Format Blending for Reluctant Readers
By Kathleen Leaf
A review of the upcoming “The Wonderful Tale of Donkey Skin” by Dr. Fawzia Mai Tung. The first in the “May Fairy” series, this book was written for the middle-grade reluctant reader in mind. This cross between oral storytelling and graphic novel solves problems these children have with picture and chapter books and will encourage…
Author Dr. Fawzia Mai Tung kicks off her May Fairy series with The Wonderful Tale of Donkey Skin. As discussed in a previous post, Dr. Tung started this series with the aim of attracting reluctant readers (those who have the skill to read but are hesitant to) at the middle-grade level (between the ages of 8 and 12). As a librarian, Kathleen knows how important it is for children to develop positive reading habits. The Wonderful Tale of Donkey Skin—the first in the May Fairy series—appeals to these ambivalent readers by deftly blending oral storytelling with a pseudo-graphic novel format.
The book recounts Charles Perrault’s tale, Donkey Skin. This is no mere retelling, however. The story of Princess Gomikky and her adventure is told as a dialogue between the main characters, Grandma Nainai, and her grandson, Zakiyy. A comic strip-style illustration of Nainai reading the story to Zakiyy starts off the book. The next page shows the dialogue between them:
This format serves a few different purposes. Many children are likely familiar with oral storytelling if their parents have read to them or if they’ve attended a story-time program or event (perhaps at their local library!). A natural dialogue grows from oral storytelling, which is perfectly captured in Donkey Skin. Nainai patiently answers Zakiyy’s questions about unfamiliar words, life in the Middle Ages, and much more in a loving and authentic way. She also isn’t afraid to backtrack and change the story or provide more context in response to Zakiyy’s queries. Children reading Donkey Skin will find their natural curiosity satisfied without feeling embarrassed for having the same questions as Zakiyy.
Further, the dialogue-only format takes up less room allowing for more white space on the page. Typically, the more white space a page has, the easier it is to read, a feature important for reluctant readers. If they see too many words on a page, reluctant readers may feel intimidated and will be less likely to read it. My only criticism is that more white space could have been added, especially line spacing within longer paragraphs.
Illustrations add considerable appeal for reluctant readers. One of, if not the primary reason graphic novels attract elementary and middle school children is the illustration. While not strictly a graphic novel, Donkey Skin does successfully incorporate elements of one. Light, whimsical artwork is showcased every few pages encouraging movement through the story by breaking up text and providing more context.
Donkey Skin is a hybrid between a picture book and a chapter book. Middle-grade reluctant readers may have problems with each of these formats independent of each other as they:
- might feel they’re too old for a picture book, and
- might find the amount of text in chapter books daunting.
Donkey Skin addresses these problems by presenting the following solutions:
- There are pictures, but not on every page.
- The balance struck between pictures and text gently encourages reading.
- The dialogue format mimics being read to, helping children feel more comfortable.
The Wonderful Tale of Donkey Skin takes the appeal of the graphic novel format and bridges the gap between early readers and chapter books. The use of a little-known fairy tale will inspire curiosity; children will pick it up for the novelty but will stay for authentic storytelling and engaging illustrations. Parents and teachers will have an excellent tool at their disposal for encouraging continued reading, especially with the teacher resources on Dr. Tung’s website. There is also a ready-made YouTube video for read-alongs:
We are looking forward to more of Dr. Tung’s May Fairy series!
Reblogged this on Author Elyse Draper .