Today, I am taking part in the It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? meme hosted by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers.


Middle Grade Novel with  magic & treachery

Middle Grade Novel with magic & treachery


I Coriander autographed copyI, Coriander

Sally Gardner

Puffin Books

8 years and up

This weekend, I finished reading Sally Gardner’s very first novel “I Coriander”. It’s a middle grade read about a young girl Coriander, whose idyllic life is thrown into disarray with the mysterious death of her beautiful mother and her father leaving to escape arrest, for his loyalty to the King. This story is set in the time of the Commonwealth, after the Royalists lost the Civil War and King Charles I had been executed in 1649. Beyond the setting and weaving in some values imposed by extremists in the Puritan camp who took over after the King’s demise, this is not a historical kind of book.

It is one which weaves in a magical world that exists in parallel with the human world, which Coriander journeys to, in her discovery of the mystery about her mother’s death, her own destiny as a child of a fairy and the magical silver shoes that transport her there.

I bought this book at the Asian Festival of Content this June, along with a few more of Sally Gardner’s books, which she kindly autographed for me. Sally gave an amazing keynote speech at the Teachers/Parents’ tract of the Festival about her journey with dyslexia, which just makes her story of Coriander, who goes from distress to triumph, that much more powerful.

I’m looking forward to reading Gardner’s other titles.

Today, Mummum is pleased to speak to Marjorie Coughlan, Founder of Mirrors Windows Doors, an online magazine spotlighting children’s and Young Adult books with cultural diversity, as resource for librarians, educators, parents and caregivers.

Marjorie was previously editor of the well-regarded Paper Tigers. I first met Marjorie at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she was invited as speaker. She returned to AFCC this year to conduct a book review masterclass with renowned children’s books critic Leonard Marcus.


Marjorie: Hello, Emily – thank you for inviting me to take part in your wonderful High Chair Conversations series.

1. What are 2 things you want everyone to know about Mirrors Windows Doors? What inspired the name?

Marjorie: MWD celebrates multi-cultural diversity in children’s and YA literature from around the world, and promotes good books that open young people to an increased sense of empathy with the world, whether close by and familiar or across the globe.

MWD is aimed chiefly at adults – parents, teachers, librarians – choosing books for young people, though it would be great to introduce an area on the site for young readers at some point down the line.


Mirror_SuzyLeeThe name Mirrors Windows Doors is taken from the metaphor that children need to find themselves in books, as well as gain an outlook on different worlds, whether real or imaginary – and that books provide a conduit for young people to go out into the world confident of their own place in it; stretching out their hands in friendship; and respecting and celebrating the rich diversity of our wonderful human race.

I give a bit of background to this metaphor, and why I love it, on MWD’s About page.


2.How is it different from PaperTigers which you were previously with?

Marjorie: In terms of the ethos of the site, it is no different; and indeed, I hope that MWD will be able to build on PaperTigers’ legacy – and I’m grateful for the support that MWD has received from the wonderful network of PaperTigers supporters in the kidlit world. Like PaperTigers, MWD has a global outlook, highlighting good books in English, wherever they are published, and their creators and publishers, as well as literacy promoters across the world. The PaperTigers site is still available as a very rich archive, and MWD will certainly link to it on a regular basis.

TheHelloGoodbyeWindowA few years ago, PaperTigers set up the Spirit of PaperTigers project, which sent out specially chosen sets of books to schools and libraries in different parts of the world. This aspect of PaperTigers has evolved into the non-profit WaterBridge Outreach (http://www.waterbridgeoutreach.org/) , which combines water projects with the book giving, still at a grass roots level. I am sure that MWD will maintain strong links with WaterBridge Outreach, as regards the books chosen for the book set, and perhaps with more active support in the future.

I suppose the difference, really, is that while PaperTigers was a project of Pacific Rim Voices, MWD is independent. This means that the last few months have been a steep learning curve for me on the technological side! So, on a personal level, it’s great to be able to concentrate on the books properly again, now that the site is up and running.


OldmanAndHisDoor3. What kind of books are you interested to review?

Marjorie: I am interested in reviewing books from any genre and written for any age-group from 0 to YA that exemplify one of the three aspects of the Mirrors Windows Doors metaphor, with a particular focus on ethnic diversity and opening up the world. This often means that a book’s setting may be in a particular country/culture, but the themes will be universal. I don’t usually review books that I don’t like – not because I won’t write a negative review, but because the purpose of MWD is to promote good literature and I have a limited amount of time to write my reviews. I am open to reviewing self-published books, as well as books in English or bilingual with English from publishing houses anywhere in the world.


4. What’s your favourite book from childhood? Why?

Marjorie: Oh dear, one book? I am definitely going to have to cheat on this one! There are quite a few books from my childhood that still resonate with me as an adult but I’ve whittled it down to these few… I grew up with Beatrix Potter and Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit books (illustrated by Margaret Tempest) and I still love the illustrations especially. As a child, the stories and the characters really lived for me. I still think of Timmy Tiptoes every time I see a grey squirrel; and teasel will always be Little Grey Rabbit’s hair brush (http://www.plantlife.org.uk/wild_plants/plant_species/teasel). It probably helped that I was surrounded by the English Lake District/countryside landscapes they were set in too. Some of our family’s copies had belonged to my mother, mostly, and some to my father, when they were children; and even when I was small, I loved the thick, old paper that had blank pages – I think my love of the physical book, and especially old books, right down to the smell, started then.

Gobbolino the Witch's CatI loved all the Babar stories – my Dad’s old Babar and Father Christmas, a much bigger book to hold than any of my own, was at my Grandad’s house. I remember vividly the day I was finally able to read the strange curly font for myself, rather than getting Dad to read it to me – and elephants have always been my favourite animal.

I read and re-read Ursula Moray Williams’ Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and The Little Wooden Horse – their terrible ordeals and their consistent faith that they would get through them – and the fact, of course, that they did – and without their characters being blighted – are all aspects that I must have lived at the time, though I might not have been able to say it then. The books both made me cry when I read them to my sons a few years ago.

I suppose the stories that have stayed my companions since first reading them as an older child are Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, and Little Women – I read them and their sequels every two or three years. I think Anne, especially, has offered something new at every reading as I have got older and I empathise with her at the different stages of her life. And one day I will visit Prince Edward Island!


5.What’s the first word that describes your reading style?

Marjorie: I would say ‘absorbed’: within about five seconds of getting my nose in a book, I become oblivious to my surroundings. This can be annoying for the family and has its inconveniences like missing train stops, but is great when you’re waiting in a long queue!

Thank you, Emily, I’ve enjoyed ‘chatting’ with you and look forward to welcoming you to MWD.


Mummum: Marjorie, thanks for sharing about your exciting new site. I look forward to seeing myself in the mirrors, looking through the windows and walking through the doors of your impactful book reviews!

I usually end with a photo of Caleb on my High Chair Conversations post. But thanks to Marjorie, I’m putting a different face to childish behaviour here.

Marjorie3 (DavidSeow&me)

Eagle-eyed Marjorie glimpsed how kidlit rivalry can get when children’s authors get “up in arms” trying to get “ahead” of one another and captured this storyboard through her reviewer lens.

Today, I am taking part in the It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? meme hosted by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers.

mondayreading1Monday Reading2

I read 4 picture books this week. Thanks to Debbie of Styling Librarian for 3 of the 4 picture book recommendations.

Pirates vs Cowboys

Pirates vs Cowboys

Aaron Reynolds, Illustrated by David Barneda

Alfred A. Knopf

I was attracted to the title and liked the idea of a boy book pitching Pirates vs Cowboys. Unfortunately, the slanging characters didn’t appeal to me.

A Bucket of Blessings

A Bucket of Blessings

Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal, Illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong

Simon and Schuster

When the village encounters a drought, Monkey recalls his mother’s tale of how peacocks can make rain by dancing. Monkey sets off with his empty bucket and hope that his mother’s story is true.

A Bucket of Blessings page

A Bucket of Blessings, a retelling of an Indian myth, is a simple tale of hope and perseverance. I like how the text is short and crisp and the illustrations have a contemporary feel to it. It’s an important reminder of how we can take that first step to be a blessing to others one step (or bucket) at a time.
A Piece of Cake

A Piece of Cake

LeUyen Pham

Harper Collins Children’s

This is a clever story of how kind Mouse is taken advantage of by various animals when he delivers a birthday cake that he specially made for Little Bird’s birthday. Along the way, he passes several animals who offer to trade him second-rate items in exchange for a slice of the cake.

A Piece of Cake page 1

Although Chicken has loads of eggs, he offers to trade a cork. Although Squirrel has a field of nuts, he offers to trade a wire. Kind Mouse finds it hard to refuse and ends up with a bunch of seemingly useless items and no cake by the time he reaches Little Bird’s house.

A Poece of Cake page 2

Little Bird accepts the items gratefully and shows Mouse how he can trade these for better things. I like how the story takes several turns as Little Bird surprises with his wit and Mouse remains kind to the animals that traded him all the second-rate items.


Singing Shijimi Clams

Naomi Kojima


A miserable old witch brings home some shijimi clams for dinner. As she prepares bonito flakes and her miso soup broth to boil the clams in, she hears noises coming from the bowl. It turns out that the clams are sleeping and snoring. Her multiple attempts to cook the clams fail as their peaceful sleep softens her mean heart and she settles for miso soup without clams. I won’t give the ending away except that the singing clams do eventually soften the witch and change her for the better.

Singing Shijimi Clams page 2

Naomi incorporated Japanese food ingredients into her story. But beyond that, it’s not a cultural story. Well, I love miso soup and I enjoyed this savoury read.

This book and I have missed each other three times. Every time I placed a reservation at the library, it was either slow in coming in or too early before my other book reservations, so I paid reservation fees thrice but only got hold of the book now. Actually, I missed this 3rd reservation by a day. But this time, I decided to check out the library shelves and found they had released my reserved book there!

I was resolute on getting hold of this book for two reasons. I was inspired by an amazing keynote presentation which Naomi Kojima gave at the Asian Festival Children’s of Content where she introduced us to several successful Asian content creators whose books travelled widely out of their home markets. Secondly, Naomi also shared about how it took 20 years before the English rights of Singing Shimiji Clams was picked up by U.S. publisher Kane Miller because by now, miso soup is no longer a strange soup. So, more than witches and miso soup, it speaks to me about how hard it can be for Asian content to travel at times. I hope that it will change as the world gets more connected.

Today, I am taking part in the It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? meme hosted by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers.

Monday Reading2


I enjoyed my four picture book reads this week and also learnt a couple of things about other cultures.

First, my food culture reads:

Celebrating the Jewish Festival of Lights

Celebrating the Jewish Festival of Lights

Hanukkah Bear

Eric A. Kimmel , Illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

Holiday House

I was very tickled by Hanukkah Bear (recommended by Debbie of Styling Librarian). 97-year old Bubba Brayna cannot see or hear well but still makes the best potato latkes in the village. This year’s Hanukkah is different because she has a special guest, the rabbi, who is visiting on top of all her friends. When a hungry old bear turns up at her doorstep as her first guest, she mistakes it for the rabbi. As the bear growls and grunts and wolfs down her latkes, she continues her hilarious one-way conversation right till it leaves.

Hanukkah Bear

Hanukkah Bear

My favourite line:

“I’ll take your coat, Rabbi. My, how thick it is!” Bubba Brayna tugged at Old Bear’s fur.

My 2nd favourite line comes when Bubba send off Old Bear with Happy Hanukkah greetings. As she wraps a red scarf around it before it leaves, Old Bear licks her face:

“Bubba Brayna blushed. “Oh Rabbi! At my age!”

I also learnt that Latkes (or potato pancakes) is a traditional Hanukkah dish in celebration  of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.

Bee-bim Bop

Bee-Bim Bop

Linda Sue Park, Illustrated by Ho Baek Lee

Clarion Books

After reading The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park, I decided to borrow Bee-Bim Bop (recommended by Katie of The Logonauts).

A young girl rushes her mother through the preparation of Bee-Bim Bop, from their grocery shopping for the ingredients through the entire cooking process. Bee-bim Bop is a popular Korean dish of rice mixed up with meat and vegetables, eggs made into flat omelette and kimchi.

Korean "mixed up rice" dish

Korean “mixed up rice” dish

Although it is a Korean dish, the story feels familiar to me because we have a similar dish in Singapore called Mui Fan, which is pretty much a rice dish mixed with vegetables and meat. Minus the famous Korean kimchi. Here, I eat everything with chilli so that’s our “equivalent” ingredient.


Then, two other reads which I picked up because I wanted to read books by these authors/illustrators.

Asian flavoured book on shapes

Asian flavoured book on shapes

Round is a Mooncake – A Book of Shapes

Roseanne Thong, Illustrated by Grace Lin

Chronicles Books

I rarely come across Asian-flavoured concept books so I was attracted to this title. I like the familiarity of the comparisons, from mooncakes to lanterns and down to the detailing of the Chinese rice bowl.


And finally, my favourite read of the four titles.

On My Way to Buy Eggs

A trip down to the provision shop

On My Way to Buy Eggs

Chih-Yuan Chen


I looked up for more Chih-Yuan titles after loving his Guji-Guji which I read last week. On my Way to Buy Eggs is a quiet book ie. what many publishers currently would not want because they don’t stand out and shout out, so to speak. I am glad that Kane/Miller published it.

I love how the main character, a young girl, turns a simple errand run to the provision shop to buy eggs for her dad into a whimsical adventure.

She follows the cat’s shadow as it walks on the roof. She picks up  a blue marble and looks through it to see that “the world becomes a blue ocean world”:

On My Way to Buy Eggs Page


She finds her mother’s glasses left outside and puts it on to see:

“Everything is blurry. It’s a blurry world.”

On My Way to Buy Eggs oage

Again, there was a certain familiarity about reading this because it reminded me of my childhood, when I happily idled away my afternoons with little trips to the provision shop downstairs or cycling around the neighbourhood. It’s a world apart from the my nieces’ generation who spend all their time in school at extra-curricular activities and enrichment classes.

Now to dig into store of my childhood memories for some inspiration to write my quiet book!

Today, I am taking part in the It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? meme hosted by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers.


Monday Reading2

I read eight picture books this week, of which four are by Asian authors/illustrators, as part of my conscious efforts to read more works by Asian creators. Overall, the books ranged from so-so to funny-poignant to new favourites.

1) I’ll start with my rated so-so reads:


Dragons love Tacos, D is for Dragon


Dragon Love Tacos

By Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Dial Books for Young Readers

4 years and up

Dragons Love Tacos, written in present tense 2nd person style,  is about how dragons love tacos but not the spicy toppings. I liked the idea but beyond that, it didn’t do hook me.
D is for Dancing Dragon – A China Alphabet

Written by Carol Crane, illustrated by Zong-Zhou Wang

Sleeping Bear Press

6 years and up

I borrowed this because I liked the idea of a Chinese Alphabet. It turned out to be a serious non-fiction introduction to different facets of Chinese culture eg, B is for Beijing, C is for chopsticks etc. I guess it might be interesting to those wanting to learn more about the Chinese culture but its text-heavy small font sidebars didn’t make me want to read it. I also had expectations of a simpler book with a more text-light read so I didn’t get through this one.


2) Then, I had three fun reads:

Chengdu could not sleep

Chengdu could not, would not fall asleep

Barney Saltzberg

Disney/Hyperion Books

3 years and up

This is a seriously cute book. I am amazed that the entire book is premised, and written very sparsely based on the title which pretty much says all the book is about.

Chengdu Pg 1

and my favourite page in the book…

Chengdu Pg 2



Oliver and the Alligator Naked


Michael Ian Black, Illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 

 3 years and up

I borrowed this book because the cover looked strangely like it was a story about my 3-year-old, right down to his hair and facial expression. When I opened the book, I had a sneaky feeling that these creators must have been outside my home and saw Caleb in action.

Naked Pg 1


When I got to this page, I knew for sure that they had. After all, how else would anyone know that Caleb recently decided that the towel would be great as a cape in his repertoire of running stark staring naked out of the bathroom?

Naked Pg 2


Oliver and his Alligator

Paul Schmid

Disney/Hyperion Books

3 years and up

Oliver Pg 1


“Oliver sometimes felt his brave wasn’t nearly as big as he needed it to be.”

This is a very sweet tale of a not-so-brave little boy on his first day of school. He picks up an alligator on the way to school to up his brave factor.

Oliver Pg 2

His alligator eats up everyone and everything that scares him.

Oliver Pg 2

I really love Paul Schmid’s whimsical artwork style with his use of pencil-like strokes .

3) I also had an unexpectedly poignant read. A book on my reserved list wasn’t ready but as I wanted to borrow my maximum quota of 8 books, I browsed the library shelves and stumbled on this.

The Third Gift

The Third Gift 

Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Clarion Books

5 years and up

This is not a picture book that I would typically pick up because the artwork isn’t a style that appeals to me. But seeing Linda Sue Park as the author (and yes, my antenna is up for Asian creators), I decided to read it there and then to see if I would want to borrow it home. Which I did.


The Third Gift Pg 2

“My father collects tears. That is what they are called: the pearls of sap that seep out of a tree when the bark is cut. Maybe they are called tears because it seems as if the tree is crying.”

I found this a most fascinating read when I later learnt that these tears are actually used to produce myrrh. The extract, which comes from plants native to the Middle East, is used in ancient times as a medicinal herb, as an additive to wine, in incense and perfume. But its primary use is as an embalming oil and funerary incense.

The ending touched me and surprised me so I won’t spoil it by giving it away. But I will just say that the young narrator meets a few strangers who decide that myrrh would make a fitting third gift. This is the first Linda Sue Park book that I have read and I will be checking out her other titles for sure.

4) And lastly, I read two books which went right up to my Favourite Picture Books List:


Flight School


Flight School

Lita Judge

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

3 years and up

The opening page was brilliant and the two sentences that nailed it for me was when Penguin said “I was hatched to fly.” and when reminded that penguins don’t fly, he replied “Undeniably…I But have the soul of an eagle.”

Flight School

A flightless bird wanting to fly is a common theme. Yet Lita Judge gives it such a fresh spin. In page one, she sets up the problem and the character so brilliantly in just a few lines. I want to write like that when I grow up soon!


Identity, belonging, choices

Identity, belonging, choices


Chih Yuan Chen

Gecko Press

3 years and up

Originally published in Mandarin, Guji-Guji became a New York Times bestseller when the English edition was published. I was introduced to this book by author/illustrator Naomi Kojima’s Keynote Presentation at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content.

I love everything about this picture book, from the crisp text, brilliant illustrations and heartfelt story question that confronts Guji-Guji – “Do I have to behave like a crafty crocodile because I look like one?”

It starts when Guji-Guji’s egg rolls into a duck’s nest.

Guji-Guji Page 1

“Mother Duck didn’t notice. She was reading.”

Isn’t this the coolest Mother Duck?

Guji-Guji page 2


“A rather odd duckling hatched from the fourth egg.”

Guji-Guji page 3


“But no matter how quick they were, or what they looked like, Mother Duck loved all her ducklings the same.”

Again, the author gave the minor character so much character with this single line.

Guji-Guji page 4


This is very much a story about family, belonging and acceptance even when the 4th duckling looks much like a crocodile. And when Guji-Guji finally meets some crafty crocodiles, he has to make his choice over his crocodile nature and his family’s nurture.

This book is a keeper. I’m still hanging onto my library copy for now but my own copy will be shipped in soon.

All round, it’s a satisfying picture book reading week!

Today, I am taking part in It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.


Monday Reading2


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.


Bilingual Children's Picture Book

Bilingual Children’s Picture Book


Star Anise, Superstar! bilingual picture book

Star Anise, Superstar! bilingual picture book

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.


Fun at the opera cover

Fun at the opera pageFun at the Opera

By Susanna Goho-Quek

Oyez! Books

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.



SSD-4-Duchess-bookA Day with the Duchess (Sam, Sebbie and Di-Di-Di Book 3)

Written by David Seow

Epigram Books

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.



Shabu ShabuThe Wee Adventures of Shabu Shabu – The Silk Route (Book 2)

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).



Paw Prints and the Itchy SpotsPurple Paw Prints and the Itchy Spots

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 Girl Overboard

Princess Petunia’s Dragon

By Emma Nicholson

Bonnie Books

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

Epigram Books

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.


Locked Up Boy

Not in the Stars

Written by Pauline Loh

Scholastic Asia

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.

AFCC Launch for Prince Bear & Pauper Bear Theatre Show

AFCC Launch for my Prince Bear & Pauper Bear Theatre Show

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.

Today, Mummum is talking to Dr Ken Spillman, one of Australia’s most prolific and versatile authors, editors and critics. Ken also sits on the Board of Advisers for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, which I am involved in at the programme committee level.

Ken Spillman

1. You are a very prolific author and speaker. Can you take us back in time to how you got your big break with your first book published?

Ken: During my late teens I wrote short stories and poems, and the publication of these in highly regarded Australian literary magazines gave me confidence that I could succeed as an author.

Immediately after completing a degree, I was commissioned to write a history book. This resulted in many more commissions and the problem then became carving out enough time to pursue creative work. Nevertheless, I kept writing and publishing stories and poems for adults while also publishing history books until my first novel appeared in 1999. The success of that book was a turning point in my career – from then on, I was 100% committed to my own ideas and much less interested in writing non-fiction for a living.

Jake's Cooking Craze - front cover2.Name 2 moments when you knew for sure that being an author of children’s books was your calling.

Ken: I didn’t think seriously about writing for children until I had published about 10 books for adults. At that time, the highlight of my day was reading stories to my own young children. I read with great passion, using different voices for all the characters.

One day, one of my sons asked in all innocence: “Why don’t you write some interesting books?”

I thought about that for a while, and found myself actually agreeing with him! I had always loved kids and I had always loved stories – it just seemed natural to put those two things together.

The 2nd “moment” occurred when I started doing school visits. I loved interacting with young readers and soon discovered that I had a natural connection with them, not only as an author but as an entertainer.


3. Which is your favourite book from childhood. Why?

Ken: I was entranced by Robin Hood. Apart from the adventure, the whole idea of a righteous outsider standing up to authority and supporting the poor appealed to me – and perhaps helped shaped me. I loved Mark Twain’s stories too, and I think that’s because they fulfilled my fantasies about a life beyond parental control.

My favourite children’s books now are really books for all ages, like The Little Prince and Dr Seuss’s wonderful The Sneetches.


The Circle -front cover
4. Being on the Board of Advisers for AFCC, what are two things you personally hope to see more of in children’s books coming out from Asia?

Ken: Stories that grow from Asian contexts and reflect the diversity of Asian cultures and experiences should be read all round the world, in many translations and on multiple platforms.

My dream is for all the best writers and illustrators in the region to more regularly cross national boundaries, and to develop more financially sustainable practices. I believe strongly that the world is deprived while that is not happening, and that two things can help it to occur: more risk-taking in the content area, and more meticulous professional editing.

5. What words of advice can you offer to aspiring authors in Asia?

Ken: I remember reading the reply of Singaporean author David Seow to a similar question: “Don’t do it.”

My version of that is this: unless you’re prepared to work very hard for a very long time, and for very little in the way of tangible rewards, you should embrace some other ambition. The truth is that writers rarely write because they want to – they write because they need to. A deep commitment to the power of stories and a love of words are what writers share, and these must be the basic drivers. Without those, the personal cost of the work required will be too great. But with them, anything is possible and magic can happen!

Caleb Downunder

A Highchair moment Down Under in 2012!

Mummum: Ken, thanks for sharing your story and advice! I totally agree that anything is possible  for those of us committed to the love of words :). Read more about Ken’s books at his website.


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