Monthly Archives: February 2013

Another Jewish Story

Here is another Jewish story, this one being from Egypt.  Like “Katanya,” it features Elijah the Prophet and has a female protagonist, but I like it better than “Katanya” because the princess in this story plays a more active role than her.


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Elijah’s Violin

There once was a king with three daughters.  He loved them all very much, and they had many lovely times together until he had to go to war.  Before he left, he asked each princess what she would like him to bring her back.  The eldest said a diamond shaped like a star and the middle sister a gown made out of gold.  The youngest, however, asked for nothing.  All she wanted was for her father to return safely.  Her father did not want her to be without a gift, so he gave her three days to think of what she wanted.

While the princess sat on a rock outside the palace, an old woman appeared.  When told of the princess’ problem, she said, “You must ask him for Elijah’s violin.”

Three days passed, and the king, who now had to hurry off to the war, asked his daughter what she wanted.  The princess asked for Elijah’s violin, and the king, planning to meet this request, left.

The king was victorious, and when the war was over, he began searching for his daughters’ gifts.  The golden gown and star-shaped diamond he found, but he could not find Elijah’s violin, and no one else could tell him where to find it.  So he looked everywhere he could, finally coming to a cave where an old man lived.  This man (who was really Elijah) told the king it was in possession of this country’s king.  When the king asked how he could get it, the old man told him that the king’s daughter was imprisoned in stone, and whoever managed to release her would be given anything he wanted.

“But how can I do that?” he asked.

“Take these three strings from Elijah’s violin, and burn them when in the presence of the princess,” said the old man.  The king did as he was told and ventured to the palace.  He announced his wish to save the princess and was brought to her right away.  Her body had indeed been turned to stone.  She couldn’t move, but she could talk, and she told him how she had been turned to stone by her reflection which had escaped from the mirror. Remembering what the old man said, he took the violin strings and threw them into the fire.  As soon as he did so, the princess changed back to flesh and blood.  The king advised her to blindfold herself and break the mirror her reflection escaped from.  She did this, and all were certain that such a thing would never happen again.

The king and queen rejoiced to see their daughter free, and asked the visiting king what he wanted as a reward.  He requested Elijah’s violin, which he soon had in his possession.  As soon as he got home, he gave it to his youngest daughter.

The princess was overjoyed to have this violin, and when she started playing it, lovely melodies flowed out.  As she played, though, she suddenly noticed a handsome young man standing beside her.  Startled, she asked him where he came from, and he explained that he was a kidnapped prince whom she had freed from his dungeon with the tunes of her magical violin.  The two of them talked for a long time, and soon they became friends.  Every time she wanted to see him, the princess played the violin and he appeared.  He visited her many, many times, and after awhile, they fell in love.  The prince gave her a ring and promised they be married someday.

One day her eldest sister heard her talking to a young man in her bedroom and became very jealous.  When the young princess wasn’t looking, this wicked girl snuck into her bedroom and searched through it.   She found the ring the prince gave her, and spitefully threw it out the window, breaking the window in the process.  She then took the violin and began to play, but it played a sad tune, since the ring had been lost and danger awaited the prince.  The prince arrived, but as he entered through the window, he wounded himself on the broken glass and was forced to turn back.

When the princess returned to her room, she knew something was wrong.  Wanting to see her true love, she began playing the violin, but he did not appear.  When she saw the broken window and the blood on the curtains, she guessed what her elder sister did.  She knew she must try to save her prince, so she began to think of what to do.  Suddenly, she had it!  She pretended to be ill, and admitted no one to her bedroom.  While in her room, she escaped through the window and set off on her quest, bringing the violin with her.

Along the way, she met the same old woman who advised her to ask for Elijah’s violin.  She told her what happened and asked if there was any way she could save the prince.  The old woman told her to pluck three strings from the violin and burn them while in his presence.

The princess journeyed until she was tired, then stopped to sleep.  In her dreams she all of a sudden understood the language of birds, and they told her a map could be found on the leaves of their tree.  When the princess woke up, she plucked a leaf from the tree and continued on her way, consulting the map until she found the palace.  When she got there, she presented herself to the king and asked to be alone with the prince.  As soon as she was with him, she plucked three strands from the violin and threw them into the fire.  While they burned, the prince’s wounds healed, and he opened his eyes.   He and the princess were soon married.  They lived happily ever after, playing Elijah’s violin and sometimes using it to heal people.

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Once upon a time there was a poor old woman who longed for a child.  Every day she prayed for God to give her a little girl or boy.

God saw how lonely she was, and He sent Elijah the Prophet to visit her.  Elijah put on his usual disguise as a merchant and traveled to the woman’s humble neighborhood.

When the woman went to market and begged the merchants for food, (she could no longer afford food of her own), all the ill-humored merchants shooed her away.  Dejected, she was about to leave the market when she noticed another merchant whom she had never seen.  As she walked over to him, she saw all he had were six brown dates drying in the sun.  “Could you spare just one?” she asked.

“Surely,” said the old man, “Take whichever you like.”

Five of the dates were little, but one was very large for a date, and that was the one she took.  “Thank you, kind sir,” she said, and she went on her way.

When the woman got home, she placed the date on the windowsill where  sunlight shone.   Looking at it, the woman quickly decided the date was too beautiful to eat, and she went out to see if she could find food elsewhere.

The sun continued to shine on the date until it was quite warm.  Soon it began to stir, and all at once it broke open and out popped a girl no bigger than the tiniest finger.  She wore a dress of many colors.  As she looked around, she saw that the house was quite bare and in need of cleaning, for the old woman’s broom had only a few straws left.

The first thing the girl did was lower herself out of the window with some string she had found.  Once outside, she picked some of the short grasses and tied the bundle together with a piece of straw.  “Oh, what a perfect broom!” she cried.

Back up the string and onto the windowsill she climbed, and then she started cleaning the house.  She swept from corner to corner, until the floor sparkled like new.

Meanwhile, the old woman was walking on the road, searching for food, when she ran into the very man who gave her the date!  He smiled and gave her a large olive.  She thanked him and he continued on his way.  The old woman went to eat the olive, but almost bit into a shiny gold coin!  She hurried after the old man to give the coin back, but he was nowhere to be seen.  The coin was hers to keep.  “What a lucky day!” she thought.

But she was even more surprised when she got home, for there was her house, all neat and shiny!  She couldn’t believe her eyes.  “Who did this?” she asked out loud.

“I did, Mother,” said a tiny voice.

The old woman looked around.  There on the windowsill, where the old woman had left the date, was the tiniest girl in the world.  The old woman blinked to see if she was dreaming.  “Did you call me Mother?”

“Yes, Mother,” said the girl.  And that is when the old woman understood that the kind old man must have been Elijah.  She hugged the tiny girl very carefully and asked her name.

“No one has given me a name,” she replied.

“Then I will call you Katanya, the little one,” her mother said.

Katanya and her mother lived happily together in their little hut, and they loved each other very much.  Katanya’s mother made a little bed for her inside a teacup, a fur hat from a bunny’s tail, shoes out of tiny nutshells, and dresses from rose petals.  But of all her clothes, Katanya loved the dress of many colors best.

Katanya helped her mother by sweeping out the house with her tiny broom.  She also cleaned between the boards of the floor, an easy task for someone so small.  While she did her chores, Katanya sang.  She had a voice as big and beautiful as a fully-grown girl’s.  Katanya’s voice filled the city with gladness, bringing joy to everyone who heard.

One day the prince was riding down the street when he heard a lovely song drifting from an open window.  He wished to meet the girl with this beautiful voice, and eventually, he did.  The king sent a servant to the house of the old woman and invited her to come with her daughter to the palace.

The next day, and many days after that, Katanya and her mother visited the palace.  Katanya became very close friends with the prince.  Finally, after many happy days together, they fell in love and were married.  Katanya became Princess Katanya, and at her wedding she wore her dress of many colors.  Her mother came to live at the palace, too, and they all lived happily ever after.

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A Jewish Thumbelina

Now it is time for another retelling.  The story, “Katanya,” is a Jewish story from Turkey that is very similar to “Thumbelina.”  I like both stories, but find “Thumbelina” much more interesting.  “Thumbelina” also had a few more negative implications to take out, but the fact cannot be ignored that both stories had the problem of love at first sight before I retold them.  That is a pet peeve of mine that I will always take out of fairy tales I retell.

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Kindergarten Fairy Tale Unit: Part 1

These are my first thoughts on how I would structure a fairy tale unit for kindergarteners if I were a teacher.

We would start out our fairy tale unit by watching at least one film adaptation of a fairy tale each day.  We would watch the movie during the period which is normally devoted to listening to audio books, and at the end of the day, which would be our  usual story time period, I would read the children a non-Disney version of the fairy tale we just watched.  An alternative would be watching these movies during lunch so as not to take up independent reading time.    Once all the fairy tales with Disney adaptations are watched and read, we would move on to non-Disney feature length film adaptations.  The only two such adaptations I know are Warner Brothers’ “Thumbelina” and multiple film versions of “The Snow Queen.”  I think all the other non-Disney fairy tales only have short film adaptations.   When this is the case, I would show my kids a short film adaptation of a fairy tale during either lunch or our usual audio book time and then read them a book version of the story.  Then, if there is still time, we would watch another short film adaptation afterwards, and I would read a book version of the second fairy tale at the end of the day.  This we would continue until all fairy tales have been read and watched.  There are seventeen in all, and here is the list:

  1. Snow White
  2. Sleeping Beauty
  3. Cinderella
  4. The Little Mermaid
  5. Beauty and the Beast
  6. Rapunzel
  7. The Frog Prince
  8. Jack and the Beanstalk
  9. The Three Little Pigs
  10. The Three Billy Goats Gruff
  11. Thumbelina
  12. The Snow Queen
  13. The Ugly Duckling
  14. Hansel and Gretel
  15. Rumpelstiltsken
  16. Little Red Riding Hood
  17. Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Once all these fairy tales have been read and watched, I would let each child pick out his or her favorite.  Then everyone would have the opportunity to select a book version of the story and use it for book sharing (see previous post).  If the movie versions are watched during lunch, then children can start looking at fairy tale retellings and picking their favorites during reading time right at the beginning of the unit.  Since there would most likely be more kids in my class than there are well-known fairy tales, I would make sure the school libraries are well stocked with many different non-Disney book versions of these stories.  That way, no matter how many children pick the same story, each child could present a different version.


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Kindergarten Book Sharing

If I taught kindergarten, our main reading period would be mainly for listening to audio books.  We would have sets of books and audio recordings so that the children could listen to the books at individual stations while reading along.  This would allow them to hear the story while reading the words, something young children often try to achieve by reading aloud.  If everyone did this at once, though, no one could concentrate!

If today’s kindergarten teachers are anything like mine, they often try to solve this problem by saying, “Read with your eyes, not your voice.”  Trying to read silently and looking at the pictures didn’t work for me when I was in kindergarten, and so I got very little out of the time our teacher gave us to look at books.  I’m sure this is true for other five and six-year-olds, especially if they’re verbal learners like I was.  I think audio books are a workable solution for both verbal and visual learners, though, because while verbal learners can focus on the words while they listen to the story, visual learners can focus on the pictures.

Audio books are not the complete answer when it comes to teaching kindergarteners to read.  They also need to be given opportunities to read books aloud.  Since I agree that quiet reading time is not the right time to do this, children need to be given other opportunities to do so.  That’s why instead of quiet reading time, which, in my opinion, kindergarteners are too young for, they should have read along time with audio books as well as a weekly activity called Book Sharing.

Book sharing would have two periods each week.  These periods would be at the beginning of the week so that kids would have the weekends to prepare with their parents.  On Mondays, book sharing would involve each child reading a book to the rest of the class.  This book would be selected by the child from the list of audio books he or she read along to the previous week.  In order to keep track of these books, there would be a circle time period at the end of each day where I, the teacher, would talk to the children about the books they read.  Since the children might not remember the titles of every book they read, I would encourage them to describe what each book was about.  Hopefully by most of their descriptions, I would be able to determine which books each child read.  I would then list the books and add to the list each day after circle time.  At the end of the day on Friday, I would review with each child the books he or she read that week and help him/her pick out one to share with the class.

Book sharing periods on Tuesdays would involve each child doing a presentation on his or her book.  Each presentation would include an art project and an oral description of what the book is about.  Students would be able to choose whether they want the art project to be simple drawings or something more elaborate.  Either way, the child’s parents would need to help him or her find a way to make the art project and oral presentation compatible with each other over the weekend.

Every Friday, I would make sure each child selects a book before he or she goes home.  Then I would e-mail a notice to every kid’s parents explaining which book their child selected and what his or her options are for preparing a presentation.  It would be important while doing this to customize each e-mail, suggesting which type of art project each child might enjoy.  They would all have the whole weekend to practice reading their books aloud (which they would borrow for the weekend) as well as one extra night, Monday, to prepare their art projects and practice their oral presentations.

Inevitably, the art-loving kindergarteners would do more elaborate projects than the kids who prefer to run around and play games.  That’s why I would accept both simple drawings and more elaborate works of art for the book sharing projects.  I would also give the more action-oriented kids the opportunity to create games based on the stories they read.  This would be very helpful for them, since it is often the kids with high energy that have the most trouble enjoying books.  The opportunity to create a game based on a book would show them how much fun reading can be.

While doing art projects based on books would be a purely individual endeavor, coming up with a game based on a book would definitely be a group project.  For that reason, I would wait until October, when everyone has shared at least four books and listened to many more, to have anyone who’s interested help come up with a game.  Once I’ve rounded up everyone who’s interested, I would have them each select their favorite book that they read and/or shared back in September and describe a brief idea on what kind of game they can play based on it.  After I have helped narrow down the games based on how feasible they are, everyone would get to vote on which book and game combination they want to do.  The game would be described and practiced multiple times in PE until the kids are playing it and following its simple rules satisfactorily.  Since PE would be every day in my curriculum, there may be time to create more than one game in October, in which case the class would vote on another book and game combination once they have played the first a few times.

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New Category

This is my first post in Fairy Tales in the Classroom: Ideas For Teachers.  Here you will find all sorts of ideas I have had on how a fairy tale unit can be taught to kindergarteners or first graders.  While the first post in this category will not be specifically on fairy tales, it is a prerequisite to the first idea I’ve had on teaching a fairy tale unit.

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