The Master Classes: The Bird Teacher Xiang Hua and British Film Director Sal Anderson
Posted 11/08/2019 01:43PM


Imagine if writers, professors, directors, and artists from around the world become teachers of children. 

Every year, Keystone Academy welcomes scholars, industry specialists, and remarkable professionals from around the world who bring their diverse perspectives to our learning spaces. In our Master Class series, we profile these experts who break down the complexities of human nature through their terrific journeys and inspiring stories. 

“The Bird Teacher” Xiang Hua Flies Keystone Pupils into the World of Chinese Folktales


Caption: Xiang Hua tells his audience the story of how Hung Gur and his burgundy horse defeated an evil force to bring peace and serenity in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia

What better way to encourage children to read than by showing them a picture book. But what makes a successful book is when it passes a pearl of wisdom to its young readers.  

Renowned Chinese children’s book author Xiang Hua 向华 is committed to producing child-suitable picture books that convey the charms of the Chinese folk stories. This part of Chinese literature has brought the cultures of various ethnic groups to life and nourished the minds of many generations. Through these stories, children have been able to understand and learn from their rich national heritage. 

In the Chinese market, many high-quality children’s picture books are translated from Western literature, and only a few represent Chinese culture very well. 

“Many of the current picture books for children are really not age-appropriate,” said Elaine Yin, teacher-librarian at Keystone Academy Primary School Library. “Their content is too shallow and lacks cultural and spiritual aspects. But Xiang Hua’s books are based on folktales that have been passed down from generation to generation. Not only they contain the wisdom and spirit of our ancestors; they are created for the children of this generation.” 

Xiang, who goes by the epithet “The Bird Teacher” as he likens himself to the free-flying animal, flew his way to Keystone on October 8. He brought with him his newly published picture books, “Hunggur” and “Zhuang Jin.” These two complete his popular 10-part book series whose stories come from Chinese folk fairy tales.

In a session with an audience of Primary School pupils, Xiang shared how he creates his books from scratch. He captures the stories of Chinese ethnic groups by going to their communities and experiencing their way of living. Before his picture books are published, Xiang runs through their plot multiple times, with some taking at least three years to complete since he collects materials from folk sources. His painstaking journey of writing a picture book’s narrative deviates from the norm in the market, where publishers sloppily translate stories from foreign sources or quickly put up books for profit. 

Keystone pupils were all eyes and ears as The Bird Teacher went on to tell the story of Hung Gur. They were so engaged that they flocked towards Xiang and asked him for more stories even after the session concluded. 

“It is good for Chinese children to grow up exposed to their heritage,” Yin said. “This will not only deepen their sense of national identity but also encourage them to learn and think deeper.” 

Xiang Hua is the teaching consultant of the Central Academy of Fine Arts Picture Book Creation Studio and the founder of the Han Miao Creative Park. His works include the animated film The Lotus Lamp, animated TV series Music Up, and the picture books Chinese Folk Fairy Tales Series and BABY PANDA.

Mixed Emotions: British Film Director Sal Anderson on How Keystone Actors Can Access Feelings


Imagine you’re with a group of actors facing each other but with eyes closed. Then your director walks behind the group, speaking softly and telling everyone to visualize a scene and get ready to act. The director’s voice seems to come closer to you, as if it is a whisper. And then the sound fades away. 

What did you feel? 

That was the question of producer and film director Sal Anderson to Grade 12 students during her directing workshop at Keystone on September 25. She challenged the seniors to articulate their emotions during the activity.

“I felt fear,” one student said. “And my stomach was uneasy,” he added, responding to Anderson’s query about where that emotion originated.

The director said this session briefly showed how actors could channel the tension coming from their bodies and release it as emotion. 

“Feeling is a gift. Use it in the right way,” she continued. But in film, Anderson said directors have a powerful role as an “enabler,” in which they help actors access and explore the feelings and emotions available to them. “Your emotions matter. Knowing it requires humility of perceiving the world around us and being lost in the dark to find something new.” 

During her stay, Anderson acted as a special guest speaker for the Student Media Service KAP (Keystone Activities Program) and held master class workshops with Drama teachers Sarah Koegler-Clarke, Karen Bailey-Summers, and Joel Godiah. 

In addition, Anderson shared her expertise in film making and helped Grade 12 students devise original pieces of theater scripts. She was impressed with the “open, responsive, and articulate” students, many of whom were the youngest that she has taught.

Anderson wrapped up her visit to Keystone with a public speech to Grade 9 students, wherein she talked about an “emphasis on thinking” when students do art projects.  

“In the arts, reflection on how we feel and the role of emotion, and how we can communicate and understanding emotion, is much less articulated in cultures such as England’s, which is very restrained. I think there’s the same kind of ‘restraint’ [holding back] here in China, but students need to gauge with what’s happening with their feelings,” she explained.

Sal Anderson is a British film director and a senior lecturer at the London College of Communication. Before working in the film industry, Anderson was an archeologist at the Natural History Museum in Paris. She had written for scientific publications before she studied directing and scriptwriting at the National Film and TV School in the United Kingdom.


More of the Keystone Master Class Series

Crowning Glory: Wig Artisan Liz Printz Teaches Keystone Thespians the Art of Hair Design 

Brilliant Ideas: Mark Sutton Vane Holds Light Design Talks at Keystone Academy 

The Poem Begins Me: Susan Kinsolving on the Virtues of Poetry 

American Artist Greg Ruhe Brings His Passion for Education Through Puppetry Arts to the Classroom

Discovering Native American Oral Traditions with Dr. Delphine Red Shirt 

In Review: Journeying into the World of Pixar with Director Anthony Christov

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