A Chinese proverb says, "Falling leaves return to their roots". Adeline Yen Mah returns to her roots to tell the story of her painful childhood and her ultimate triumph and courage in the face of despair.
Adeline Yen Mah is a writer and physician.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
This true story of Adeline Yen Mah's childhood in China tells of her courage and triumph over the abuse she suffers at the hands of her father and stepmother.
Adeline Yen Mah is born into an affluent and powerful family in China, but her life is made miserable from the moment she is born. After her mother dies giving birth to her, Adeline's family labels her "bad luck," causing her to grow up with the guilt that she alone is responsible for her mother's death. Things at home get even worse when Adeline's father remarries. Restricted to one small area of the house, Adeline and her natural siblings are mistreated while their stepbrother and stepsister receive special treatment. An outstanding student and the winner of many academic awards, Adeline revels in the praise she receives from her Aunt Baba and grandfather, Ye Ye, and lives with the hope that her father might someday be proud of her.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Adeline Yen Mah, a writer and physician, grew up in China and knows first hand the effects of child abuse. She donates the royalties from her books to the Falling Leaves Foundation, which enables American students to study at universities in Beijing and Shanghai. She lives in California.
In the Classroom
This memoir asks readers to think about the powerful themes of courage, family and relationships, loneliness and abandonment, and self-esteem. Through Adeline Yen Mah's story, readers will witness the harsh realities of abuse and realize that there is hope even in situations that seem to have no good outcome. In addition, this guide provides activities that link the language arts, science, math, art, and creative drama curricula.
Tell the class that Chinese Cinderella is a memoir. Ask them to discuss what they think Adeline Yen Mah's childhood was like, using the title of the book as a clue. Adeline says, "I was the female warrior Mulan." (p. 47) Discuss the story of Mulan and ask students to think about why Adeline Yen Mah chooses to use folk literature as a metaphor for her life.
Courage and Honor
Engage the class in a discussion about the meaning of courage. Instruct the students to write a paragraph describing the scene in which they think Adeline shows the most courage. Allow them time to share their writing and ask them to talk about why they chose that particular scene. Discuss how Adeline's success in school contributes to her courage. How does it take courage to write a book like Chinese Cinderella?
Family and Relationships
Discuss the connotation of the word "stepchild." How is Adeline treated like a "stepchild" even before Niang marries her father? Ask the class to talk about how the perception of stepfamilies has changed over the years. When do Adeline's siblings begin to change their attitude toward her? Discuss whether they become nicer because they need an ally or whether their feelings for her really change. Engage the class in a discussion about Big Sister and how she betrays her siblings. What does this indicate about her character? Compare Niang to Cinderella's stepmother. Who is Adeline's fairy godmother?
Ask students to explain Mother Teresa's statement, "Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted are the greatest poverty." (Preface) Discuss whether Adeline feels lonelier at home or when she is abandoned and sent away. How does she use her studies and her writing to cope with her feelings? How can loneliness affect a person's self-concept? Discuss whether Aunt Baba is also a lonely person; does she need Adeline as much as Adeline needs her? Most people experience a degree of loneliness at some point in their lives. Ask students to brainstorm ways of dealing with loneliness.
Adeline writes about Aunt Baba in a composition titled "My Best Friend." What does this reveal about Adeline's self-concept? Adeline says to Ye Ye, "And if I should be so lucky as to succeed one day, it'll be because you believed in me." (p. 151) Discuss how Ye Ye and Aunt Baba demonstrate their belief in Adeline. How is success related to self-concept? Adeline's father agrees to send her to England to study after she wins the playwriting contest. Discuss whether Adeline views this as a stamp of approval from her father.
Adeline enjoys reading and often loses herself in a book. Her friend Wu Chun-mei lends her a copy of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Discuss why Adeline relates so well to Sara Crew, the main character in Burnett's book. Ask students to go to the school or public library and select a contemporary novel that deals with loneliness, abandonment, or abuse. After reading it, have them write a letter that Adeline might write to the main character of the book they read.
In the Chinese Zodiac, each year is named after an animal. Ask each student to find out her or his animal sign on the Chinese zodiac. The Chinese believe that the animal sign determines a person's character and destiny. Instruct students to think about the qualities that their signs represent and write a short composition that relates them to their character.
Adeline and her family celebrate Chinese New Year, the most important Chinese holiday. Ask students to research this holiday to find out its origin, how it is celebrated, how long the celebration lasts, and the special events of each day.
Ask students to draw a picture of the traditional Chinese clothing that one might expect to see during the Chinese New Year celebration. Then have each student select a holiday gift that they would most want to give Adeline. Ask them to share their gift selection and tell why they chose it.
When Ye Ye dies, Adeline is taken to the Buddhist Temple for his funeral. Ask students to research Buddhist beliefs regarding death. Adeline describes the funeral as a very long ceremony. Have students find out the rituals that one would expect to see at a Buddhist funeral.
Jade is a semi-precious stone that the Chinese use in much of their jewelry. Ask students to research how and where jade is mined in the world. Why is it used in Chinese jewelry? Have them to find out the difference between purple jade and the traditional green jade. Which is more valuable?
Adeline Yen Mah left Hong Kong in 1952 to attend school in England. She now lives in California. Calculate the cost for Adeline Yen Mah to return to Hong Kong to attend a class reunion at the Catholic boarding school she attended. Students may locate the cost of an airline ticket on the Internet or by calling a travel agent. Ask them to also include approximate hotel and food costs for a week.
A money tree, a symbol of prosperity, is traditionally decorated on the second day of the Chinese New Year. Find out the type of ornaments that one might expect to see on a money tree. Then have the class create a money tree in the Chinese tradition.
The host of the 1950s television show "This Is Your Life" surprised guests by arranging a reunion of special people in their lives. The honoree would listen as each person backstage related a special memory before revealing him or herself to the honoree and audience. Stage a "This Is Your Life" show honoring Adeline Yen Mah. Special friends and relatives called to honor Adeline should include Aunt Baba, Wu Chun-mei, and Aunt Reine.
Teaching ideas prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville, South Carolina.
In addition to the unfamiliar Chinese words that are defined in the glossary at the end of the book, there are numerous other words that students may want to try and define from the context of the sentence. Such words include deigned (p. 27), proprietor (p. 28), melee (p. 30), austerity (p. 33), alacrity (p. 40), obsequious (p. 40), subterfuge (p. 41), errant (p. 55), akimbo (p. 66), insolence (p. 94), atrium (p. 118), euphoric (p. 123), and spartan (p. 151).
x "This memoir is hard to put down."
--Starred, Publishers Weekly
"[An] absorbing autobiography. . . . Those who persevere will be rewarded by the rich depiction of a very different world."
--School Library Journal
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