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I was interviewed for the latest issue of Beanstalk, ECDA’s early childhood publication which goes to all parents with children in childcare centres and kindergartens as well as early childhood practitioners. Beanstalk has a circulation of about 200,000.

In it, I shared 5 tips for parents reading with their young ones.

Beanstalk (Jul-Sep 2015)

Beanstalk (Jul-Sep 2015)

The full article is available ECDA’s Grow@Beanstalk webpage here.

Also, check out 20 How to learn Chinese language tips over at Sakura Hakura’s parenting blog!

This has been quite a week in everything – family, friends and writing-related. Blessings, miracles and time out with friends.

1. No infatuation with infection

Caleb ended his last week of this June’s school holidays with a bacteria infection on his knee that spread to his face. It started innocently enough as a knee scrape. When when he started developing pus spots around the wound and his face, we realized it wasn’t just a regular wound.

The paediatrician took one look at him and put him on extra strong antibiotics. He recovered but was so bored with home detention, that he bounced off the walls and fell on the same wound 6 more times. Thankfully, he finally recovered and returned to school on the second week of the new term.

On the day he returned to school, I experienced a swelling in my ankle that got so painful, that I had the chills and could not walk that night. What were the chances? Turned out that I had a bacteria infection (completely unrelated to Caleb’s) from an insect bite.

Thankfully, all that is past and we are back to normal routine.

2. A visit to Kai Kai & Jia Jia

As Caleb had a day off school this week, I went to pick up copies of The New Face at River Safari, the latest picture book that I wrote for Wildlife Reserves Singapore . Since we were all the way there, we decided to spend half the day at River Safari, when we saw Giant Panda Kai Kai eat bamboo, poop undigested bamboo (yep, it looked like the sugar cane stems after it gets flattened and juiced out through the sugar cane machine).

Lovely weather, lovely outing.

3. White Rabbit, Frozen & Princess Anna

I tend to be overly efficient with scheduling my time for writing, appointments and all when Caleb is in school. This week, I realised that I should in fact schedule time out with Ben for a change! We had a lovely lunch at White Rabbit (name inspired by Alice in Wonderland), something I should remember to do more.

Our very dear friend’s daughter Sasha was selected to play Frozen’s Princess Anna in the very first Disney Classic performance in Singapore.

A few of us girls decided to go watch her performance on the eve of Hari Raya Puasa.

A Disney Classic Night Out

A Disney Classic Night Out

We enjoyed the musical performance and cheered with gusto when Sasha sang “Do you want to build a Snowman?” It was definitely a dream come true for Tania and her daughter Sasha…aka Princess Anna.

Back in my primary school days, the Annie musical came to Singapore and one young Singaporean girl was selected from auditions to play Annie to the envy of all the schoolgirls.

One generation later, Sasha scored the role equivalent of the ’80s Annie and we aunts could not be prouder of our little diva!

9-year old Sasha shines as Princess Anna of Disney's Frozen

9-year old Sasha shines as Princess Anna of Disney’s Frozen

Yesterday ended with a long overdue dinner with another bunch of close friends over a Japanese meal of uni, oysters and chicken liver.

And finally, whilst it’s too early to say, I received an author invitation that had me bouncing like a tiger-bunny!

Thank God for family, friends and favour in unexpected places!

This week, I had the pleasure of being the featured author for Haig Girls’ Primary School’s Literacy Week. I shared my writing journey with 1,200 students who were incredibly engaged and participative.

For the Lower Primary girls, I read my current favorite book for storytelling – Tibby & Duckie. At the point where Duckie took her first flight ever, I had the 600 girls jump to their feet and flap their wings with Duckie. It was like a mini mass dance with me, the mother duck, flapping my wings on stage.

Before I became a mum, I couldn’t imagine myself doing these things. Now, flapping like a wild duck on stage just comes naturally!

Getting ready to soar with Duckie

Getting ready to soar with Duckie

With the Upper Primary, I shared my personal story of my past life of being in the business of buying 5-star hotels to my current vocation of writing and talking to children just like them- Singapore’s future generation of leaders.

During the Question & Answer session with the Upper Primary girls, the questions came fast:
– What’s my inspiration for writing? How long does it take me to write a manuscript? How many drafts do I write for each story? Which is my favorite of my books? Do all my stories have to have happy endings? I said not necessarily so, but it must always have hope.

– How did you overcome your voice condition? A student asked. She said she could not imagine herself coping with a voice disorder. With hope and faith, I said.

I hope I left the girls with food for thought and encouragement for their spirits.

Sharing my writing journey with the girls

Sharing my writing journey with the girls

IMG_6204

Several girls came up to me after the talk to ask more questions. And I had a sweet finish when a girl came running from her classroom with the early hardcover editions of my Toy Titles. She pushed them into my hands for her autographs and smiled gamely when several teachers went “Aww…” and whipped out their phones to snap photos of us together.

IMG_6200

I got home, had some quiet downtime clearing up some non-brainer stuff, then scooted off to pick up my little future-generation-leader from kindergarten.

The Tale of Rusty Horse galloped into his little spotlight to be analyzed as part of the Singapore Story at the 2015 Asian Festival of Children’s Content.

Leading academic John McKenzie, who was awarded the Betty Gilderdale Award for Services to New Zealand Children’s Literature, took a deeper look into a few top Singapore children’s books, which included Linn Shekinah’s The Watchtower Warrior and Sharon Ismail’s What Sallamah Didn’t Know.

Using a form of reading comprehension scaffolding which he developed for teachers, he wanted to show that the picture book isn’t merely simple text for pre-schoolers. And this is what he did for my little Rusty Horse!

AFCC2015 - Rusty1

AFCC2015 Rusty2

AFCC2015 Rusty3  Source: Asia – Land of Perennial Stories (An AFCC 2015 Publication)

 

As I shared in two school talks in the past 2 weeks, The Tale of Rusty Horse was actually the most difficult story I have written out of my 25 over picture books. It happened at a time when I standing at my crossroad, trying to decide whether to seek crowd approval by going back to the luxury hotel industry where I had worked for over 10 years in a glamorous-looking job or taking the road less travelled – being an author of children’s books in Singapore (a very rare breed). That was when I realised that I had turned into Rusty Horse.

Rusty slide

John McKenzie, thanks for your deep and illuminating read and review of my little picture book!

 

 

 

Over the school holidays, Caleb’s Kindergarten gave him a project paper which I was to work on with him. It was on the Subject “Faces” and we could do anything to capture that, from video-ing his expressions, photographing faces in the park or any art and crafts which we liked. It was meant as a bonding project which would lead into the project proper when the new term started.

I showed Caleb the project sheet and asked him what we would do.

“How about we pick out faces from your storybooks and put them together?” I was thinking along the lines of Cat in the Hat and all those classic picture books.

“No!” Caleb said.

“How about we do some art and craft on Faces?”

“No!” Caleb said.

After a few suggestions, I sighed. “What do you want to do?”

“Superheroes!”

“Hmm…” I thought for a moment. “That sounds like a fun idea. Let’s do Superhero Faces then.”

With Caleb on my lap, I googled “Superhero Faces pictures”. We spent the morning running through images which he selected.

“Mummy, look at me. Batman’s face is like that, and like that…” He mimicked the range of expressions to me.

I wondered where he got his drama chops from, since Ben and I have the mildest of facial expressions, except when I am scolding my little munchkin.

Superhero Faces

Superhero Faces

Then, he found Spiderman. A Superheroes project is never complete without Spidey.

Superhero Faces

Superhero Faces

And of course, you can’t have superheroes without throwing in some villains.

After a whole morning of shortlisting images, he helped me saved the files into a folder. Then, we printed them out.

Caleb also typed out the project title ‘SUPERHERO FACES’ as I spelled it to him. As with umpteen times before, he had to highlight blocks of letters in different colours. Don’t ask me why.

We cut out the pictures together and pasted them on a cardboard sheet with scotch tape.

Superhero Faces

Superhero Faces

I got him to inscribe his name and our project was ready for submission.

Joining forces with Ironman

Joining forces with Ironman

Two pandas brought a smile to my face this week when a package landed in my postbox!

KKJJ Book 3 cover

It was the 3rd book in the Kai Kai & Jia Jia picture book series which I wrote for Wildlife Reserves Singapore. In book 3, Kai Kai and Jia Jia eagerly await the arrival of their baby panda.

Caleb, my baby panda, was equally thrilled to see the package so I let him rip it open.

Then, I read the book to him and discovered how literal 4-year-olds can be. Either that, or it’s just my ‘play-champion’ son’s over-active imagination.

Macaques page

“Next time we go River Safari, I want to jump off the diving board,” Caleb told me.

I rolled my eyes. “Right, you and the macaques,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “And I want to row the raft.” (In reference to the page before where I had the Otters doing that.)

“But you know, the animals had to make all these things themselves,” I said. In my story, all the River Safari animals had banded together to do the carpentry work, to build their favourite items. All under the tutelage of Beaver, the master-builder.

“Yah,” Caleb said. “We must collect wood and then bang bang bang and saw-see-saw.”

Saw see saw

What can I say? I guess my book came alive for him.

Dedication

Related link:

Stop Bears! Kai Kai and Jia Jia came knocking at my door

A New Home for Kai Kai and Jia Jia

Today, I am pleased to feature a special High Chair Conversation with former political journalist Hwee Goh. Hwee and I reconnected 8 years ago at the Book Council’s Asian Children’s Writers & Illustrators Conference in 2007 where I was just embarking on writing my debut children’s book Prince Bear & Pauper Bear. Like true blue Singaporeans, we bonded over Yakun kaya toast and teh si, immediately after lunch. That’s when we realised we had a similar appetite for things.

Hwee Goh photo

Timmy & Tammy Discover Series for Young Readers

Timmy & Tammy Discover Series for Young Readers

So I’m doubly pleased that Hwee has now debuted as an author with a first book that is right down her alley. Hwee was on the press corp that accompanied Modern Singapore’s Founding Father Mr Lee Kuan Yew on his overseas trips. Now, as mum to four kids, she is a walking repository on children’s books. She’s combined both experiences to research and write a kid-friendly book on Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

I asked her to give a sneak peek into her heady days of high-level news reporting and her current station with early readers.

1. You were on Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s press corps when he traveled overseas, in the years he was Senior Minister from 1997-2002. 
a) How did you feel on your first overseas news trip with him?
Hwee: I must have been in my usual high adrenaline mode – to listen, observe and kill ourselves putting the news out as soon as possible! I suppose it was all done with this in mind – that Mr Lee was watching us too, and ready to question me back if I asked a question that wasn’t based on good research, or sound foreign relations! 

b) What was one memorable nugget from your 7 years on his press corp?

Hwee: I think it would have to be the few times he went to Kuala Lumpur to meet with the Malaysian leaders. It was so fascinating to watch the dynamics between him and Malaysia’s then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and no matter which side, everyone we met (officials, media) were in awe of Lee Kuan Yew whether in a respectful way, or a slightly grudging way.
And now with hindsight from delving into his life further for the book, I’m sure that topmost in Mr Lee’s mind, while balancing relations with Malaysia, was getting a good deal to further secure water supply to Singapore. This was before Singapore then moved on to alternative ways to enhance water supply with NEWater and desalination. This was Mr Lee in his 70s already, never letting up on getting what he wanted for Singapore.

2a) Share 2 things you learnt from your 15 years as a political journalist.
Hwee:
– Keep calm. If you get the interview or story that you want, then good. If you don’t, the news goes out with or without it.
– Try again. If I were the anxious sort who had to have something happen a certain way, I couldn’t survive the crazy days there!
– Be yourself. Friends will say I am the ‘Act Blur’ sort, which was probably a defence against the harsher parts of a news journalism environment. I’d just add, “Act Blur and Do Your Own Thing Well”. As a news journalist, you have to make dozens of cold calls a day to try to get a news angle or news story together. So being yourself really breaks down barriers between you and a contact because he/she would be much more willing to help you.
Inside Page of Timmy & Tammy Discover: Lee Kuan Yew

Inside Page of Timmy & Tammy Discover: Lee Kuan Yew


b) Tell us 2 treasures you discovered when researching and writing Timmy & Tammy Discover: Lee Kuan Yew.
Hwee: I read Mr Lee’s memoirs again, this time not as a journalist, but more as a writer delving into what kind of a person he was, not as much his policy. I came back with:
– Singapore was really his home. Mr Lee kept his eye on everything that might possibly need improving in Singapore till he died. If he saw a rotting tree along the road, he’d call the NParks. If he worried excessively on securing water supply to Singapore, he thought of a plan 20 years even before it became reality (read the book!). For that, despite what some critics may say about him, I can only be appreciative. 
– He loved his wife Kwa Geok Choo deeply. I knew this but reading his words again just made me feel in awe all over again. He admired her, respected her and loved her as an equal, and as an equally-intelligent partner.
Imagine Singapore on the dawn of Separation from Malaysia, suddenly independent, and Lee Kuan Yew worried, fretted only for a moment and then “just did it”. Who did he look to for help with securing water supply from Malaysia? His wife. She was best with wording these agreements (read the book!).
How did Lee Kuan Yew write in such a readable, concise manner? His wife! She would parse words with him and read through his draft speeches, memoirs and they would both work late into the night. It was an amazing partnership.
T&T_discover_spread2
3. Did any of your journalistic skills prepare you for your next chapter of raising four kids? Tell us one!
Hwee: Um. Hmmmm. Not really. Having my firstborn in the U.S. was hard and years of stressful high adrenaline journalism didn’t really help! And I only have half the patience at home than I ever had at work. Haha! 
So I’d have to say maybe being a journalist honed my massive multi-tasking skills that I still employ now.
 
4. a) What prompted you to start Hwee’s Book Share Club? Your recent post on a “big box sale” reached 10,000 people.
 
Hwee: I did it on a whim while waiting for my boys at golf one Saturday in November last year. But I think the biggest impetus at that time was that on average, I was asked for book recommendations once or twice a week and I would look for the physical book, or find it online, snap pictures, look through reviews if I haven’t read the book, then share it on email or whatsapp with the friend who asked.
Unsolicited, I would also send out good books that I saw while browsing online and email links to some friends. Friends also liked to look at my “book loot”, which are just pictures of books I bought! I had also just finished a year with some mums of Primary 1 kids who had worked together to bring up the reading of all the girls in the group, through sharing pictures of their girls reading, the good books that worked, etc. This convinced me that peer-sharing of books is the way to go. Hence, Hwee’s Book Share Club was birthed!
b) Tell us why you love children’s books?
Hwee: They are the best books to read because they have to be interesting, clearly written and full of imagination in order to be read by a child. The best ones are the ones with a second layer (usually humour or clever writing) for the adult or older child.
5. What’s your favorite book from childhood? Why?
Hwee: I had different favourites at different ages, so maybe the Enchanted Wood series by Enid Blyton.

6. What’s the first word that comes to mind in your new chapter as a published author?
Hwee: Stress!!
Mummum: This is the final week to pre-order Timmy & Tammy Discover: Lee Kuan Yew  at Armour Publishing’s e-store before it launches. Pre-orders from now till 10 July come AUTOGRAPHED and with FREE delivery (within Singapore)! What better SG50 book to gift your friends and children? Majullah Singapura!
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