978-0-399-21594-0

Comparison

Using a Venn diagram, students can prepare a chart comparing how this Cinderella story is the same as, and different from, the European version. It is your decision whether to read them a picture book, or count on their knowledge of the Disney version.

A simple method is to ask students to first write a rather pedestrian opening sentence such as: This is a comparison of the classic European Cinderella with the Yeh-Shen version; then they choose and write about at least three ways in which they are similar. Begin with the best idea for a comparison, end with the second best, put others between. Next, they write about at least three ways in which they are different then follow the same process of beginning with their best idea, ending with the second best, and putting the others between. They can conclude by stating whether the two stories are more similar or more different. At this point, the students can re-write the opening sentence to be more dramatic and interesting, and also write a conclusion that has pizzazz. (From analyzing the similarities and differences between the story of Yeh-Shen and Cinderella we may conclude that the tale began in China.) Voila! It may not be amazing, but it is serviceable.

Mutilating the Body

Another mini-research project topic could be customs that involve altering the body to create “beauty”, such as the custom of foot-binding in China. Customs, such as foot binding, actually distort the body to such an extent that it can even be crippling. A discussion with students, about potentially not making any changes to their body that cannot be reversed would be fruitful.

  1. Extending the ears (Inca, Tutankhamen, Africa, etc.)
  2. Tiny feet (China)
  3. Elongated necks (some African tribes where if the rings are removed the person suffocates).
  4. Teeth blackening (in Elizabeth I’s court she had eaten so much sugar that her teeth were black, so some women as a fashion statement blackened their teeth)
  5. Cranial binding (the head to create a shape. Very common in Incas)
  6. Facial Scarring (Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Aboriginal tribes in Australia, Karo people of Ethiopia)
  7. Teeth sharpening (Mayan, Vietnamese, Balinese, Africa)
  8. Lip plates (Ecuador, Sudan, Ethiopia, Central America)

CBS Storybreak: Yeh-Shen

CBC Storybreak has a really quite nice fully animated version of Yeh-Shen based on the book, but with more elaborated characters.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Yeh Shen: A Cinderella Story from China to download.

Town Is by the Sea

Written in the first person, a boy tells of his simple day. First he describes the setting by the sea with a house, a road, a grassy cliff, the sea, and the town and his father digging coal under the sea. Then getting up, going to the playground, having lunch, doing an errand in town, visiting his grandfather’s graveyard and and going home, listening to the radio, having dinner, An ordinary day, and at every stage he thinks of his father digging coal under the sea.

Joanne Schwartz, ©2017, Groundwood Books, 978-1-55498-871-6

A First Person Story of Your Day

Using the story as a model, students could write a simple story of what happens during a typical day in their life. They could then mark 5 places where they will place sentences, “And my mother”….. followed by “and my father.” They may need to consult with their parents to find 5 things that they typically do throughout a day. Putting these things together will show the three lives happening separately but at the same time of the day. It could be a rather powerful little piece of writing.

Mining Songs

In Canada, the song Working Man, sung by Rita MacNeil, is considered a classic. It is also a perfect representation of the life of the men of Town Is By the Sea. 

The Power of Repetition

At each point in the story, our narrator repeats that his father is a miner and that he digs for coal under the sea; this is repeated 5 times. Before that statement, each time, there is a description of the state of the sea—its white tips, its sparkle, its crash, its calm quiet, the sun sinking into it, the sound as you fall asleep. Under that sea is where his father digs coal.

Ask students to listen for the repetition—half of them listening for the description of what his father is doing, and half for the mention of the sea. They could make a quick note of each one, or they could just count how many times it happens.

For 11 teaching ideas, click Town is By The Sea to download.

The Silk Princess

Hsi-Ling Chi is the daughter of the Emperor and is rarely noticed. The Emperor has been seeking for a cloth worthy of his nobility. One day, Hsi-Ling Chi notices a cocoon has fallen in her mother’s tea and is unraveling. They play a game to see how long it is and the little girl ties it around her waist. She goes out past the stone garden, past the spider, outside the palace, to the holy mountains where a dragon threatens her. Along the way she loses the thread, but meets a hermit who shows her how the silk can be woven, and offers to take her home. She falls asleep, wakens to no silk cloth but still with the silk thread tied around her waist—the whole thing was a dream. When she gets back her mother hears her story and thinks, “Hmm? Is this possible?” She summons the royal weavers and the rest is history.

Charles Santorre, ©2007, Random House books for Young Readers, 0-978-03-7-5883-664-0

A Fabric Study

Students could learn the difference between various kinds of fabrics. You will need study packets with labels—one packet for every 4 students. You will also need matching “test” packets where samples are only numbered. Students have a certain amount of time to feel and try to learn the characteristics and look of various kinds of cloth. You could include a note about each of them to help them understand which are artificial, made from wool, silk, cotton, etc.

Here are 16 suitable cloths that can be quite easily distinguished from one another: cotton, silk, velvet, faux fur, denim, leather, wool, brocade, burlap, cheesecloth, corduroy, flannel, knit, satin, taffeta, ultra suede. Choose 8 that would work for your class. Ask the fabric store to cut you 4 inch strips—use remnants if you can get them—then cut them up to create your samples. It’s a bit of work, but you can use it year after year.

Studying World Gardening Styles

Here’s an opportunity to inquire into different styles of gardens around the world. What are the characteristics of individual garden styles? What are the purposes of these gardens? What are the sizes of these gardens? Why were these gardens created? for whom?  Attached are 12 different gardening styles from different countries and different time periods that students could show images of and explain to their fellow students.

You can also choose to include: The Victory Garden (growing vegetables and fruit for the soldiers overseas in WWII), Shakespeare Garden (growing plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s pays), Biblical Garden (similarly, growing plants mentioned in the Bible), Herb Garden (a small garden growing herbs needed for cooking or sometimes medicines), orangeries (a protected garden for growing oranges and other fruits that could be killed in a harsh winter), and Rock Garden (a garden featuring smaller rocks and plants tucked into nooks and crannies).

Inquiry into Chinese Inventions

Begin with a provocation after reading this book, something to really stimulate their interest in Chinese inventions, like a class set of chopsticks. You also need a class set of small plastic zip top plastic bags from the dollar store. In each bag there would be 2 pieces of coloured 8cm x 8cm yardsticks, and about 8 pieces of uncooked bowtie pasta. Teach students who don’t know how, how to use chopsticks. Students then put the two pieces of card stock out, put the bow tie pasta on one of them, and use the chopsticks to transfer the pasta from one piece of card stock to the other.

Here is a slide deck of different Chinese inventions. Students can brainstorm their class inquiry questions: what, where, when, why, and how are good starting questions.  Another is “Is there a pattern?” and what purposes were these inventions for? Did they travel to Europe on the silk road? When? Were they invented independently in Europe and when?

Each student keeps those questions in mind as they investigate their particular invention. Have them start in Wikipedia, then ask for two more references. Ask them to write out 20 interesting facts about their invention—and then turn that into a mini-essay. Finally, show the slide deck, and have each student make an oral presentation of what they found out about the invention.  Conclude by referring back to the questions posted at the beginning of the Inquiry for discussion.

For 10 teaching ideas, click The Silk Princess to download.

 

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of Depression

Dorothea Lange had a difficult childhood with divorced parents, and childhood polio. This may have made her sensitive to the suffering of others, because instead of taking photos of the rich and famous, she took photos of people in distress. Her most famous photo captures the entire Depression in a single photo and inspired help for the suffering.

Carole Boston Weatherford, ©2017, Albert Whitman and Co., ISBN978-0-8075-1699-7

Analyzing a Photo

Some of the most famous photographers in the world have been women. Students could take a sample picture from one of these women and “analyze” the picture. Here is one example from one of Lange’s pictures:

  1. Where do you think this picture was taken?
  2. What is the weather like in this picture?
  3. Why do you think Lange chose these particular children for the picture? (She never did random photos. She often started with pictures further away, and then got closer and closer for her final photo.)
  4. Can we tell anything about when this picture was taken by the clothes the children are wearing?
  5. How old are these children? What grade?
  6. This photo is called “Pledge of Allegiance”, can you tell what these children are doing from the name of the photo?

Give students the words to The Pledge of Allegiance and see if they can recognize the irony of what is about to happen to these little children after war is declared on Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It’s a good time also to talk about why the Internment of the Japanese in Canada happened.

Other Picture Books About Photography

Kamishibai Man, It’s a Snap, and Snowflake Bentley are also books about people who were involved in the history of photography.

Kamishibai Man is set in modern Japan where an old man decides to take his kamishibai show in to the big city to create street entertainment as he used to do it before TV. We have a feeling he is in for huge disappointment but he finds that parents who experienced it as a child are enchanted to see it again, and their children love it as well. He ends by deciding to go again the next day.

Before TV was invented, all silent movies had famous “actors” who did the voices of the screen. They were so famous that their names came before the title. When talking movies and TV eliminated the need for them, many became Kamishibai men, telling their stories with cards in “stages” posted on street corners.

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin is about a farmer who was fascinated with trying to take pictures of snowflakes while they still had their original shape—and he did hundreds upon hundreds of them, showing that the architecture of each them was unique. He died from pneumonia caught during a snowstorm when he was out taking more photos after his book of photos was finally published but before he because really famous.

It’s a Snap: George Eastman’s First Photographs is about the creator of Kodak who brought photography to the masses.

 

 

Childhood Diseases

Dorothea Lange had polio as a child and thereafter suffered from a severe limp. Many childhood diseases that could kill or disable children have been eliminated due to vaccinations created since the 1950’s.

Students should know how “dangerous” the world was before the creation of vaccines and how frightened parents were when their children got sick. Explain what a vaccine is to the students using background notes that can be found here. Assign groups to investigate the common childhood diseases (and smallpox itself), and report their results to the class.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click Dorothea Lange to download.