Wu and the journey. A story for 9 to 11 year olds, about integrity

Wu and the Journey.

tight rope story001

I am Wang Cheng. Although I am 40 years of age now I well remember my childhood. Chinese parents were allowed to have only one child as the population was growing out of control. The government were very strict about this. If parents went ahead and had two or more children, families could be split up, fined, or punished in other ways. All my friends were from single child families. This meant that all eyes were on the one child. Grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, they were all watching and tutting about my behaviour (and that of my friends in their own families). There was a lot of pressure to behave ‘just so’ to try to please everyone. I must say I did my best to make my family happy. I liked it when my grandma put her hand on my shoulder and said to me “Wang, I am very proud of you!” Or when my father took me fishing for the day because as he said “I know you can behave yourself, not like your friend Wu. What are his parents thinking of letting him come and go and do what ever he likes to do?”

My friend Wu was my hero. I just loved the way he was so bold and daring. He did things I did not have the courage to do. I was always afraid that someone might tell me off. I was afraid of tearing my clothes or getting dirty, or of trying anything new in case I could not do it well, and my parents would be disappointed in me.

Wu’s parents had plenty of money but not much time, so they employed maidservants to look after Wu. Actually it was a string of maids that they had one after the other. These girls were very inexperienced in looking after children and they would just let Wu do what he wanted to do. He learned that if he screamed and shouted they would agree to let him do almost anything.

Wu decided he was going to have his own circus. He set up a wire in his backyard with the help of the gardener. It wasn’t very high, just a few centimetres off the ground. He soon discovered that it was quite easy to balance on it and to walk along it. When he fell off it didn’t matter as the ground was very close. He told me I should have a go, but I was afraid as usual. It would have been easy enough but I didn’t want to get drawn into his tricks.

tight rope story001

Soon the gardener helped Wu to raise the wire a bit. It was as high as the seat of a stool now. He could still walk along it and if he fell off he had a safe way of falling, he said. I told him he should show his parents, they would be proud of him.

‘No,’ said Wu, ‘they don’t care what I do. They are so busy working they are too tired to bother with me.’

Wu very much wanted his parents to care about what he did, so he started to dream up a plan. He didn’t think they would care for all his circus skills, his juggling, somersaults and high wire act. He decided to save his money and go on a train journey and then they would have to go and find him. They would have to take some time off work and go looking for him. He liked that idea.

‘You must come with me’, he said to me, ‘ I’m off to Chengdu. I have an uncle there. I don’t know exactly where he lives but someone will know him I’m sure.’

Wu told the maid what his plans were. Of course she didn’t believe him as he was always making up stories. He used to lie about all sorts of things to get attention. She just said  ‘Chengdu is a very big city, you will get lost there. You don’t even know where you live yourself let alone where to find your uncle!’

Wu stopped and had a think. ‘Well, will you write my address down for me so when I want to come back I can show the ticket man at the station?’

The maid laughed at his game and wrote his address down on a piece of card.

‘Look after it,’ she said, ‘or you might never come back!’

Wu came to find me to take me with him on his journey. I refused to go. I thought it was a bad idea although I would have loved to have gone with him. I thought my parents would be too worried if I just went off.

Wu disappeared. I ran to tell my grandma what had happened. She had heard so many things about what Wu had said he was going to do, but never did.

She said, ‘Don’t worry Wang, he’ll be back for his supper.’ I was not so sure.

That night Wu’s father came knocking at our door.

‘Is Wu here?’ he asked.

It was unusual to see him, he usually sent the maid to our place to bring Wu back for his meals.

‘No, he came and told me he was off to Chengdu,’ I said.

‘That’s right,’ said Grandma, ‘more of his nonsense!’

‘You mean you let him go?’ said Wu’s father.

‘Wu has told us so many fanciful things about what he is going to do, I have never tried to stop him because he never does them anyway and because it’s not my place to stop him. It is his parents place – yours.’ Grandma replied.

Wu’s father went red and then he turned white. He looked afraid. ‘He said he was going to catch the train?’

‘That’s what he said, but I didn’t believe him, where would he get the money for a ticket?’ said my Grandma.

Wu’s father rushed off. His wife had recently sacked the previous maid for stealing money. Perhaps Wu has been stealing the money.

Much later Wu told me about what happened that day. He had set off on the train to Chengdu. People were curious about him. They all wanted to know where he was going. They said he was too young to travel alone. He told them he was going to stay with his uncle.

‘Where does your uncle live?’ asked a woman kindly.

‘I don’t know,’ said Wu, ‘someone will know him. Someone will tell me where he lives when I get there.’

The whole carriage has been listening, they burst out laughing; some looked concerned, and some laughed cruelly .

The kind woman asked Wu where he lived. He showed her the piece of card.

‘Where are your parents?’

‘They work all day.’

She looked at his nice clothes and shoes. ‘They will be worried about you, you should go home.’

Wu told me he felt like crying. ‘Yes.’ he said, ‘but I don’t know how to go home.’

The woman looked at the piece of card with Wu’s address on it. ‘I know this place,’ she said, ‘I will take you home.’

They left the train at the next station and climbed onto one going in the opposite direction. Wu was relieved to see his own station, a place he recognised from meeting his father when he had been away. They started to move through the crowds.

‘ Wu!’ He heard his father’s voice shouting his name. Well, he went home with his father, the kind lady disappeared, and Wu cried all the way home.

His father did not know what to say but gradually the whole story came out and Wu’s parents realised that their son was brave and clever, but needed more of their time and attention. He needed their guidance about telling the truth and about stealing. He needed to know about having a good reputation, or a bad one. His parents had to explain that if you do things which give you a bad reputation people will not trust you. They may not believe what you say when it is really true. You may find yourself in danger, as Wu nearly did. He needed to know that they appreciated his skills that he worked so hard at. Everyone needs praise and guidance when they are growing up. His grandma came to stay a while so that the family could sort themselves out.


Why did Wu want to make the journey to Chengdu?

Did he tell anyone he was going?

Why did they not believe him?

What did Wu’s father realise when he found Wu at the station.

What things had Wu done that you would not do?

What do children need from their parents and carers?


The refugee situation – a story to think about

A story of compassion and greed, for people concerned about the refugee situation 2016

refugee-story001The child looked around her. She knew no one at all. Her brother has disappeared the previous day. He said he was going to look for water but never came back. She lay curled up on some rags she had found. Her body was tightly wound into a ball to keep warm. Hunger gnawed at her belly. Her mind was confused, no single thought formed properly. Emotions flooded through her. Shaking and trembling with cold, hunger and fear, she hid her face from the world. No one seemed to be interested anyway. She heard shouts and cries, the sounds of rough men and frightened women and children.

She tried to reconstruct the past she knew, that past which had been shattered by bombs and blood and death. She tried to dream herself back into the life that she had so recently been living…

Her mother cooked at the stove. The kitchen was bright and cheerful, colourful cloth draped the walls. She sat on her father’s knee and stroked his beard. Her elder brother was in the courtyard, she could hear his laughter as he played with his friends. Then suddenly fear came to stay. Planes high above, the sounds of explosions and screams, people running and nowhere to go.

‘What shall we do, my husband?’ asked her mother.

‘We shall wait, there is no place any safer than here,’ said her father.

They gathered in the doorway and watched huge clouds of dust rising in the distance. Her brother flew indoors, aghast and horrified by the noise.

A few minutes later the child found herself on the floor. The air was so thick with dust she could not see across the room. She reached out and felt the body of her father lying beside her, lifeless. Her mother too lay beside the stove, the small flames still sputtered, lighting the dust which gathered on every surface and on the bodies of her parents. She crawled across the room thinking it might be safer to stay low. Under the table cowered her brother, speechless and in shock. She wrapped her arms around him and they remained under the table until after what seemed like a very long time, the bombings stopped.

Then shouts and cries filled the air, wails of sorrow and loss. Someone shouted their father’s name. The man pushed into the ruined kitchen, it was the neighbour, the girl gave a cry.

They were all shepherded out of the ruined houses. She held tightly to her brother’s hand. He couldn’t seem to be able to speak.

There on the rags, curled up, starving and thirsty she couldn’t recall the rest. She didn’t want to. She hoped to somehow get back in time and choose a better way forward, but young as she was she knew that it would not be possible.


She felt a hand on her shoulder, it was gentle and kind like a mother’s hand. A young woman in clean clothing and with a badge in the shape of a Red Cross peered at her. She spoke words that were unfamiliar to her and offered her a bottle of water. Painfully the girl uncurled herself and taking the water drank deeply.

The Red Cross women held her hand and helped her to stand. She felt so weak she could hardly put one foot in front of the other. She was carried to a lorry where a number of other children waited. They all had a bottle of water and a small loaf of bread. Most were silent, quietly nibbling their bread, their eyes hollow. She pushed the loaf they gave her under her clothes. She couldn’t eat.

At a camp the children were put into tents, boys in boys tents, girls with girls. The older girls helped the younger ones to get what they needed – blankets, water and food.

After a second long journey in a lorry they found themselves in a place where houses were still standing, where people were very poor but friendly, although they spoke a different tongue. She was taken in by a family which already had four children. There was a heavy stone in her heart, which seemed to get heavier each time she thought of her parents and her brother. She could tell no one about how she was feeling as her words were not understood.

Meanwhile in the West people shook their heads in sorrow. A few signed cheques to help those in trouble. A few gathered up unwanted clothes and sent them off in lorries to Syria. A small number of brave, adventurous souls went to help in the camps, but most people did nothing.

Some recalled the two World Wars when refugees were accepted, accommodated and cared for. But somehow ‘War Time’ was different. Then everyone had a personal investment in it. Families had members who were soldiers; many knew people who had lost their lives. Sacrifices were made and expected of everyone. The whole of Europe and most of the rest of the world was involved. People could empathise with the loss and sacrifice.

Attitudes are different now. People have grown fat and rich and are afraid of giving up even a tiny bit of their wealth or their freedom to do exactly what they want to do for themselves. They think that they are not involved in this war in the Middle East. They think they can shut it out, shut the borders, close their eyes to it, refuse to recognise the suffering. Let other people in other countries, which happen to be closer but are not involved in the war, let them take the refugees. It doesn’t seem to matter to the West that many of these countries are very poor already, they are expected to share what little they do have with all the suffering and dispossessed peoples.

Many people in countries in the West seems to be losing the ability to be generous and compassionate and instead focus on keeping what they have, come what may. It seems that the more they have the less they want to give. Is this the equality that is spoken about so loudly? It is time for a rethink.


How do you see refugees?  Are they guilty and need to be punished for being homeless? Looking back at your family history, or your friends’ families, how many of them have been persecuted for their race, religion, colour or nationality?  Who helped them to get through and become happy and productive citizens?

Does your heart go out to refugees when you hear about their suffering?

Do you feel you would like to do something but cannot think how you could make a difference?

How do your friends feel about the situation, are they selfish or generous?  

Does anyone express an opinion or do they just keep quiet and hope not to become involved?

Could you afford to give something to the Red Cross or similar organisation that you trust to help these people.

Could you raise some funds by holding an event, large or small, to show solidarity with those who are suffering?  Is anyone in your town involved in this?  How can you find out?

You Can’t Judge a Book by it’s Cover. A short story for teens about respecting adults

You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Hi, I’m Mike, I’m 50 and I’m waiting in hospital for a liver transplant.  Bit of a shock for my family.  They had no idea how ill I was.  I kept it from them. I’m not sure if I’ll see another Christmas.

I have two lads. Good boys, they are.  We used to have our ups and downs, it’s true, but in general they are solid.  I always taught them to respect people older than themselves – to be polite, to say thanks.  Politeness costs nothing but it brings dividends, if you know what I mean.  A polite lad is more likely to get what he wants from the world, because the world doesn’t mind giving things to him – he’s always grateful.  He takes nothing for granted.

I used to say to my lads ‘Nobody owes you a living.  You’ve got to put some effort in.  Show that you are willing to work, and be thankful for what does come your way.’

I was a boxer when I was a young man.  Trouble was when I gave up I started to drink too much.  I was off the fitness regime, see?  After a while I couldn’t leave off the booze.  Strange, I never felt really drunk, I just became addicted to drink.  I hid it from my family.  I wanted them to respect me.  In every other way I am a good dad.  I taught my boys to respect their elders, to hold doors open for people and to offer older people a seat on the bus or the tube train.

As I became more ill my liver was damaged by the drink.  I looked OK, but I felt pretty rough.  I had to travel to work on the tube.  I used to dread the journey.  Sometimes I was lucky and people would stand up and offer me a seat.  I always accepted gratefully.  Often I would see young people, fit and healthy, sitting down while much older people were forced to stand.  I would think about my lads and know that they would never do that.  When people get older they often have hidden problems.  It’s not obvious when someone has a bad back or joint pains.  They do not wear a label.  But many youngsters don’t think of that.  They think that unless you’ve got a walking stick, you must be OK, just like them.

I remember a journey I went on with my eldest boy, as usual the train was crowded and I was feeling pretty terrible, but trying not to let it show.  Dan, my son could see I was in pain, but there I was, looking OK except for the sweat breaking out on my forehead.

Dan leaned forward and asked a youth if he would mind giving up his seat for me.

“My dad’s feeling bad,” he explained.

The lad looked up sullenly.  “He looks all right to me,” he said, and he stayed seated.

A girl across the aisle had noticed what was going on.  She quickly jumped to her feet.

“Sit here,” she said, “I’m getting off soon.”

I collapsed down on the seat, gratefully.

“Thanks, love,” I said, “thank you for noticing.”

The lad who hadn’t moved was embarrassed.  He looked up and down the crowded carriage.  A tired looking woman was standing a few feet away.  He stood up and offered her a seat.  She smiled, thanking him profusely and sat down looking very relieved.

The woman leaned over to me and said “you can’t judge a book by its cover, can you?”

In my denim jacket, blue jeans, crew cut and earring, I guess I looked pretty fit.

“You are right there, love, I expect he’ll learn one day” I said.


Although Mike admits he has his faults, he is trying to bring up his sons as well as he can.

What does he say about the rewards of politeness?  Can you think of an example?

Do you think young people should show respect for their elders?  Explain your answer.

Are there occasions when older people do not deserve respect?

In what ways can older people show respect too?

What do you think ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ means  in this story?



What questions would you ask to get the most out of this story?

Please feel free to answer in the comments box.  Thanks.

The Medicine Man ( A story about respect between family members) for teens and adults

The Medicine Man.

People live in many different sorts of homes. In my country people live in houses, flats or rondavels. These are round houses made with clay and sticks, with thatched roofs. They are quite small, but since African weather is so good the poorer people need their houses only for protection at night from wild animals and from the rain.

The family in this story lived in a rondavel in a village a very long way from the main road. The people had their own code of ethics, which enabled them to live together in harmony. No one was a murderer; no one was a thief. Although one man may have more than one wife, he chose his wives carefully and took no others, so the children of the wives knew who their father was, and they loved and respected him. In this village no man had more than three wives. Most only had one because they did not have enough land to feed more than a certain number of children. Ah, but I tell a lie, the chief had four wives. The eldest and wisest was his first wife, Bulala. The other wives had to pay attention to what Bulala said, or there would be trouble. Each wife had her own special duties and skills.

Bulala was the organiser. There was much work to be done. The ground had to be broken, the crop sowed, the houses must be kept in good order. Then there were the animals, they had to be fed and water had to be fetched every day. Someone had to make and mend the clothes and cook the food. The wives shared the duties out amongst themselves and their children so that everything that needed to be done was done and there was still time for singing and dancing at the end of the day sometimes.

The chief was the medicine man and healer. He spent his time talking to the elders and making decisions for the village, meting out justice, and healing the sick.

In general the system worked very well indeed, the villagers were happy and healthy. Of course people died every so often, but death is part of life. Those who live must also die. No one wishes to die in pain and suffering, and I think the chief did his best to see that this did not happen to his people.

You will remember that the chief had four wives, Bulala and the three junior wives. The youngest was called Mata, and because she was the most junior wife she felt she was given more work to do than the others were. She had only one child, and the others all had two or three, and they would say,

“Ah, let’s ask Mata to do it. Her baby is asleep, she has time now.” There were so many people telling Mata what to do – the chief himself, Bulala, and the two other wives, that Mata didn’t feel that she ever had a moment’s peace, and since she was married to the medicine man himself, she didn’t feel she could complain.

She started taking long walks in the bush with her child on her back, just to get away from them all. She would sit under a tree and wait for dusk to fall before returning to the village with a small piece of firewood on her head.

When they asked her where she had been she would say:

“I have been searching for firewood. There is so little to be found.”

The wives would toss their heads angrily. “We have been working all day long and you come home with one miserable stick of firewood, Mata, What is wrong with you?” She would turn away and take her baby off to feed him.

The chief loved Mata. She was a kind sweet girl. He could see that she was unhappy and he thought he knew the reason why. He decided he would try to show her how things could be different for her. The next day when she went off to gather wood, he sent a group of young men off to follow her. They kept their distance; she did not notice them at all. She sat in the shade and played with her baby and then she slept. While she was asleep one of the youths stole up to her and picked up the child. The baby was not at all alarmed. He knew the young man very well.

When Mata awoke she was horrified to find her child had gone. What should she do? Distraught, she ran back to the village to tell her husband, the chief.

She was amazed at his calm reception of this terrible news.

“Ah, Mata,” he asked, “How was it that you did not prevent your child from disappearing from you, was he not with you on your back while you were gathering firewood?

Then Mata had to tell the truth, she had been asleep.

“And this is what you have been doing every day, instead of bringing back the wood for the fire you have been sleeping?”

“Yes, my husband.”

“Do you not like cooked food, my wife? If we have no fire we cannot cook our meal. I think you would prefer yours straight from the sack, quite dry, or shall we mix it with a little water?”

Mata was very proud. She did not want to tell the chief why she had stayed away from the village every day. She ate the raw meal for two days. She could not understand why no one seemed to be concerned about the disappearance of her child. On the third day her husband approached her. “Do you have something more to tell me about, Mata?”

Finally she broke down and explained about how she felt being the youngest wife.

The chief laughed and smacked his thighs. “Ah, Mata, Mata, I know exactly what you are talking about. As you know I was the youngest of eight boys. They all told me what to do all the time. I had to learn to say ’No’, and to speak up for myself. That is what you must do from now on. Don’t be afraid of Bulala, she is not unkind. Just tell her what you think is fair, and I know she will be just.”

“But how can you laugh? Your son is missing and I don’t know where he is?” wailed Mata.

At that moment the child appeared in the arms of a smiling young man, Bulala’s eldest son, his own half brother.

Mata screamed and ran towards him, overjoyed; the baby held out his arms to his mother who scooped him up and disappeared into her rondavel with him.

The chief looked at his eldest son. “You, Soli, you learn from this . Don’t use your seniority to make others do more than their share of the work, and do better than me, notice when it is happening to those much more junior than yourself.”