How Did Cinderella Get Into Her Stepmother’s House in the First Place?

princess bookHow did Cinderella get into her stepmother’s house in the first place? If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, then this book is for you. The Witch and the Baby Princess by David Rich is a fun, action packed explanation of Cinderella’s background along with the events that led up to the whole stepmother scenario.

More than just a prequel, however, this book is meant as a story for kids and parents to share. The author, an avid reader, active storyteller and involved father, didn’t want to just hand his daughters a book – he wanted to create something he could share with them and that they could read together, which is exactly what he has done.

This book does not have a big, glossy cover or thousands of pictures with a few words on each page. This is a full-on, meaty story. Oh, it has a bunch of really adorable illustrations, but that’s not the focus here. The focus is the story itself. It is meant for a parent and a child to sit down and read together. There are words in it that a child under twelve is not going to understand. There are concepts such as the shades of grey between good and evil, which parents should be excited to discuss with their children. The book is rife with big, tough topics such as friendship, love, beauty, goodness, envy, and expectations that are designed to spark good talks between children and the adults who love them.

What Rich has done is created a springboard for parents so that topics that can be hard to broach for adults and harder for kids to understand, become gentle and accessible for both parties.

The story itself is quaint, sweet, and lovingly told. In a land far away, a baby is born to a great witch, but the queen of the fairies does not want the baby to be evil and instills in the young girl a conscience and a particle of free will. What the child grows up to do and become, and how she uses her gifts in the context of her parents’ expectations of her becoming an evil witch, is the crux of the story. It’s easy to see how the idea of parental expectation is juxtaposed against the personality of the child – good lessons for parents and children alike. The characters are drawn with great care and attention to detail. At any moment I could “see” each person and the location as well due to the strong and exhaustive descriptions that only add, not detract, from the plot itself. Emotion is tended to with care and the plot moves along with a mix of action and feelings.

In a world where the bonds between children and their parents have become increasingly fractured, kudos to David Rich for creating a lovely story, as well as something to serve as a binder of families.

The Magic of Education for Girls – An Evening With The Asian University for Women

First lady Akie Abe (center) with Duth Kimsru (left) and Kamala K.C. (right)

First lady Akie Abe (center) with Duth Kimsru (left) and Kamala K.C. (right)

The Asian University for Women (AUW) is a beacon of hope for women across South and Southeast Asia who aspire to learn and grow and become global citizens.  Never was that more apparent than last night when the Japan support committee of AUW held their annual film event in support of the university. Not only did the group show the inspiring documentary film “Girl Rising” about the critical importance of education for girls in the developing world, but two students who graduated from the university in their inaugural graduation in 2013 came to Tokyo to address the crowd and show first hand what an education can do.

The girls, Kimsru, from Cambodia, and Kamala, from Nepal, both outlined the sometimes perilous journey they took just to get to AUW, which is located in Chittagong, Bangladesh.  Kimsru mentioned her village, which did not have electricity or running water, but that her mother moved her and her siblings from the village into the capital city, Phnom Pehn, so that she might study, both working and

First Lady Akie Abe with a few members of the AUW Japan Support Committee

First Lady Akie Abe with a few members of the AUW Japan Support Committee

taking in laundry to finance her daughter’s education.  Kamala talked about how she not only had to walk 90 minutes each way to get to the closest high school, but had to work full time teaching the primary grades as well as complete her own studies in order to finish her secondary degree.  Both girls passionately spoke about their time at AUW, the joy they found in learning, their hunger to become global citizens, and the golden opportunities that higher education – in English! – has given them. Currently Kimsru works for a nonprofit organization in Phnom Phen, teaching kids about practical life skills and urging them to stay in school.  Kamala is pursuing graduate education in South Korea.

AUW has a place on the global stage, as evidenced by the commitment to the school by Japan’s First Lady, Akie Abe.  Mrs. Abe took time out of her busy schedule to meet the girls and left a message to be played for the entire audience where she discussed her own visit to AUW in Bangladesh in 2011 when was so impressed by the school, its programs, and the girls themselves, that she agreed to become a patron of the university. She urged others to similarly support the school and education for women.  There’s more information available about the school and its extraordinary programs on their website. Please go look at it; you can’t help but be touched and inspired by it.

I have written before about AUW, in 2010, and 2013. Both times I told you how truly amazing the girls are and how touched we are as a family to have the experience of interacting with these amazing young ladies. This year was as special as years past, perhaps more so because of our own recent life experiences.  My daughter Sydney is wearing her new t-shirt today, the one designed and sold by the ASIJ support group of AUW, which supported the event.  She bought it with her own money and it reads, “She believed she could, so she did!”  It’s a message of determination, of grit and of hope.  Sydney wears it in support of those girls who are less fortunate than she is to have the spectacular education that she does.  Sydney won’t forget, and nor will I.  Together we can make a difference in the lives of young women across the globe.

How to Print Essays at the Convenience Store

netprintAs usual when I teach, I hope my students learn as much from me as I do from them.  Last week, the first draft of their essays was due.  Most of these kids are either in a home-stay situation or in a dorm, neither of which allows much access to a printer, so they ran to the computer center at school to print out their essays.  However, a few of the students had their essays ready, so I asked them about their method of printing. It turns out that the convenience stores, which are omnipresent in Tokyo, have a system called NetPrint.

The first step is to pick your favorite brand of convenience store – most likely the one closest to your house. Then go on their website, which will be only in Japanese, to sign up for a NetPrint account.  Once you are signed up, you can upload whatever type of document you want to the site and in return, you will get a confirmation ID.

Then you can go to any convenience store at which you have signed up for an account.  So if you’ve signed up for the Lawsons account because it’s closest to your house, you can use the Lawsons store right by your office or school as well.  It’s only one program for every branch of the shop.

The NetPrint machines in the shops often speak a little English on their touch-screens.  All you have to do is enter your confirmation number and the document you’ve uploaded will print.  You can’t edit from the convenience store machine, but you can change some formatting.  If you don’t upload the document, but have it on a USB key in PDF format, that’s okay too.  You can’t print a .doc or .xls, but you can print a PDF from the key.

You pay right at the machine, inserting coins as needed. It’s 10 yen ($.10) per page for black and white, 20 yen ($.20) per page for color.

To my students, I say sorry – no more excuses for an unprinted essay.  To everyone else, I say, geez, I love this city.  What a system!

A Journey of Lessons (A Hopeful Sign)

Please see my latest posting on the e-zine A Hopeful Sign about being in Southeast Asia and experiencing the 5-star hotels juxtaposed with the extreme poverty of the region, as well as its affects on our kids.  To be fair, it’s also about bringing the lessons of the world in which they do not live to them and making it accessible via experiences right here in Tokyo as well as the tie-in to the Jewish holiday of Passover, that happened while we were visiting Cambodia.

The E-zine is called A Hopeful Sign for a reason – the messages of hope and positivity it brings are a breath of fresh air in today’s increasingly negative and pessimistic world.  Go see my posting, but also go to see all of the other wonderful writers who post there.  Click HERE.

Here’s the body of the text:

Our Journey of Lessons Travelling in Southeast Asia

Photo: Child begging for money from her little “boat”, a pot (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

(Post by AIMEE LEDEWITZ WEINSTEIN)

I never doubt that my kids are indeed children of privilege, which is not necessarily bad, because the important thing, I believe, is what one does with that privilege.  In recent weeks my kids have had many lessons in humility and giving, and the grace that comes along with the ability to recognize the gifts of humanity, no matter how they are packaged.

We started our journey of lessons at the Asian University for Women (AUW) fundraiser.  AUW, located in Bangladesh, takes young women from around the region and gives them a top-notch university education. The support committee, of which I am a part, showed an American PBS film about Women and the Taliban in Afghanistan and how they are fighting back.  My son who is 13 understood a lot of it, but my daughter who is 10, did not.  The important part for both of them, though, was the speeches that followed the movie by the two girls who had come to Tokyo from AUW in Bangladesh.  One girl, originally from Afghanistan, stressed the importance of education, finding one’s voice, and telling one’s story.  The other, from Nepal, spoke eloquently on the idea of one person making a difference and changing the world.  Both kids were enthralled by these two girls.  Obviously young, they carried themselves with poise that belied their backgrounds and they spoke confidently about their viewpoints and ideas, something my children could admire and appreciate.

The next day after hearing the girls at the AUW event, the kids, my husband and I got on a plane for Southeast Asia.  We spent the next six days exploring Hanoi, Vietnam, and Siem Reap and Phnom Penh Cambodia.  (You can read about our adventures on http://TokyoWriter.com)

It wasn’t our first trip to the region, but seeing the extreme poverty never gets any easier, especially for the kids.  Hanoi was chock full of honking cars, a mix of traditional and modern architecture, and people who were thrilled to see tourists.  Many people approached us on the street to sell us something, and of course, some were kinder than others.  When my daughter expressed discomfort, my husband explained that this was how people made their living; not everyone can afford a storefront.  We bought things we wanted and said no to vendors when we had to.

In Siem Reap, the resort hotels eclipse some of the more extreme poverty, but it was really unavoidable as we took a boat ride up the Tonle Sap Lake to see the floating villages there.  Random kids approached us over and over again, begging, one little girl with a snake around her neck asking if we wanted to give her a dollar to see the snake up close.  Another girl approached us as we were eating our dinner at a sidewalk café.  My daughter was stricken when we wouldn’t buy her books and the girl groaned her disappointment. I faltered when I explained that one to my own darling girl.  That young lady was helping her family by trying to sell the books.  Maybe she had been in school all day and worked a little to make extra money at the dinner hour, but this was her life and this was what she knew.  Even I could tell that the explanation fell flat – of course the girl could observe that we could afford dinner in a restaurant and she couldn’t – but we noticed our daughter chewing on what she had seen and the ideas I presented.

That night was the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover, and our normal celebrations at home include a large seder with many friends.  It’s the holiday when we retell the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt – it’s a celebration of freedom.  I had packed a few copies of our Haggadah, the book we read at the table for Passover, so the four of us sat in our hotel room after dinner reading about our ancestors and telling the story as it is commanded, as if we ourselves were enslaved in Egypt, feeling the yoke of slavery and the gratitude for the miracles wrought by God to bring about its end, even if did mean forty years of wandering in the desert.  We tell it that way to encourage empathy and enhance that gratitude.  In addition to telling the story faithfully to our children every year, we – Jews – infuse the seder with the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, saving the world.  “Let all who are hungry come eat,” says the Haggadah, commanding not just Jews, but really everyone, to share the gifts they are given.

Even though it was the lowest-key seder we’ve ever had, and the smallest, it was by far the most meaningful.  The kids were both able to talk about not just freedom to walk around and go wherever they please, but also freedom from tyranny and freedom from want.  The Haggadah gave them language to appreciate the accident of their birth into a loving and financially stable, Western family.  We were able to talk about the gifts of their good brains and the ability to use them and the bright girls who go to AUW on scholarship who have a stroke of luck to get their fine education whereas our kids tend to take their schooling for granted.  They vowed never to complain about it.

We saw some exquisite sights throughout Vietnam and Cambodia, things that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.  One morning we woke the kids before the sun to see Angkor Wat at sunrise, an enthralling picture that I can still see weeks later when I close my eyes.  To think that was built in the 12th century!  Later that day, my son said that he was sorry he fussed (which he really hadn’t) about getting up because it was worth it, and he was going to tell his kids about it someday.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

“Maybe you’ll take your own kids to see it,” I suggested.

My daughter watched my son nod in agreement and smile. “Maybe,” she allowed finally, “But I hope I can give my kids what you and Daddy give me.”

I don’t think she understood my silent hug or the tears that sprang to my eyes as I surveyed both of my children.  My children are among the luckiest there are to be American and live an exciting life abroad in Japan.  They have every gadget available as well as access to the finest schools and activities in the world. I have no idea whether these lessons will stay with them even into next month, but I am sure that we planted seeds in the children that week, seeds that will hopefully bloom into beautiful tomorrows.

Education – A Privilege

AUW logo with white backgroundYesterday the Japan Support Group for the Asian University for Women (AUW) held a film screening to benefit the university.  The film, a PBS documentary, “Peace Unveiled” which is part of the series “Women, War and Peace” showed how women are fighting to have a voice in the politics against the Taliban in Afghanistan.  It is the exemplary work of filmmaker Abigail Disney and it reaffirms the commitment of American Public Broadcasting to bring the issues to the community.

The stars of the day, however, were the two young women, second-year-students at AUW, who flew from Chitagong, Bangladesh to be with us.  They, along with the vice-Chancellor of the university, Dr. Fahima Aziz, talked about the school, the opportunities it offers and truly gave the audience a taste of the bravery it takes to commit to an education outside of one’s home country when gender issues are rife in the area of the world from which they hail.  One of the girls is from Afghanistan, and she talked about the opportunity to learn as well as the very political and strong act of writing. Writing one’s story, she said, is as important as getting into politics. She, who essentially fled the Taliban and grew up in a refugee camp, has discovered her voice.   The other young woman is from Nepal.  She talked about learning not only the lessons her wonderful, international teachers teach her, but also about finding herself and being a role model for the girls of her home village.

Dr. Aziz, committed fully to the needs of these young women, spoke passionately about the students, their abilities and their hard work. From her I heard how every day is something new and different – these girls  appreciate everything they see and have and do. She talked about the girls’ internships, learning experiences, and leadership. They all have such very bright futures.

The entire afternoon was an inspiration.

My children were in the audience, and later, we were able to talk about how lucky they are to have the opportunity to go to such wonderful schools in Tokyo now, and the presumed university educations in their future.  Education is something to appreciate, not take for granted.

Thank you AUW, Dr. Aziz, Raihana and Rasani for being an inspiration to us all.

Coming to Tokyo: Students from The Asian University for Women

AUW logo with clear backgroundBeyond being the first regional liberal arts institution in Southern Asia, the Asian University for Women is a place where women from across the region can go to learn, share ideas, and get a superior education so they can follow their own dreams, whether they lead out into the world, or back to their villages.  The school, located in Chittagong, Bangladesh, has programs in art, history, literature and any other program they would find at any top-notch university across the globe.  The former first lady of Great Britain, Cherie Blair, is the Chancellor of the University and the current first lady of Japan, Akie Abe, has recently signed on as a Patron of the school.

Why am I telling you this?  I mention it because on March 20th, people in Tokyo will have the singular experience to meet two girls who attend this amazing school.

The AUW Japan Support Group will screen the film “Peace Unveiled” part of the American PBS Series “Women, War and Peace.”  The segment is about the process of peace in Afghanistan and how women played, and continue to play a key role in the making of a modern day nation.  In addition to the film, the two girls, who will travel all the way to Tokyo from Bangladesh to tell their stories, will speak, along with the Vice-Chancellor of the school, Ms. Fahima Aziz.  One of the girls is originally from Afghanistan and is prepared to speak about the actual situation on the ground.

Here is a Facebook listing of the event: https://www.facebook.com/events/335839793194270/?fref=ts

This is not the first time the Japan Support Committee has held an event here in Tokyo – we did one in 2010 where I had the privilege of spending time with the two young women from Bangladesh.  Here’s the story on my last meeting with AUW students and the joy it brought: http://aimeeweinstein.blogspot.jp/2010/04/beyond-writing-education.html

If you live in Tokyo, please consider attending the event.  It’s a national holiday in Japan, and so we’re having the screening in the late afternoon to accommodate holiday revelry and the need to go to work the following day.  For more information you can reply here, or email Katsuki Sakai, at katsuki.sakai@asian-university.org.

I can promise you that seeing the film and hearing these girls speak in person will be an experience you will never forget.

A New School Year in Japan!

There are several Japanese elementary schools near the high school where I teach.  School began last Monday and all of a sudden there are kids everywhere.  But not only are there kids everywhere, but adults too – all of them wearing bright green and orange safety vests.  At first I couldn’t understand it, but then I realized that they were there to shepherd the children to school.  They were all greeting the children with a cheery “Ohayo Gozaiemas!” (Good morning) and ushering them across streets and into school.  Of course there were the usual crossing guards at various difficult intersections, but these were extra people – parents, grandparents, volunteers –  lined up on the sidewalk celebrating the start of the new school year.  And the kids – little ones from ages six to eleven – held their heads high and walked toward school in their navy-blue uniforms with their fancy new backpacks and jaunty hats.  It was a very sweet sight and a lovely way to start a new school year.