An iPub Author Interview
Dr. Fawzia Mai Tung, author of upcoming book “The Wonderful Tale of Donkey Skin”, sat down with us to share why and how she wrote the book. More are planned for the “May Fairy” series.
1. What is it about your book that makes it for reluctant readers?
Reluctant readers know how to read, but have yet to develop metacognition, or upper-level thinking. The May Fairy series is written as a conversation between a story-teller and a listener, with the child questioning the adult along the way. As the adult replies, so does the reader start thinking — questioning, relating, analyzing, concluding, predicting — about ideas beyond the written story. With more and more such books, the child will acquire those skills and start applying them when reading.
Since they are slow readers, these children get bored easily with anything beyond action. So, there is a lot of action! When there are descriptions, they are amazing and magical.
2. How will this book encourage below-average readers?
Similarly, below-average readers at the middle grade level hesitate to pick up a book and read. They find that middle grade books now have too many words and no more pictures, which used to make reading more pleasurable when they were younger. Illustrations also made it easier to understand the plot and thus guess at the words they couldn’t quite figure out. In the May Fairy series, the story is introduced and concluded with a page of comics, and illustrated every couple of pages with a full-page, full-color whimsical watercolor.
One important issue is that even though a child may have below-average reading skills, their mind is not below average. With television and social media, today’s children are exposed to ideas way beyond what we think they know. Thus, they are bored stiff with books at their reading level, which are speaking to much younger children.
3. Why would a school district want to invest in your book and your future books in the series?
The author, Fawzia Mai Tung, has many years of experience as an English Language Arts and Literature teacher. She has added child-friendly activities as well as teacher resources at the back of the book (and linked below) to facilitate a teacher’s use of this book in the classroom, including tips on how to read the book in class.
As children read either as a group or in turns, then practice the intonation, voice, and emotions of the speaker, they eventually start mastering reading fluency.
4. What do you consider the most important aspects of your book?
By drawing the reader with illustrations into the story and involving them in thinking about and discussing it, the May Fairy books reassure children that reading can be interesting and pleasurable. Eventually, it is hoped that these children will become book lovers.
The series includes both fiction and non-fiction books. The Wonderful Tale of Donkey Skin is fiction. It is based on the French fairy tale Peau d’Ane by Charles Perrault. However, certain details not compatible with today’s sensibilities have been changed. More interesting parts have been elaborated upon, such as the descriptions of the three magical dresses.
One important aspect of the book is involving the child in the creation of the plot. When the child is shocked and dismayed by the prince’s eye going blind, he asks Nainai to change that part. And she does, to his great satisfaction.
5. What inspired you to write this book?
Peau d’Ane was one of my favorite fairy tales growing up in France. When I decided to write children’s books, the first thing that came to mind was not only to share this lovely story with children here in the US, but to improve on it.
6. What did you learn by writing this book? Did anything surprise you while writing it?
The first thing that happened was that all the little children I’ve told stories to in my lifetime (and there are so many of them) started talking in my head as I attempted to tell the story. They kept interrupting me — the way they always do — and challenging my statements. It came to the point where I simply had to include them in the book. Thus, the conversation format was born.
What I learned? That a writer is never in control of the words on the paper. The book takes on a life of its own.
7. Were the characters inspired by real people?
The characters in Donkey Skin are from the original tale, but the characters of Nainai and Zakiyy are based on myself and a composite child made up of all the children I have told stories to. These all came together as my eldest grandson, Zakiyy.
8. What is the significance of this book and your future series?
My first surprise was that all my students loved this book, regardless of grade level: elementary, middle, or high school. I knew I was onto something that children wanted. Thus, I wrote a second, a third, and then a fourth book. Different children prefer different things. Some like fairy tales more, others like biographies that sound like fairy tales. Some love the watercolors, others the comics, and yet others the fact that they feel in control of the plot through the conversation. There is something for everyone in this book. I believe that this series can and will make a difference for many children and open their way onto the love of reading.
“The Wonderful Tale of Donkey Skin” (ISBN 978-1-948575-60-7) will be published in May. Order your copy here and download free resources here!