Would you be enthralled by the story, set centuries ago, of a boy who battles with a kite on behalf of his boy-king? Or by a tale, from the time of Marco Polo, of a boy who soars with a kite high into the sky as he travels with the Jade Circus? Would your interest in these stories (and your willingness to take on difficult vocabulary and unfamiliar settings) be increased by making a version of the kite featured in the story you read?
These are the questions Pat Bliquez, librarian at Seattle School District's Roxhill Elementary, wanted to investigate with fourth- and fifth-grade students in her reading groups. Roxhill serves an ethnically diverse group of students, with one of every three an English Language Learner and more than four of five on the free or reduced-price lunch program-in other words, children who face challenges in achieving academic success. Using support from the East Asia Resource Center at University of Washington, awarded at her completion of a National Council for Teaching about Asia seminar, Pat asked the Drachen Foundation to work with her in developing a hands-on project to enhance her students' appreciation of these books. The project also had to improve her students' research skills using online resources.
The two kite-themed books she chose, The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park (Newbery award-winner for A Single Shard ) and The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean (numerous awards around the world, and chosen to write the sequel to Peter Pan), are set in fifteenth-century Korea and in China at the close of the thirteenth century, respectively. Both include much detail about the techniques and aesthetics of kite building and kite flying.
Drachen commissioned Seattle-based kite maker Greg Kono to design the prototypes, based on images of the kites on the cover of the hardcover edition of each book. The cover of The Kite Fighters, along with the chapter headings (drawn by the author's father), displays a kite with the shape, spars, bridle, and bow characteristic of a traditional Korean fighter kite. The Kite Rider, the story of which is inspired by Marco Polo's account of having seen men carried by kites high into the air to test for beneficial winds, pictures a flat diamond kite with a long, horsehair tail and a small boy strapped to the sail.
With a generous materials budget, Greg was able to use red unryu ("dragon cloud paper") in one prototype, a long-fibered paper to suggest the "heavyweight paper, coarse with shreds of rag and wood and pith" from which Haoyou, the young hero of The Kite Rider, makes his kite. Drachen also provided Chinese character stamps, with gold inkpads, so that students could embellish their kite sails with the "golden writing" that Haoyou and his cousin, Mipeng, employ for decoration. For the Korean kite Greg chose a cream-colored, gold-flecked paper, to mimic the "rice paper" that older brother Kee-sup adorns with "miniscule gold dots" in The Kite Fighters. The one concession for the skills of young kite builders? Simplified bridling, with a one point bridle from a small central vent for the Chinese kite (instead of the four point bridle pictured, which accommodated the body of the kite rider), and a two point bridle for the Korean kite.
Before making their kites, students found online resources (from the AKA and other sources) to learn a bit of kite science and look at images and names of kites around the world. They then used timelines about fighting with kites and lifting men (and other things) with kites, created by Drachen and posted on the school website, to practice arranging examples chronologically, generalizing about data, and drawing inferences.
Both kite making days were sunny and windy, an infrequent combination during a typical Seattle winter. Students in each group showed admirable focus and care in folding, gluing, and sparring their kites under Greg's direction. All students completed their kites, and most also successfully flew them, with a few hastily added spars and tail pieces to accommodate the gusty flying conditions.
Special thanks to the East Asia Resource Center at University of Washington for its financial support of this pilot project. After further testing, Drachen expects to make kite kits and curriculum materials available for both kites. Pat and Drachen also hope to showcase this project at a statewide conference for school librarians in fall 2006.