A 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.
In 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
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.
Masa 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:
- The candidates for the sword on the left.
- The qualities the apprentice thinks might make them worthy. (column 1)
- The reason they are turned down, or accepted in the case of the last one. (column 2)
- What the apprentice thinks might be the lesson to be learned. (column 3)
For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Perfect Sword to download.
Ed 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 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
In 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.
The 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.