The Mermaid’s Muse: The Legend of the Dragon Boats

A poet named Qu Yuan, advisor to the King of Chu, is falsely banished to a far off island where the inhabitants really respect his wisdom. A dragon falls in love with him, and changes to a young woman, who asks him to come and live with her under the sea. The villagers assume, when they see him on the dragon, that he is going to be killed and they row out in their boats to save him, banging on the water to scare the dragon, throwing in rice cakes to distract the dragon, and attacking. The dragon refuses to fight back. The poet eventually changes himself into a dragon and says, “Do not believe everything your eyes will tell you.” After that, each year, the villagers celebrate the two dragons, and eventually come to celebrate with their own dragon boats.

David Bouchard, Raincoast Books, 1999, ISBN 9781551922485

Author: Dave Bouchard
Dave Bouchard is a former school administrator and teacher in BC. He has a school named after him in Ontario. He has received the Governor General’s medal and written many books. Three of his books are of Chinese folktales: The Mermaid’s Muse, The Dragon New Year, and The Great Race. Nine of his books reflect his Metis heritage which he discovered as an adult including I am Raven (click for teaching ideas).

Pourquoi Stories: How Things Came To Be
Pouquoi is French for “why”. This is a pourquoi story of how it came to be that there are dragon boat races and festivals around the world. Students could be asked to write their own imaginative, “how it came to be” story. One possibility is how the name of their school came to be, or the name of their town. Another is just an ordinary object such as an orange and how it came to be. Most pourquoi stories have a humorous element.

For example, I went to General Currie Elementary School in Richmond in grade one. We children believed that it was named after an American General (because that seemed more possible than a Canadian General) who had retired in Canada after the American Revolution. As an adult I discovered that he was the first Canadian commander of an all Canadian military division.

Art: Drawing the Dragon
There are many YouTube videos to teach students to draw important Chinese symbols, including the dragon. One I particularly like is How to Draw a Chinese Dragon by Paolo Morrone (below). Be prepared to stop the video at regular intervals so that students can catch up.

For more creative writing ideas, click The Mermaid’s Muse 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 Dragon Prince

A Chinese Beauty and the Beast Tale
A poor farmer with seven daughters is on his way home from his farm when a dragon seizes him and says he will eat him unless one of his daughters marries him. Seven (who makes money for the family with her excellent embroidery) agrees and they fly away to a gorgeous home, wonderful clothes, a great life…and he reveals he is a prince in disguise. She misses her home, and while there, Three, who is jealous, pushes her in the river and steals her identity. Seven is rescued by an old lady and uses her wonderful sewing skills to make clothes and shoes they can sell in the market. The prince, realizing something is wrong, seeks his real bride and finds her because he sees her embroidery in the market. Happy ending all around—except for Three.

Lawrence Yep, ©1999, Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0064435185

Figures of Speech (Simile)
There are many many similes…well, I counted 9, but there may be more. This might be a good time to teach what a simile is. Perhaps read the story to them first, and then read the story to them a second time, asking them to identify the similes.

  1. The dragon raised a paw with claws as sharp as daggers.
  2. The lakes became silvery sequins.
  3. The Milky Way…like an endless bolt of the whitest silk.
  4. The moon…shone like a giant pearl upon the sea.
  5. I could crush you like a twig.
  6. His scales gleamed like jewels in a golden net.
  7. His eyes shone like twin suns.
  8. Curling his body as easily as a giant.
  9. Moon…like a school of fish darting.

A Craft: Embroidery

 

 

 

You might be able to purchase small embroidery hoops at a local dollar store. Choose a simple pattern, perhaps of a dragon, transfer it to simple white cotton, and have students embroider it in a single colour. There are many times in Chinese stories that silk, embroidery, etc. are a turning point in the story. One of these is The Silk Princess, another is The Dragon’s Robe, and of course, The Dragon Prince.

Continue reading

I am Raven

I Am RavenA great chief of the Pacific Northwest is creating his totem. The animals (beaver, bear, wolf, owl, eagle, frog, killer whale, otter, thunder, and raven) each present a quality that the chief might have that would lend itself to creating his totem.  Each tries to persuade him to include them.

Andy Everson, MTW Publisher, ©2007, 978-0-9784327-0-6

Build Your Own Totem

The entire book is built around the premise of finding the totem that symbolizes you. First, read the book to the students. At a second reading, as a listening skill, students can listen for those qualities each of the animals presents to the chief. The attached page includes a black line master for listening. After the discussion, ask students to use the little sketches to create a totem with 4 qualities that they would like to have.

The back of the book has a double-page spread with additional possible qualities including: hummingbird, duck, dragonfly, Canada goose, swan, loon, kingfisher, beetle, moon, and sun. Students might want to think about these qualities as well…although it makes the project even more complicated.

If You’re Not From BC

David Bouchard once was a principal in North Vancouver, BC. Since becoming an author and discovering his roots as an aboriginal, he has become one of the most evocative writers in the field. Author of over 50 books, he is a recipient of the Order of Canada.

My favourite from Dave Bouchard is If You’re Not From the Prairie… which is a lyrical praise of growing up in the prairies:

  • The sun is our friend from when we are young
  • If you’re not from the prairies, you don’t know the sun.

A good assignment might be for students to write an “If You’re Not from BC…” book.

For 4 creative writing ideas, click I am Raven 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.