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.

How the Leopard Got His Claws

This picture book is a modern pourquoi story set in Nigeria. As long as the animals cooperated and were kind, life in the forest was good. But, when the dog, flooded out of his cave, attacks the leopard and takes over as king without the rest of the animals objecting. Leopard visits Thunder and a blacksmith. After he receives his claws, teeth, and roar, life would never be the same in the jungle.

John Iroaganachi, Candlewick. ©2011, 978-0-7636-4805-3

Pouquoi Stories

Pourquoi is French for “why.” These are fanciful stories or how things came to be the way they are. Find some sample pourquoi stories so that the class can see how they are structured.

The characteristics of a pourquoi story are:

  • explain a phenomenon of nature
  • short
  • talking animals
  • the animal, or object changes
  • it is magical
  • it arises out of the oral tradition of a particular culture

Some worth questions when reading pourquoi stories are:

  • What is the moral? Morals? Of this book? Other pourquoi stories?
  • What does a pourquoi story tell you about the values of the culture it comes from?
  • What “stereotypes” have been attached to the animals as typical?
  • What do you think are several reasons humans create stories about “where things come from?

Some examples stories are:

  • How the Animals Got Their Colours (Michael Rosen, Multicultural)
  • Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (Verna Aardema, Africa)
  • The Story of the Milky Way (Joseph Bruchac, Cherokee)
  • The Story of Lightning and Thunder (Nigerian)
  • Why Little Possom’s Tail is Bare (Cheyenne Cisco, N. American)
  • Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling)

Write Your Own Pourquoi Story

Here are some steps you can suggest to students:

  1. Select what natural phenomena you will explain and write the title: “How Sunlight Came to the North.
  2. Select the original setting, before the change. “Long long ago the north was dark 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Humans used torches and candles to find their way in the dark.” When, where, describe.
  3. Think about how you will answer the question in the title. This is a magical story, so magic is fine.
  4. Select a few animal characters, each of which should have a personality and way of talking. Don’t give them names, they are donkey, monkey, polar bear, etc.
  5. Write your story. Use dialogue to bring it to life, and maybe have another problem or two along the way.
  6. End with “This is why ” …

Nigerian Picture Books

There are many picture books set in Nigeria. Accumulating a collection, could allow for an interesting mini-unit on an African country.

          

               

For 10 creative writing ideas, click How the Leopard Got His Claws to download.