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.

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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.