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.

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.

 

The Lost Horse

The Lost HorseA classic Chinese folktale, of a man who owned a horse and at each turn of fate believed that things were neither as good, nor as bad, as they might seem.

Ed Young, Voyager Books, Harcourt, ©2004, ISBN 0-15-201061-5

Oral Language: The Unfortunately Game
Ask students to stand in a large circle. Start with a line such as “James went to the library.” Continue from there with the next student saying, “Fortunately…”. Students alternate a fortunate, unfortunate circumstance as they go around the circle. This requires students to be a little inventive, and warms them up to the idea of writing their own book. Once students understand the system, playing in smaller groups creates more participation for each individual.

Write Your Own “Perhaps It Might Not Be A Good Thing” Story…

Create a scenario and then write a story in which a character repeats your catch phrase—each time saying “It might not be so great” or “It might not be so bad”.  This can involve something simple like forgetting your homework, lunch, library book, etc.  It could even be set somewhere such as the middle east, with the issue involving a camel.

The Lost Horse is written in only 207 words in total, and 17 sentences, so it is not a huge challenge.

Create Your Own Wisdom

What do you think the “moral” of the story is?  Discuss with the students.

Talk about using the idea of “what I learned from this was…” when they write their own personal writing anecdotes.  We take away a lesson from a lot of the things we do in life…that’s how we avoid making the same mistakes  over and over again.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click The Lost Horse to download.

Tsunami

TsunamiIn Japan, the oldest and wealthiest man in the village lives on the hill in his rice farm. In the village below, villagers are getting ready for a festival. Suddenly he senses a problem, and when he sees the waters recede realizes a tsunami is coming. He cannot get down to the village to warn them in time so he needs to draw the villagers to him. As a desperate act, he sets his crop on fire. The villagers rush up the hill to help put out the fire, and they are all saved.

Kimiko Kajikawa, Philomel Books, ©2009, ISBN 978-0-399-25006-4

Tsunami

This is a good time to study the science of the tsunami. These giant waves form where tectonic plates collide, where there is a gigantic (frequently underwater) eruption of a volcano, or after a meteor impact. 86% of all tsunamis come from underwater volcanoes or seismic shifts. These displace huge quantities of water suddenly. The water rushes in to fill the vacuum (thus explaining why the “tide” seems to go out suddenly and unusually far) and then rushes back out again in the form of a huge wave.

There are many websites with great information including the video below.

The True Story

This book is based on a story in the 1897 publication by Lafadio Hearn called Gleanings in Buddha-Fields. The original wise wealthy man of the village was Hamguchi Goryo and there is a Japanese museum dedicated to him. (He was 35, not an old man, when it happened but the story is still wonderful. Making him older makes it possible for “experience” to tell him what to do.) Ask students to research the real person at locations such as The Fire of Rice Sheaves.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Tsunami to download.

The Perfect Sword

perfectswordMasa and his apprentice Michio make a “perfect sword” and then seek the person worthy of it. Each candidate is rejected as they hear from the warrior, the swordsman, the noble, and so on. They need someone kind, who doesn’t automatically reach for a sword to solve problems, who wants to help others, and who is noble. Like a fairy tale, but this one takes FOUR tries, they eventually find the right candidate. Satisfied, they turn to making the next “perfect sword.”

Scott Goto, Charlesbridge, ©2010, ISBN 978-1-57091-697-7

The Story of the Perfect…

It would be fun to write a story about something like the “perfect sandwich”. What would it have in it? Who would be worthy of it? Which characters would like it and why do you turn them down? Who gets it? There are lots of opportunities to tell a story of something perfect.

Listening for the Answer

This is a really good book to teach listening skills. Give students a chart with four columns:

  1. The candidates for the sword on the left.
  2. The qualities the apprentice thinks might make them worthy. (column 1)
  3. The reason they are turned down, or accepted in the case of the last one. (column 2)
  4. What the apprentice thinks might be the lesson to be learned. (column 3)

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Perfect Sword to download.

The House Baba Built

housebabauiltEd Young is well known for his picture books. The House Baba Built is more in the nature of a memoir of his childhood in the house his father built in Shanghai in which the family lived during World War II. We learn about the war, school, family activities in the house, taking in refugees including a Jewish family, food shortages, being unable to fill the pool…all through his eyes as a child. You can take just a part of this book for a rich study of many different topics.

Ed Young, Little Brown and Co.©2011, 978-0-316-07628-9

Exploring a Photo

Ed Young uses family photos as one of the many methods he uses to illustrate his story. Ask students to bring a picture of themselves that their family has taken – it’s best if they bring a coy. If they bring an original, make a copy for them so that the original is not accidentally destroyed.

Students need to look at their pictures and ask themselves the following types of questions:

  • How old was I when this picture was taken?
  • Where was this picture taken – describe quite precisely?
  • Why was this picture taken and kept? (Instead of others)
  • What am I wearing in this picture? How do I feel about these clothes? Was this typical of what I wore at this time?
  • What sensory memories do I have about this place – food, feel, sights, taste, smell, etc.?
  • What emotions are around this picture and why?

Encourage students elaborate and then use a copy of the picture to illustrate their “story” of the taking of the picture.

Make an Origami Box

In early spring, when the mulberry leaves sprouted, Ed Young and his friends traded silkworm eggs. They made paper origami boxes for silkworm houses and fed them on mulberry leaves.

Watch the YouTube several times and make it yourself, before you teach the class. Once they know how, it is very easy. If you live close to Richmond, there is very inexpensive origami paper at Daizo.

For 16 creative writing ideas, click The House Baba Built to download.

Fu Finds the Way

fufindsawayFu is planting rice and is bored enough not to be doing it well, in neat rows.  When he is rebuked, he throws a rice plant out of the paddy into the path of the warrior, Chang.  The insulted warrior challenges him to a duel.  Fu finds the sword Master and asks for help in getting ready.  Through the night, all the Master does is teach him how to make and pour tea – with Purpose, Flow, and Patience.  When Fu faces Chang in the morning he faces him with a teapot and suggests a pot of tea.  Chang’s followers laugh at the boy, but Chang says, “There’s always time for tea.”

John Rocco, Disney-Hyperion Books, 2009, ISBN 978-1-4231-0965-5

Similes That Matter

Purpose, Flow, and Patience are the three lessons Fu must learn. To that end, there are three important similes in this story:

  • Just as a bamboo grows upward to reach the sun—you must have purpose.
  • Like a stream that flows from the mountain to the valley, the tea must flow from you to the cup.
  • Just as a caterpillar patiently waits in its cocoon to become a butterfly, you too must be patient.

Writing a Trailer

Just as movies have trailers to be shown in movie theatres and on TV, so does John Rocco (who has worked for Disney) constructed two wonderful “movie” trailers for his books, Fu Finds the Way and MoonPowder. Talk with students about what a trailer does: gives you a hint of the movie, tries to get you excited about seeing it, doesn’t give away the plot, etc.

These are the total number of words for the trailer for Fu Finds the Way:

  • A story of a distracted boy
  • A mighty warrior
  • And a duel
  • The Teacher who trains him
  • And the pot of tea that saves him
  • Fu Finds the Way

Ask students to work in pairs to write a trailer for each other’s most recent published story. Ask students to read them out to the class to see which trailers can drum up the most interest in reading the story without giving the plot away completely.


For 8 creative writing ideas, click Fu Finds the Way to download.

Kamishibai Man

kamishibaiIn the country, in modern Japan, a little old couple lives quietly. The man says he misses his “rounds” (we don’t know what they are) and his wife makes him some candies so he can go into town on his bicycle and repeat what he used to do. He bicycles through busy streets to where the park used to be and sets up a little theatre. He recalls to himself what it was like to entertain crowds of children with his Japanese tales until television came. Coming out of his reminiscence he sees a crowd has gathered to hear these traditional tales and he gives out the candy his wife made.

Allen Say, Houghton Mifflin, ©2005, ISBN 13:  978-0-618-47954-2

Make Your Own Kamishibai Man

Students could work in teams to design a story in 12–16 frames that acts as a kamishibai tale—either one students have created themselves, or one of the traditional Japanese tales.

If you don’t have time for illustration (as we never do), used picture books telling the story can be taken apart and mounted on card. If you raise the theatre, the English version the students have written can be printed on the back of the mounted pages, and then the story would be told in the style of an illustrated Reader’s Theatre.

There is lots of information at here and kamishibai stories may also be purchased online (ready to go).

Traditional Japanese Tales

The book mentions 4 traditional Japanese folktales that the kamishibai might have told:

  • Peach Boy
  • Inch Boy
  • Bamboo Princess
  • The Old Man Who Made Cherry Tree Bloom

Students could tell these stories (and other Japanese tales) as kamishibai or simply as part of oral skills development and general cultural knowledge.

For 4 writing ideas, click Kamishibai Man to download.

Blue Willow

bluewillowThe legend behind the Blue Willow is the story of a girl who falls in love with a poor fisherman. Her father places obstacles in their path. First he says to wait until the fall, then until he finds money in the street then when a rainbow appears over the pavilion. Finally the daughter dies while  looking for her lover at sea during a storm. When her fisherman lover discovers her death, he cries out in anguish and is killed by the villages mistaking him for a screaming tiger. The rainbow and dove appear over the daughter’s pavilion. The father commissions the plate in memory of the two lovers.

Pam Conrad, ©1999, Philomel Books, ISBN 0-399-22904-3

The Common Elements of a Blue Willow Plate

Give students the black line master from the PDF of lesson ideas, and ask them to use those pictures to identify the common elements in all Blue Willow plates. Whatever the stories behind the Blue Willow  plate are, and there are several of them, the common elements are: a rainbow around the outside, a fishing boat, a pavilion, a small bridge with villagers on it, two dives flying, a house, and a tree.

The Story of the Blue Willow Plate

Before you read the book to the students, and after they have identified the common elements of the story, ask them to create a story, set in China that includes those elements. (You could give them small pictures of the elements to include in their story as illustrations.)

When they have their own stories, read them the book. Blue Willow is a very “tragic” tale of true love and the relationship between a father and daughter. It is a kind of Chinese Romeo and Juliet—of course,  you would then have to tell them the story of Romeo and Juliet. Maybe they could even construct a Venn Diagram comparing the two stories.

For 6 writing ideas, click Blue Willow to download.