Interview with Jennifer Burke, Author of Mrs. Quisenberry’s Birthday
Motivating children to read can be challenging enough, so how do you interest early learners in second-language reading books?
I think early second-language readers are motivated by a fast-moving storyline with unexpected twists. Humor is also an important element and helps to keep the readers engaged.
Which themes do you incorporate into your books to capture a child’s imagination?
When I start to write a story, I don’t have a particular theme in mind. The theme evolves from the storyline and the characters themselves. I try to write stories that contain bits of humor, have happy resolutions and will hopefully appeal to children of all ages.
How do you find the balance between making a story vivid, interesting and educational and alienating readers with complicated vocabulary?
I try to use as much dialogue in my stories as possible. It is not difficult to write dialogue with simplified vocabulary that is easier for early readers to understand. Good dialogue can also help reveal a character’s personality and move a storyline forward quickly. Often, early readers can get bogged down in long descriptive passages, so I try to avoid them if I can.
How do you envisage this book being taught in a classroom?
I think there are a myriad of ways this story could be used in the classroom. These are just a few ideas:
- Begin by asking the learners questions about their own experiences:
- Do their parents and grandparents have birthday parties?
- What other holidays are celebrated in their families?
- Are there any special decorations?
- Do they know any elderly people who have pets?
- How do they celebrate their birthdays?
- Have learners research the holiday celebrations in the USA presented in the story and report their findings to a small group. Then, have them compare them with holiday celebrations in their own country, e.g. Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July.
- Stop reading the story with the learners at the point where Mrs. Quisenberry realizes she has forgotten to invite any guests to her party and have learners imagine what will happen next.
- After completing the story, learners could present a puppet theater, a role-play or a readers’ theater to the class. I can imagine some learners might enjoy playing the role of Buttercup!
- Learners could draw a scene or a comic strip of the story and tell the story to a partner or to the class. This could also be done as a class project.
- Learners could draw a picture of a birthday present they might give to Mrs. Quisenberry and explain why.