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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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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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 Three Questions

In this picture book, based on a Leo Tolstoy short story, our hero Nikolai seeks the answer to his three questions from a series of animals, ending with the wise turtle of the mountain. It is his response to a stranger’s cry for help that leads him to the answer. It’s a simple book based on three questions: What is the right time? Who is the most important one? What is the most important thing to do?

John J. Muth, Scholastic, ©2002, 978-0-439-19996-4

Fables

A fable has specific characteristics:

  • There are animals in the story.
  • The animals talk.
  • The animals represent human qualities.
  • A fable is very short.
  • There is an explicit statement of the moral of the story.

By this definition, which of the qualities of a fable does this story have or not have?

Internet Version of the Book

I looked at several YouTube versions of this book, and think this is the best. If you want to read it yourself, simply turn off the sound, and read aloud as the story proceeds.

Philosophy for Kids

The Teaching Children Philosophy website has a collection of some interesting activities for students based around picture books (click book modules). Some discussions that might be useful are:

  1. What is it to be a hero? to be heroic?
  2. Give students a small collection of 3 songs. What makes a beautiful song? An ugly song? What makes something beautiful or ugly?

(This can be applied to images as well.)

For 10 creative writing ideas, click The Three Questions to download.

Detective LaRue

The follow-up book to Dear Mrs. LaRue, using the same pattern, finds Ike accused of abducting the neighbour’s cats. Mrs. LaRue is on vacation, and the story proceeds through his letters from jail, and on the road, as he tracks down the culprits. As with the other book, his letters in black and white show the difficulties he is claiming to have; the coloured pictures show the reality of his experience.

Mark Teague, Scholastic, ©2004, ISBN 0- 439-45868-4

The Letter Story

This book can provide an excellent model for telling a story that advances through a series of letters. Ask students to first outline a story they wish to write, then to add rich details in the form of a series of letters home, or to a friend, or someone who has moved a way, telling a bit of the story in each letter.

The Point of View Story

Each page of the book contrasts black and white with colour. The black and white portion of the picture represents how Ike is seeing the situation. In the first letter he is seeing himself as sitting in a bare cell, singing with a rat, with a metal tin, presumably having held food on the floor, looking pathetic. In the colour picture, he is sitting at the officer’s desk, with dog bones and a doughnut, drinking a coffee the officer has presumably poured, while typing his letter on the officer’s typewriter.

This is an excellent model for two perspectives on any historic Social Studies event being studied. For example, on one side of the page of a report on Columbus, students could write the historic story of Columbus. On the other side, the same story from the point of view of the miserable sailor who is suffering from sea sickness, shortage of food, scummy water, scurvy, crowded conditions, etc.

Did you know, for example, that the three ships of Columbus were actually the Nina, the Pinta, and the Navidad. Apparently, on Christmas the crew was drunkenly celebrating and a sailor ran the Santa Maria aground. They built a new ship from scavenging the old one, and anything else they could find and christened it The Navidad (for the name of Christmas in Spanish.) It would make a great letter.

YouTube Reading Rockets

An interview with Mark Teague about his early writing experiences is available at YouTube Reading Rockets where he describes dictating stories to his mom. It’s very short…and might make a really good prompt to students writing a journal entry about their earliest writing experiences.

For 10 creative writing ideas, click Detective LaRue 2pdf to download.

Marco Polo

The story of Marco Polo and his trip from Venice to Beijing starting in 1271 and his return 24 years later. The illustrations are in an eastern 13th century style, with gilding and gorgeous elaborate borders all using Chinese inks. Be selective in your choices of what you read – it is a long picture book.

Demi, Marshall Cavendish Chidren, ©2008, 978-0-7614-5433-5

Here is a three-minute summary of Marco Polo’s travels …without the amazing things that he saw and reported. It could be a quick introduction before you start your selected readings.

The Life Lessons of Marco Polo

Try giving the students a set of potential life lessons we could learn from Marco Polo before you read excerpts from the book. Ask them to listen and select four potential lessons. Tell them they can also draw lessons of their own from your readings. For each of them, they are to write one paragraph explaining how Marco Polo exemplifies that lesson. Discuss their opinions in small groups and as the class.

  1. Go outside your comfort zone.
  2. Always record your travels.
  3. Taste many different types of food.
  4. Stick to your guns.
  5. Be prepared to take risks.
  6. Build a network of connections and friends.
  7. Work hard for your money.
  8. Learn other languages.
  9. Be charming.

Why You Wouldn’t Want to Take A Trip with Marco Polo

An opposite point of view could be taken of Marco Polo’s travels…and that is, all of the privations and dangers he encountered. Ask students to listen as you read, and make a list of things that were difficult on his journey…then to write a letter, or an essay, or a rant about “Why I Wouldn’t Want to Take a Trip with Marco Polo.”

Zentangles

While Demi’s used patterns and designs common in the Middle East in the 1200’s, those are difficult for students to imitate. On the other hand, elaboration of design within an outline can be easily achieved using zentangles. There are many websites and YouTube videos dedicated to zentangle, a popular contemporary “doodle” students can use to create a frame or illustration for a piece of their own writing. Start with a simple outline drawing, and then pattern the inside. This particular YouTube not only demonstrates fitting designs into an outline, it also provides many different patterns students can imitate. Have a set of patterns available on a single sheet of paper for each student as well.

For 10 creative writing ideas, click Marco Polo to download.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

TheBoyWhoHarnassedTheWindThe true story of a boy living in Malawi who created a windmill to generate electricity and pump water for his village.

William Kamkwamba, Penguin, ©2012, 978-0-8037-3511-8

Science of Corn

As a science study, you could bring in jeweller’s loupes and enough corn so that each pair of students can have a slice. Use the loupes to have students ask themselves, “What does this look like? What does it remind me of?” They should think of 5-10. Some examples are:

  • tiny pats of butter
  • little yellow pillows
  • coated pills
  • colourful pool toys
  • little balloons

The science question is, “If it looks like a tiny pat of butter, is there any way it could act like a tiny pat of butter?” Of course, corn oil, is very high calorie and often used as a replacement for butter, so that isn’t too hard.

What about “If it looks like a little yellow pillow, is there any way it could be acting like a little yellow pillow?

A good Inquiry series of questions can come out of these, and often a little experiment can be constructed to test whether it is indeed acting like what it looks like. For example, could we extract a kernel carefully and see if it floats, like a pool toy?

Remind students that 95% of nature is function over form. That is, it doesn’t look beautiful just to look beautiful; there is a reason for it.

An Inquiry into Crops of the Americas

Historically, corn was one of the North American crops exported around the world, so it is interesting that it is the major crop of Malawai. Students may be interested in investigating what other foods originated in the Americas, including chocolate, tobacco, potatoes, vanilla, tomatoes, peanuts, avocado, chili peppers, papaya, pineapple, maple syrup, sunflower, wild rice, turkey, cranberry, sweet potato, quinoa, brazil nuts, cashews.

Art

The Internet has lessons for how to draw nearly anything—in this case, an ear of corn. You could start students with a cartoon corn:

Followed by a more sophisticated drawing:

For 9 creative writing ideas, click The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind to download.

Who Put the B in Ballyhoo

WhoPutTheBInBallyhooA delightful ABC book of circus anecdotes principally focusing on the most famous acts of Barnum and Bailey. It is all done in the style of the big circus posters of the 30’s advertising the next circus to come to town. Visually gorgeous.

Carlyn Beccia, Houghton Mifflin, ©2007, 978-0-618-71718-7

Circus Words

There are many common words and expressions that come from the circus world. Here are a few to explore with your students. They have been taken from the circus and theatre episode of America’s Secret Slang, a worthwhile TV series:

  1. Circus: from the Circus Maximus in Rome (circo=-circle, maximus = biggest).
  2. Float: because they started out as decorated floating barges.
  3. Carnival:  from carne = meat, and val = removal. A celebration to eat all the food before the month of Lent in the Catholic faith
  4. Mardi Gras: mardi= Tuesday, gras= fat. Fat Tuesday. Again, the day to eat all the meat before Lent when meat may not be eaten.
  5. Dog and Pony Show: from a cheap circus that only had a trained dog and a pony. Now used to mean any pair of speakers—like politicians—with a simple “act.
  6. Jumping through hoops: from tricks done by trained dogs, to mean anyone who will do anything to get the deal.
  7. Jumbo: from Jumbo the elephant, but now meaning large, as in jumbo popcorn.
  8. Gimmick: a trick used by a carnie to cheat suckers at a carnival skill game.
  9. Close but no cigar: a prize at a carnival skill game was often a cigar.

Extreme Writing

A springboard from a picture book to personal writing should provide at least three topics if possible. Here are some ideas:

  1. Stories of going to any tent show—a circus, Bard on the Beach, Children’s Festival, Cirque du Soleil, Cavalia, etc.
  2. Stories of being fooled by something or someone: a magic show, an optical illusion, a friend.
  3. The ABC’s of school words, with an explanation for each.
    A is for alphabet.
    B is for brush.
    C is for classroom, and so on.

Hoaxes Inquiry

Parts of the midway were often interesting hoaxes for fairgoers— the Fiji Mermaid perhaps being the most famous. There is a detailed list of hoaxes for a student inquiry in the pdf. Why do people create a hoax? What is the difference between fraud and a hoax? Why do people believe in hoaxes? How do we define a hoax?

For 7 creative writing ideas, click Who Put the B in Ballyhoo to download.

Wabi Sabi

WabiSabiWabi Sabi, the cat, goes on a journey to find the meaning of her name. She asks a cat friend, a dog, a bird, and finally a monkey. Each says, “That’s hard to explain”—the catch phrase of the book. Slowly she discovers that it is a kind of humble beauty, you will be exploring with student.

Mark Reibstein, Little Brown, © 2008, 9789-0-316-11825-5

Extreme Writing

A springboard from a picture book to personal writing should provide at least three topics if possible. Here are some ideas:

  1. Wabi Sabi wants to know what his name means. What does your name mean? Tell a story about how you got your name(s), or nickname.
  2. Wabi Sabi goes on a journey to find the answer to her question. Write about any journeys you have been on.
  3. This story is set in Japan. Either write “Everything I know about Japan” or “Everything I know about Canada, B.C., or my home town.”
  4. Wabi Sabi asks for an explanation. Explain how to do a few things that were hard for you to do at first.

The Author

There is a nice YouTube video of how Mark Reibstein came to write the book based on what he learned about Wabi-sabi while teaching in Japan, and his adoption of his cat. Then Ed Young explains how he illustrated it, how the illustrations were actually lost or stolen, and how he came to use ordinary materials to create the next version. Rather nice.

Incidental Geography

Three Japanese locations are mentioned as Wabi Sabi conducts his search for the meaning of his name: Tokyo, Mount Hiei, and Ginkakuji. Put them on a simple map of Japan. Ask the students to think about how to calculate the distance of the journey, round trip from Tokyo to Mount Hiei to Ginkakuji and back to Tokyo. The fastest way will be Google. Just search “Distance from Tokyo to Mount Hiei” etc. and add the numbers which will turn out to be over 900 km—a long distance for a cat.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click Wabi Sabi to download.