Today, I am taking part in It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.
With Singapore celebrating her 49th birthday this month, I decided I should have a Singapore week. So, this week’s books are all by my author friends living in Singapore. All books were launched in recent months, many at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in May this year, so they may not be available outside of Singapore yet.
Star Anise, Superstar!
Written by Linn Shekinah
The Almond Tree
This is the first in the Asian Spice Kids 5-picture book series self-published by Linn Shekinah. It’s a charming bilingual picture book (English and Mandarin) with main characters based on Asian spices Star Anise, Chilli, Cinnanon, Clove and Shallot. Star Anise tries to out-sing all her friends to stardom but her vocals are not her strength. The truth hurts and through that, she learns that a real star doesn’t seek to outshine others.
By Susanna Goho-Quek
This lovely picture book captures author and illustrator Susanna’s childhood memories of her family who ran an opera troupe. It offers a vignette of a bygone era in Singapore where Chinese operas were still in fashion. I like the sparse text and raw-style illustrations which keep with that era, painting a dreamy day for a bunch of mischievous kids who enjoy opera in their own way – running backstage when Grandma isn’t watching.
Written by David Seow
The 3rd in this popular picture book series, this book is inspired by the recent visit of Prince William and Duchess Kate Middleton to Singapore. The three siblings (based on David’s nephew and nieces) come face to face with royalty, only to lose their beloved hamster Kate. The children scramble to keep up with the Prince and Duchess’ itinerary in Singapore hoping to retrieve their pet. David Seow is one of Singapore’s pioneer authors who started writing when no one dared to venture this lonely path.
By Michael Csokas and Kristina Thornton
Steam Powered Productions
The second book in this series of an avid bunny explorer named Shabu Shabu was launched at the AFCC successfully with the help of three real rabbits. It’s a charming fully illustrated storybook (not picture book), which gives a contemporary spin to legends and animal characters in Asia. Kristina has lived in Asia for several years (and now Singapore).
Written by Sarah Mounsey
In this 3rd book and my favourite of her 3 titles, Eddie develops itchy red spots which spread through his entire body. As he runs around trying to find relief, he ends up creating chaos everywhere. He finally recovers from his red spots to find that they have gone elsewhere…Sarah wrote and self-published this Paw Prints picture book series, with the support of the SCBWI Singapore chapter which was restarted in 2010. Her series has won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award.
Princess Petunia’s Dragon
By Emma Nicholson
A charming early chapter book about a feisty princess who longs to keep a dragon for a pet, against her entire castle’s wishes. Princess Petunia plots, schemes and eventually smuggles her idea of a perfect dragon home, which she is forced to reveal at the Dragon party she attends. Emma was previously an editor with a publishing house in UK and is currently living here with her family. She said this book was a dream come true as it was based on a manuscript she had written long ago in UK which was not ready for publishing until several rewrites in Singapore over the past year.
Girl Overboard – A Rose among Thorns
By Sheri Tan
Over the weekend, I read Book 1 of Girl Overboard, a brand new middle grade series about a young girl of U.S. and Singaporean parentage who returns to Singapore after living in New York most of her life. It is inspired by my editor Sheri Tan’s own experience of living in New York for decades, where she was editor in New York’s top publishing houses, before relocating back to Singapore for family reasons. I enjoyed the humour and found myself rooting for the awkward Rosie as she struggles to fit into school and Singapore life.
Epigram books has led the charge of many great new picture book and middle grade children’s titles since it set up over 2 years back. My Tibby & Duckie picture book will be published by Epigram this October and is edited by Sheri.
Not in the Stars
Written by Pauline Loh
This middle-grade book is my favourite for personal reasons. As Pauline is my writing partner, I was the first reader for this manuscript which she wrote in all of two weeks! It went on to win 1st runner-up at the Asian Scholastic Book Award and this year, has been launched in Malaysia, India and Singapore. Pauline has written several picture books to date. To me, this is by far her best and her breakout story, which will pave her way to becoming a great novelist of stories inspired by our Asian roots.
A young tribal girl Mui is asked to fufill her grandma’s dying wish to free a boy from an abandoned locked-up shed. Years later, that mysterious assignment catches up with her when she goes to a wealthy Peranakan household to work as a servant girl. Gripping and lyrical, I actually forgot to put Caleb to sleep when I read this some two years back as I was so engrossed in her manuscript and had to know the ending.
When I was growing up, and actually only until 7 odd years back, there were very few quality local children’s literature published in Singapore. Thanks to the vision and a decade of hard work of AFCC Founder Ramachandran and his minuscule team, the AFCC was birthed along with a slew of publishing initiatives and book awards.
A handful of us authors were birthed through one such initiative, which includes my writing partner Pauline Loh, Linn Shekinah and myself, amongst a few others.
The SCBWI Singapore chapter was restarted which saw a few more successfully self-published titles and authors – Sarah Mounsey, Emma Nicholson, Kirsty Thonton.
Last year, for the first time ever, there were over 60 locally published children’s titles launched last year. A record for a tiny red dot like Singapore which until 6-7 years ago saw only a handful of local children’s titles because Singaporeans are a pragmatic lot and Survival and Success in Singapore as an Author is elusive.
We are still salmon swimming against the tide. But trickle by trickle, I believe our collective efforts will bring about a vibrant canon of children’s books which our children can finally identity with as they see more local settings in the stories.