Yolen, J. (2009). The seeing stick. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press Kids.
This picture book explains a legend about a Chinese emperor’s daughter, Hwei Ming, who is blind. The emperor pleads for help and offers a reward to whomever in the kingdom can cure his daughter of her blindness– as a result magicians, physicians, and monks all attempt to help Hwei Ming but do not succeed. In the end, it is an old man from far away who sheds light on Hwei Ming’s world through the use of his seeing stick, and through an understanding of the blind experience himself.
Grade Level: 2nd-4th
Readers who would like this book: Children who enjoy legends, children who struggle with a disability of any kind, children who enjoy vibrant and unique illustrations.
Rating and response: 5; Jane Yolen has done it again! This understandable, beautiful retelling of a powerful chinese legend provides children with an approachable take on a disability. Readers of this book not only come to understand the beauty that the text unfolds about Hwei Ming’s unique experience of her world, but they are able to experience the feelings and emotion associated with this story through its vibrant, textured illustrations. Important aspects of the story are highlighted in the illustrations by being shiny and physically raised off of the page, similar almost to braille. Also, Hwei Ming’s emotions are conveyed through the dark, dreary illustrations at the beginning of the book that transform into fantastical, vibrant illustrations when Hwei Ming is able to “see” her world. This small attention to detail really pushes this story to be a fantastic one for young readers.
Question: What do you think it would feel like to be blind?How do you think blind people are able to experience the world that they live in?
Reading Strategy: Grand Conversation (Tompkins, pgs. 45-47)
Grand Conversations is a student centered reading strategy that focuses on oral language and comprehension. Essentially, it is an open-ended discussion where students reflect on their feelings, thoughts, and connections toward the book. Although the teacher sits in on this activity, students lead the way by participation in a conversational, informal manner.
This strategy would be fantastic when reading The Seeing Stick due to the books emotional and very personal sentiment surrounding a young blind girls life. With its realistic yet approachable message, I suspect that students would have very strong feelings, connections, and questions regarding what it is like to have a disability. By starting off in small conversational groups and building up to the grand conversation, I think that students would be very willing and open to sharing their reactions to this text, whereas in a more formal assignment they might not. Students would be able to gain a multitude of perspectives on the book through their classmates contributions to the conversation, and would aim to discover how the meaning of this text applies to the world around them.