Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Comprehension- Strategies for Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China

Today I decided to gather the family together for a "Family Reading Time" to introduce my Cinderella Unit to my kids.  I learned ALOT!  For example - Yeh-Shen is a great story for third graders - DD totally paid attention.  Yeh-Shen was NOT a great story for my five year old son, and two year old daughter!!!  It reminded me of one of the great lessons I learned last year - Make sure your story is age appropriate. If not your kids will be playing with trains on the floor at your feet or running around the living room.  My two youngest only responded positively to my "hook"!
The Hook

Did you know that on each page of Yeh-Shen A Cinderella Story from China  illustrator Ed Young incorporates a fish.  I gathered the kids around me and told them, "We are going to have a picture walk.  What is a picture walk?"  I look directly at DD.  He smiles and says, "It is when you go through the pictures and summarize and predict what you think the story is going to be about."  Can you just say my jaw wanted to drop!  I was so proud of him! I then told the kids that there was something hidden on each page of the book, the same object.  It took DD three pages to notice that there was a fish on each page.  Even the cover has a carp like fish hidden among Yeh-Shen dressed in her Spring Festival finery.  Can you see it????  As I went through each page of the book the kids sat spellbound, until they jumped up with, "I found it!"  Even Chase found at least one fish.  I also asked DD to predict what was happening on each page.  He always guessed wrong (except for the page where Yeh-Shen was dancing.)  Together we learned that although a book has beautiful illustrations, there are times when they don't really tell the story.

Reading The Story

As I read to the boys I focused on asking Donovan questions to build up his comprehension.  DD reads at about a fifth grade reading level, however he comprehends at about a first or second grade level.  It is imperative that this increase for him to really be a proficient reader.  I would ask several different types of questions throughout the story. 
1.  I asked literal questions about the story line and Chinese history that could be found in the reading.  These questions had him answering questions about information that was just on the surface of the text.   As I model this strategy for DD he will eventually begin to look for the factual information in his own reading experiences.  For example I asked him "Why did the stepmother put Yeh-Shen's coat on before going to the pond."  It took re-reading that particular paragraph before hewas able to answer - but he got it!
2.   I posed inferential questions to see if heunderstood portions of the text.  For example; I asked, "Why did the bones no longer talk to Yeh-Shen?"  He replied simply at first saying "She lost one of the shoes."  I asked him "Why do you think losing the shoe made the fish stop talking?"  He thought for a minute and then brightened up.  He said, "Because the old guy told her not to waste her gift."  Scott and I were proud parents in that moment. 
3.  Some of his favorite questions were those that had him making personal connections.  He loved answering the question "What would you wish for if you had magic fish bones?"  "Did you think it was fair for the stepmother and stepsister to not live at the palace?"

As he answers question that are teacher/parent generated he will soon begin  to ask questions on his own.  As he begins to ask his own his comprehension skills will improve (Duke & Pearson, 2002).

Matching Books to The Child

It is important to choose books that match your children's reading level.  It is important to figure out you child's frustration, independent, and instructional reading and comprehension levels.  There are many times that as I read to Chase longer prose he will sit through the story and answer questions.  Not this time.  This book was a bit above his head.  He attempted to pay attention for the first page, but after that he was all over the place.  Emma, on the other hand, I knew she wouldn't attend! It did not surprise me that she played with Lego's as I read to the boys.  What is frustration, independent, and instructional reading levels?  
1.  Independent Reading Level = a child can read a book comfortably.  They don't trip over the words, and they understand the text.
2.  Instructional Reading Level = A child needs help as they are reading this literature.  The vocabulary is more advanced, and their understanding is limited.
3.  Frustration Read Level = I think this is a bit self explanatory.  Children forced to read at their frustration level begin to HATE to read.  They don't recognize the words, are unable to pronounce much of what they read, and can't remember what they have read after ward.  It is important to avoid books at this level.

Duke, N.K. & Pearson, P.D. (2002) Effective practices for developing reading comprehension.Fastrup, A.E., & Samuels, S.J. (Ed.). (2002). What  Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction. Newark, DE:International Reading Association


Friday, January 27, 2012

Brown Bear, "ABC's", and Kites

This week in review:
Tuesday was a special reading night at Chase's preschool.  We arrived just in time to be at the front of the gym for the perfect spot.  Both kiddos were in their pajamas, they had their "Happy Nappers" (Chase has the dragon, Emma the Ladybug) under their arms and practically dragging their blankets behind them.  They looked absolutely adorable.  I loved that they were already for bed once the event was over and we headed for home!!!  As the kids settled down for "Brown Bear" to arrive and read Brown Bear, Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carl I realized that I forgot my camera.  I mourned the loss of the cute pictures I would miss out of this activity.  The memories treasured in my mind will just have to do.  Brown Bear came out and read to the kids.  I loved how the bear would ask "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?"  She (since the teacher under the costume was a she) would turn the page and the kids would answer "I see a red bird looking at me."  Chase sat through the entire thing repeating each question.  I loved it!  Emma lay curled up on the floor folded up in her blanket entranced in the story.  Afterwards the kids got to choose a book to take home.  Chase chose Five Little Monkey's Reading in Bed by Eileen Christelow.  I don't remember how many times I read that to him before the event ended.  I chose The Silly Snowy Day by Michael Coleman for Emma.  She slept with it under her pillow!

I was working on something, don't remember what, when I noticed how quiet the house had gotten.  Normally that implies that he kids are up to no good.  I started heading towards my bedroom (usually that is where they head) when I hear Emma talking quietly in her room.  I open the door and there she was with her baby tucked in a blanket, lying on her pillow.  In Emma's hands was a book, and she was reading to her baby.  OMGOODNESS!!!!!  It so warmed my heart up.  It totally shows me that when you are on the right track your kids will imitate you!  (Okay, so they will imitate you when you aren't on the right track too.  Been there, done that!  One of Emma's favorite phrases is "Oh, crap!"  Not one of my finest moments.)  I love that the book she chose was one that I had never read to her, however she recognized it as a book about the alphabet.  She was sitting there singing the song in her cute little two year old voice, pointing to the letters as she went through the pages.  I had my camera handy for that one!!!!


One of my favorite car games growing up was "I spy with my little eye . . . . "  We had several different versions.  It always made the rides in the car a bit more bearable - especially the ones where we were going cross country!  Yesterday on our way home from dropping Chase off at school Emma says "Kite".  A few minutes later she goes, "Octagon".  The car drives forward and from the backseat I hear "Octagon" once more.  It took a few more "Kites", "Octagon", "Square", and "Circle"before I figured out what she was doing.  She was seeing the road signs and calling out the shapes.  I tried to teach her diamond, but kites it was, and kites it still is!!!! 

I love the little learning moments with my kids.  It makes life so much worthwhile!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Behind the scenes - Yeh-shen: A Chinese Cinderella Story

Based on the recurrent theme of absent or uncaring father/ father figure, rivalry between women, the ability to overcome obstacles, rewards, magical assistance, and mythical elements,  Yeh-Shen is one of my favorite Cinderella versions to date!!!!  I remember as a child reading the story of a magical fish.  I adored reading that story over and over.  Not until I was an adult studying children’s literature did I learn that story was one of the first Cinderella stories ever written!

In discovering the history of Yeh-Shen I found a great website (http://chinesestoryonline.com/fairy-tale/56-chinese-cinderella.html)  that discusses Chinese stories.  Here I learned that in 850 A.D, during the Tang dynasty,  a famous poet, writer, and government official , Duan Cheng Shi, published a collection of stories he had gathered throughout his entire life.   In “Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang”  Duan Cheng Shi retold the story of Ye Xian (also known as Yeh-Shen).  He apparently heard of this mythical legend from his servant Li Shi Yuan.  

What I find fascinating is how many of the elements from this story are found in the other versions of the story.  This version contains an evil stepmother and half-sister that resent her for her beauty, intelligence, and skills.  There is a benefactor that provides her with special shoes that then gains the attention of a young king.  She is the only one to fit in the shoes (since her feet are so small) and thus she marries the young king.  There are those that believe foot binding came into fashion because of this story, although the custom did not begin until a century later.  

For myself there are several aspects of the story that always caught my fancy.  I loved the idea that she gained comfort in talking to a beautiful fish.  I love my cat, Sparta.  I gain comfort in how she curls up on my hip at night to sleep.  When I am upset she senses my unease and won’t leave me alone, which inevitably helps me calm down.  There is nothing better than a warm body snuggled up to you letting you know they love you.  Okay, so a fish is not warm and couldn’t give Yeh-Shen physical comfort.  It DID provide her with a way to pour out her inner-most feelings!

When her stepmother catches the fish and serves it as supper my heart breaks for Yeh-Shen.  I understand her feelings of loss, and am overjoyed when she is told by a poor beggar man tells her,  "Don't cry", he said, "I know where the fish bones were buried. You go there, dig them out, keep them secretly. When you are in bad need, you could pray to the bones which would give you what you want. But memorize, don't be greedy, otherwise, you will be punished by the God."  The aspect of waste-not, want-not is something that is an important aspect of Chinese culture.

Although the ending is a bit of a let-down – she marries the king and her stepmother and sister are killed in a rock slide – it still stays with the theme that good overcomes evil!

Return tomorrow for a lesson on Chinese culture!!!

Wu, H. & Han, R.  (2012) Chinese Cinderella Yeh-Xian Retrieved January 25, 2012 from

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Egyptian Cinderella - A historical perspective

We all know the story of Cinderella.  Did you know that the first recorded Cinderella story was about a slave nicknamed Rhodopis – named for her rosy pink cheeks.  There are those that believe that this Cinderella story has a basis in history.  

Her back-story was first reported by the “father of history”, Herodotus, in the 5th Century (B.C.E). 

Herodotus was the first historian to write about the past in narrative form.  He wrote nine volumes describing the people and places he encountered on his journey through the Mediterranean including a snippet on Rhodopis  (NewWorld Encyclopedia).

She was said to have been a Thracian slave (a civilization which thrived in the area now known as Bulgaria).  She was fair skinned and had blond curly hair.  Herodotus explained her in his history as “a fellow-slave of Aesop the story-writer.”  In Volume 2 of his history he discusses how some believe that one of the pyramids in Egypt was built by Rhodopis.  He explains that she was a courtesan who gained her freedom from Mytilene, who happened to be the brother of the poet Sappho. 

In other words the first Cinderella was a prostitute!  Interesting huh?  I’m sure I will not be teaching that bit of information to my children until they are a bit older and able to understand that back in ancient times beautiful slaves ended up being used as courtesans’ or prostitutes.  

If you are anything like me the exact telling from Herodotus himself is rather intriguing and I have included a link for those that want to pore through his narrative.  It is section 134-135 in Volume 2.  The History of Herodotus
The Roman historian Strabo recorded the first Cinderella story in the first century AD.  He tells a story of a beautiful slave – Rhodopis.  She is hated by the other slaves and made to do more than her fair share of the work (sound familiar?).  On her own time she likes to dance and one day she is seen dancing by some guy who then makes her a beautiful pair of shoes.  One day her shoes get wet and as she leaves them out to dry a falcon takes off with them.  They are found by a prince who makes all the girls try it on to see if it fits.  Guess who the shoe fits and marries the prince?  Yup, Rhodopis.  

Here is a link to Strabo’s version Rhodopis

My favorite version of Rhodopis is “The Egyptian Cinderella” by Shirley Climo.  My next post will include a review of her book and a discussion of the historical and cultural aspects of the Egyptian Cinderella.  Stay tuned!!

New World  Encyclopedia - Herodotus
The History of Herodotus parallel English/Greek English translation: G. C. Macaulay, (pub. Macmillan, London and NY) [1890]