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.