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The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast | ELA

Mar 21, 2024

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast, a podcast for English teachers in search of creative teaching strategies. Whether you’re new to the show or a long-time listener, I’m so glad you’re here for today’s edition of “Highly Recommended.” Today, let’s talk Ken Liu’s short story, “The Paper Menagerie,” one of the best I’ve ever read.

“The Paper Menagerie” might also be the only scifi short story I’ve ever read. Did you know it won the Hugo award, the Nebula award, and the World Fantasy Award? It can bring a new genre to your short story unit, add a layer to a scifi unit, or fit right in with any unit on coming of age or the American dream, and it’s available in full text on the Gizmodo website if you aren’t able to get Liu’s book right now.

I just read it again and as usual, it had me crying. It’s both the story of a boy and of his mother, how they understand each other and how they don’t. She comes from China, speaking no English, to marry and together they have a baby. As the baby grows, his mother makes him beautiful Origami animals that come to life for him. He loves these animals, and sees little point in the plastic toys of others. But one day he makes friends with a neighbor and realizes that he, and his animals, are different. So begins a journey in which he leaves his animals, and his mother, behind in his wish to fit in more as an American.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but years later he discovers his mother’s story written into the pages of the paper animals, and he has it translated aloud to him, leaving the reader with a powerful and heart-wrenching ending.

This story is powerful, painful, lovely, and literary. This week, I highly recommend you follow the link in the show notes and read it for yourself, because I really think you’re going to want to use it in class.

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Read the Full Text of Ken Liu's "The Paper Menagerie": 


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