The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes

Emperor Ming Da is only nine years old, but he knows his minsters are corrupt. To obtain the money to help his people he convinces his ministers that burlap bags are really magic New Year’s clothes. Honest people will see splendour and the dishonest will see burlap sacks. Fooled, they claim to see the perfection of the clothes, until in the New Year’s parade a boy calls out that they are wearing burlap sacks.

Ying Chang Compestine ©2017, Abrams Books, 978-1-4187-2542-5

Comparison
The story is an obvious variation on The Emperor’s New Clothes as written by Hans Christian Anderson. Read that story to the class, asking them to note as many similarities as they can think of to The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes. Tell them you are going to introduce them to the SECRET for writing a “good enough” comparison every time.

  1. List 3-5 ways they are similar.
  2. List 3 ways they are different.
  3. Start with a basic introduction, “The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson and The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Compestine are variations on the same story…”
  4. Write your 3-5 ways they are the same. Start with your best example, end with your second best example, put the others between.
  5. Start with However, the two stories have quite a few differences. Then explain your 3 differences, starting with the strongest, ending with your second strongest, with the other(s) in between.
  6. Write a conclusion; perhaps your opinion of which is the better version and why.
  7. Re-write your first sentence to be more interesting. “Without Hans Christian Anderson’s original Emperor’s New Clothes there would have been no version set in China.

The Author
Compestine has had a diverse career including being a food advisor for Martha Stewart. She has also written many children’s books including: The Story of Chopsticks, The Story of Kites, The Story of Noodles, The Runaway Wok, The Runaway Rice Cake, and many more. You can visit the her website here or listen to her life story in this keynote lecture below.

For more creative writing ideas, click on The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes to download.

The Bravest Man in the World

Wallace Hartley is the man who played the violin as the Titanic sank. He was praised as the “bravest man in the world” because he was offered a space on a lifeboat, but instead stayed to calm the scared passengers by playing as the ship sank. The story is told by Jonathan Harker, a stowaway befriended by Hartley, to his grandson who doesn’t want to practice the piano.

Patricia Polacco, Simon and Schuster, ©2019, ISBN 978-1-4814-9461-8

Inquiry: Famous Disasters at Sea
It might make a good “rapid research” inquiry topic for students in pairs to find the basic when, where, why, how for the disasters. They need to also create ten interesting sentence facts about the disasters.

They could also pose questions themselves for all disasters: What are the most common causes of marine disasters? Were any changes to the “rules” of the sea made after the disaster? Why do we particularly remember these disasters? How many people died? How do we know these disasters occurred?

It helps if the students generate the questions themselves. At the end, create a chart with questions down one side and disasters across the top. With each question, have students chime in anything that found that would help to answer the question. This is genuine evidence-based research of the kind for which scholars get doctorates. Example of past famous disasters at sea are:

  • The Mary Rose, 1545
  • The Spanish Armada, 1588
  • The Vasa (Swedish), 1628
  • The Merchant Royal, 1641
  • The Scilly Naval Disaster, 1707
  • The Black Swan, 1804
  • The Tek Sing, 1822 (China)
  • The HMS Birkenhead, 1845
  • The Titanic, 1912
  • The Kiche Maru Typhoon, 1912 (Japan)
  • The Great Lakes Storm, 1913
  • The Lusitania, 1915
  • The Halifax Explosion, 1917
  • The Bismarck, 1941
  • The Wilhelm Gustloff, 1945
  • The Edmund Fitzgerald, 1975
  • The Exxon Valdez, 1994

Other Picture Books About the Titanic
There seem to be innumerable books about the Titanic written with children in mind: pop-up books, colouring books, detective books, etc.

Titanicat (click for teaching ideas) is the story of a genuine survivor of Titanic who by a twist of fate did not get on the ship.

T is for Titanic is an ABC book for words from the Titanic. I have always had success with selecting a topic under study in Social Studies and having students working to create an ABC book of short paragraphs about that topic. If you have lots of time, students can work in pairs to create the book with each student doing 13 letters, but it can also be done where the class generates a list (or you do) of words that apply. Have students individually finds facts and write an interesting paragraph about the the word as applied to the topic such as the ABCs of Egypt, Haida, Japan, etc.

For more creative writing ideas, click on The Bravest Man in the World to download.

The Boy Who Grew a Forest

The story of Jadav Payeng, India, who started with a thicket of bamboo to stabilize an island that was being eroded away and over his lifetime has grown to a 1300-acre forest. It’s about the difference a single person can make.

Sophia Gholz, Sleeping Bear Press, ©2019, ISBN 978-1-5341-1024-3

Tree Proverbs
In every culture, around the world, there seem to be proverbs and sayings involving trees. Give each group four proverbs and ask them to discuss and prepare a written explanation of their meanings. Each group should have a unique set and then reports to the whole class the meaning of one of their sayings. Some examples are:

  • A little axe can cut down a big tree. (Jamaica)
  • The one who plants the tree is not the one who will enjoy its shade. (China)
  • Big trees cast more shadow than fruit. (German)
  • The taller the tree the harder the fall. (Dutch)
  • Do not cut down the tree that gives you shade. (Arab)
  • Useful trees are cut down first (Korea)
  • The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. (Chinese)
  • The tree falls the way it leans. (Bulgaria)
  • The creation of a thousand forests is in one acre. (USA)
  • All birds flock to the fruitful tree (Senegal)

Poetry and Art
A considerable number of poems have been written in tribute to trees, or about walking through trees. Why not add poetry to your tree unit?

  1. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost)
  2. Trees (Joyce Kilmer)
  3. Birches (Robert Frost)
  4. The Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now (A.E. Housman)
  5. The Way Through the Woods (first stanza) (Rudyard Kipling)

Emily Carr was one of BC’s first “environmentalists”, showing in her art both the beauty of the forest, and the destruction wrought by forestry. There is a large collection of Emily Carr at Vancouver Art Gallery. Give your students a large sheet of watercolour paper (or regular paper if watercolour is too expensive) and a limited period of time (15 minutes?) To create an “interpretation” of an Emily Carr painting. This one is usually called Lone Pine.

True and Yet Not True?
First, show the students the images in the book and ask them to talk about how old Jadav is, how much life his 40 acres can support, whether he was ever employed, and how he makes a living. Second, give the students articles about the real story that this book is based on. Get students to discuss:

  • Is it OK that the story isn’t exactly precisely true, even though he is the actual person who did create a forest on his own and has certainly dedicated his life to doing it for no money?
  • Why would the author take liberties with the story?
  • Would the story be just as interesting and just as inspiring for young people if it were “factual”? What parts make it inspiring?

For more creative writing ideas, click The Boy Who Grew a Forest to download.

Cat and Rat: The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac

Cat and Rat and The Cat’s Tale are both about the origin of the Chinese zodiac which was established in a race the Jade Emperor set up. I like the Ed Young version the best, because he is such a great illustrator and his story has more dialogue in it. On the other hand, The Cat’s Tale is in the first person which provides an opportunity to teach point of view.

Ed Young, ©2019, Macmillan Books, ISBN 9780805060492

Pourquoi Stories:  How Things Came To Be
The literary name for the stories of how things originated is the French word for “Why” which is “Pourquoi”. This is an example, among several, of stories of how things originated. Students could write their own pourquoi story of how ordinary things in their environment came to be: stop lights, bananas, a park, etc.

Stereotypes of Animals
There are specific stereotypes that are basically agreed to from one culture to the other. A matching activity with qualities on one side and the name of the animal on the other will help reveal to students how widely we agree on these stereotypes. For example:

  • Owls are …
  • Pigs are …
  • Oxen are …
  • Mules are …

Fair
Here’s an important question in life: What is fair? Is this race fair? Is the Jade Emperor rigging it? What about the actual competing animals—should the Jade Emperor intervene? Is this a good way of deciding priority?

For more creative writing ideas, click Cat and Rat to download.

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

 

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer

The story of how 200 years ago, the daughter of Lord and Lady Byron, Ada Lovelace, wrote the first program—before there was electricity to make it work. Working with Thomas Babbage on the Analytical Engine, she wrote step-by-step how Bernoulli numbers could be coded for the machine.

Diane Stanley, ©2016, Simon and Schuster, 978-1-4814-5249-6

Author Study

Because Diane Stanley has written at least 16 books about historic characters, now might be a good time to do an author’s study. Begin by gathering as many copies of all 16 of them as you can. For the purposes of an author study that can be done quickly, students should read 3 of them, not counting Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science. That would provide them 4 to consider. Below is a possible outline for their report:

  1. RANK
    List them from favourite (#1 ) to least favourite( #4). Summarize each book in a paragraph, with a sentence for each indicating why they are in that position.
  2. DIANE STANLEY’S LIFE
    Write 20 sentence facts about Diane Stanley’s life. Check out her biography on her website, Wikipedia, Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, or Simon & Schuster. Include whether you think what she says about herself is reflected in her books.
  3. ART
    Check her website’s “art stuff” section for an explanation of how she does her illustrations. She has many styles of art. Of your 4 books, which did she illustrate herself? Which style of art did she use for each? Why do you think so?
  4. ADDITIONAL FACTS ABOUT THE HISTORIC CHARACTER
    Take one of the books that has the least number of additional notes about the historic character and research 10 additional interesting facts she does not include. Do they make a difference to how you see the historic figure
  5. HOW MANY WORDS IN HER BOOK
    Approximately how many words are in each book. Count 3 of the pages from the middle of the book, total, and divide by 3 to create an average number per page. Multiply that by the number of pages in the book (Usually 32). If you have something interesting to say about a topic you have gathered information on, this is all you need to write to be an author who makes money for your work.

Unrecognized Women Scientists and Inventors

Historically there has been a lack of recognition of the work of women scientists beyond Ada Lovelace. It is often true as well that their work has actually been credited to others. It might make an interesting quick inquiry project for students to select a woman to investigate. What was the discovery or invention? What happened? Is there any pattern in what happened? And any other questions the class as a whole wishes to investigate.

  1. Rosalind Franklin: DNA. The Nobel prize went to Watson and Crick.
  2. Chien-Shiung Wu: Disproved the law of parity. The Nobel prize went to Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yan.
  3. Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Found the first pulsar and Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle got the Nobel prize.
  4. Esther Lederberg: Found a bacterial virus. Her husband and two others got the Nobel prize.
  5. Lisa Meitner: Found that atomic nuclei can split in two and Otto Hawn won the Nobel prize.
  6. Nellie Stevens: Discovered sex is determined by chromosomes. It was credited to Thomas Hunt Morgan.
  7. Margaret Knight: Patented a paper bag machine. The patent was stolen by a man although she won her case in court.
  8. Elizabeth Magie: Invented Monopoly (she patented it as The Landlord’s Game) and Parker Brothers credited it to themselves.
  9. Judy Malloy: Wrote the first hypertext fiction. That “first” was credited to Michael Joyce.
  10. Candace Pert: Found the receptor that allows opiates to lock onto the brain. Dr. Solomon Snyder received an award for it.
  11. Martha Coston: Designed the signal flares for US Naval vessels. Although he had been dead for 10 years, the patent went to her husband Franklin Coston.
  12. Mary Anning: Only now famous as a British finder of fossils. She was unrecognized because of her class and sex.
  13. Marthe Gautier: Discovered the cause of Down’s syndrome. Two men received the credit.
  14. Emmy Noether: Her theorem united two pillars of physics: symmetry in nature and the universal laws of conservation. Her foundational work was used in the textbook by B. L. van der Warden but not mentioned by him until his 7th edition.

Algorithms

Because we we are introducing programming at earlier ages, now might be a good time to explain the concept of an algorithm—an incredibly detailed set of directions to do something . We have “algorithms” in our head to do many automatic tasks such as tying shoes, getting dressed, typing, searching on the Internet, etc.

For a computer, an algorithm can’t miss a single tiny step. To avoid having to develop a part of the code each time, if you need to count something in the game you are designing, you “plug in” the “count this” algorithm, already designed by an earlier programmer.

The Khan Academy has a really good explanation of algorithms at here.

Ask students to write the most detailed algorithm they can for something like borrowing a book from the school library, or riding on public transit, or making the grilled cheese sandwich.  Students can suggest other possibilities and they can exchange and “debug” each others algorithms, by pointing out essential, simpler steps that need to be included or errors that would have them frying the sandwich before putting the cheese in.

For 13 creative writing ideas, click Ada Lovelace to download.