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Caleb turned four early this year. He was highly specific on what he wanted for his birthday celebration.

A small party (he made a small list of friends he wanted to invite).

Boys only (except for cousins).

A birthday cake with M&Ms all round with a superhero fighting a villian.

Yes, I managed to get that. I bought Singapore’s classic lana chocolate cake, added my own M&M toppings and after figurine-hunting in several shops, found perfect-sized Iron Man and Dr Doom figures for his cake at Holland Village.

Superhero Caleb at friend’s birthday party

 

His infactuation with a sweet little girl in his class in his first year at Nursery school last year lasted all of four months. Since then, it’s been superheroes, kungfu, ninjas, Transformers. Strictly boys stuff.

He continues to reserve his most trying moments for me (ie. the most crying, most whining, biggest battle of wills). But he also saves his greatest affection for me.

“I love you, Mummy!” He had been saying to me more than 10 times a day since the start of this year.

Couples it with a dozen hugs.

And plants tons of affectionate kisses on me from the moment he wakes up.

 

Just before he turned four, we were looking at my wedding photos together.

“Where I am?” he asked.

I explained that he wasn’t born yet. And that someday, he too would find someone he loves and get married too.

“Maybe I don’t want to get married,” he said coyly.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I love you. I want to stay with you!”

He had been home with me all week because of the flu and I was going to let him rest an extra day at home before returning to school. When I heard that, I packed him up and sent him back to school.

IMG_4752

Ninja Caleb (Styrofoam sword inserted into back of tee)

 

Although he seems to have started this year with extra huge doses of superglue attachment to me at home, I have been very pleasantly surprised at how well he has developed in pre-school over the past months.

When his class teacher tried to reach me twice on the 2nd week of school term this year, I wondered why. It turned out that she wanted to tell me how Caleb had been a reassuring presence in class, helping to settle in a few of his shy classmates.

Two of his classmates’ mums told me the same thing. That Caleb had helped their sons settle well into their new school year. A 3rd mum told me that she had bumped into him along the corridor and when she asked him how he was, he replied, “I am fine. Thank you.” She was very impressed.

He also shared about a girl in class who had done naughty things to him and several classmates at the start of the year. She had taken the shoe of C, a quiet girl, in class. “I am stronger than her,” Caleb told me. “So I pulled the shoe back and returned it to C.”

Super-sticky koala bear at home. Superhero Caleb in class. It’s looks like being Four is about being ridiculously cute and more!

Kungfu Caleb with Yeh Yeh

Kungfu Caleb with Yeh Yeh

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

It’s been a busy Chinese New Year week of visiting relatives, eating, visiting relatives and more eating.

My Monday Reads this week:

Warriors Outcast

Warriors -Outcast

Erin Hunter

Harper Collins Children’s Books

I bought one book of the Warriors series when I saw it at Bookaburra’s pop-up store as I have been trying to incorporate more middle grade reads into my diet. That this is the #1 National bestselling series in the U.S. of course caught my eye.

I picked this particular book of the series because it was about some ominous prophecy shaping the lives of three warrior cats in a cat clan which sounded intriguing.

The book is well-written and built the world tightly for the warrior cats who are well-described. But I’m afraid I got lost in the huge cast of cats and their clans (at least 30 cats or more mentioned) and so I did not finish the read.

My bookworm niece did however mention to me previously that this series was one of her favourite middle grade series reads when she was about 12 years old.

MotherForChoco

A Mother for Choco

Keiko Kasza

Puffin Books

My non-writing friends have slowly come to realise that I’m happiest receiving books. This was a birthday present.

This book is about a little bird who doesn’t have a mother. He searches for one, approaching Mrs Giraffe, Mrs Penguin and other animals who do not wish to be his mother. Until finally he finds the one…

My girlfriend Tania who gave me this book is Founder of charity Blue Sky Healing Home in China which helps orphans with medical needs get the treatments and surgeries they need to lead a more fufilling life. They care for the orphans till a stage where their lives are more normalised, then help arrange for their adoptions. Blue Sky celebrated their 10th anniversary last year with a roadtrip to the U.S. where Tania and Dr He (her amazing administrator running the homes operationally) met with over 15 families who had adopted children from Blue Sky.

 

TheBookWithNoPictures

The Book with No Pictures

B.J. Novak

Dial Books for Young Readers

This was my other birthday present from Lynn over the same lunch with Tania. It’s a brilliant concept (why didn’t I think of that?) and a reminder to writers like myself that we don’t always need to rely on pictures to tell a good story. Picture book publishers will have a different view of that but that’s another story. Laugh-out-loud funny!

Bookwithnopictures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, I made an author visit to United World College. As part of Asian Arts and Culture Week, UWC invited 13 local authors to speak at their Primary Library through the whole of this week.

UWC Asian Arts Week

I managed to reach in time to catch author David Seow’s session, just before mine. He’s a very entertaining storyteller for sure.  I had a minor panic streak watching his storytelling session with PDFs of his books on screen when I realised that I forgot to bring PDFs of any of my books. (Note to self: Always have all book PDFs on thumbdrive at all times!). I dug in my storytelling bag and thankfully found the animation DVD for my two titles which I had thrown into the bag without thought.

UWC-2

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. My sharing of the story behind my stories took much longer than expected as the children were so engaged with asking questions and sharing their own experiences. We had time to just end on one 2-minute animation story of Prince Bear & Pauper Bear.

UWC-5

David and I hung around at Closetful of Books’ pop-up bookstore inside the library to chat with a few kids and took some photos before scooting off.

UWC-7

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

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

Sun-Mi Hwang

One World Publications

The Hen

I’m a sucker for enticing book covers, front cover taglines like “#1 International Bestseller” and “More than 2 million Copies Sold”. And this book had both. Along with a picture book style cover illustration and title.

A hen named Sprout is not content laying eggs on demand only to see them carted off to the market. She glimpses her future through the barn doors where other animals roam free and she hatches a plan to hatch an egg of her own.

My heart broke many times over. As Sprout went on a hunger strike, refusing to lay another egg in captivity. When she was rejected by other hens that looked down on her in the pecking order of animals in the barn. Her resolve to live free, even if that meant starvation. Her joy at finding an unguarded egg that she nurtured and hatched – into a duckling. I won’t talk about the ending but it ended in great melancholy and sacrifice.

1st published in Korea in 2000, it stayed on the bestseller list for 10 years and inspired the highest grossing animated film in Korean history.

Sprout’s story is a complete tearjerker that will rival top Korean drama serials. I would say this is Charlotte’s Web with a gallon more melancholy. Sniff sob.

 

Kira-Kira
Cynthia Kadohata
Simon and Shuster

Kira Kira

This Newbery Medal Winner caught my eye at Bookabura’s atrium pop-up store given my new interest to read more Asian fare.

I loved this!! Cynthia’s main character Katie Takeshima has a voice that is a blend of Totto Chan (one of my all-time favourite books) and Kate DeCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie (my favourite author).

This is another tear-jerker, but with many light moments.

Katie’s family is forced to move from their Japanese community in Iowa to the less welcoming Deep South of Georgia. Her older sister Lynn – her best friend, guardian and companion as their parents slave long hours to eke a living- makes things glitter even when they are ostracized and stared at. “Kira-Kira”, meaning “glittering” in Japanese, is the first word Lynn teaches Katie when she first speaks as a baby.

And it is this same spirit that makes Lynn the beautiful big sister, straight-A student and finally tragic cancer-stricken child whose wasting away is heartbreaking.

Two things stuck on me as I read this book. The immense sibling love that Lynn and Katie had for each other (as opposed to the usual sibling rivalry, pesky young sister trope), the sacrificial love of the parents who took on multiple work shifts to provide the best for the two girls so they could have a better future than themselves. And how their mother and her fellow factory workers had to wear adult diapers whilst working in a factory because the money-grubbing multi-millionaire owner did not allow unscheduled toilet breaks.

Beautiful and up there in my list of top 10 favorite novels.

Sniff. Sigh. Immensely satisfying.

Bring out the Kleenex for these Monday Reads.

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 Reading2mondayreading1
Over the past two months, I hardly did any writing – I didn’t write any new manuscripts and hardly blogged. My writing time-out. But I have been reading and am now also itching to catch up with my writing on all fronts.
For my birthday a few months back, I received a present I really wanted – a Kindle. Okay, I told my husband to buy it for me so he didn’t have to read my mind. So off that, I’ve read two books so far – Inkheart and Fablehaven.
 
Inkheart cover
Inkheart
By Cornelia Funke
Scholastic
I found the story very familiar and then realized that I had watched the movie version starring Brendan Fraser (duh). 12-year old Meggie’s father is a booksmith – a restorer of old books.  Her mother went missing years back for reasons unknown and related to that, her father had since never read a book out loud to her. When a shifty character appears and calls her father Silvertongue, Meggie discovers her father’s gift of bringing story characters to life (literally) when he read aloud and the mystery behind her mother’s disappearance.
I like Cornelia Funke’s voice even though this wasn’t a book I was hooked on.

 

DragonRider cover

Dragon Rider
By Cornelia Funke
Published by Chicken House

Coincidentally enough, I then came across Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke at Popular Bookstore soon after. Whilst I did not love Inkheart, I liked Cornelia’s voice and so I bought this book.
I absolutely love Dragon Rider, which is now my benchmark against other similar fantasy middle grade books that I will read. First published in Germany in 1997, Dragon Rider was translated into the English language by Chicken House in 2004 and has since sold over 2 million copies. Chicken House publisher Barry Cunningham is of course best remembered as the editor who famously accepted a manuscript about a boy Harry who goes to wizard school from a then struggling new author.
Dragon Rider has a simple straightforward plot. When humans start to encroach the valley of the dragons, a brave young dragon Firedrake decides to venture out to find a safe land when dragons can live in peace and stop hiding. He goes in search of the mythical and elusive Rim of Heaven, a place where an earlier generation of dragons was believed to have once lived. Firedrake and his Brownie friend Sorrel pick up a lonely boy Ben along the way. Together, they encounter a host of adventures, new allies and also an evil villain who hunts dragons for food.
I wondered why I found this such a compelling read when it was really such a simple plot. And I realized that it boiled down to compelling characters. The main characters Firedrake and Ben were incredibly likeable and I rooted for them all the way. Sorrel, the caustic Brownie, was slightly annoying but it was fine because she was a sidekick and served her purpose well. The whole host of other characters were extremely intriguing, especially the villain – The Golden One – whom you love to hate. There were lots of adventures, obstacles and mythical creatures that made this such a page-turning read.
Fablehaven
Fablehaven
Brandon Mull
Aladdin
I was “led” to Fablehaven by Amazon’s recommended reads as something I might like after Inkheart on my Kindle.  After reading Dragon Rider, I found what I did not like reading in Fablehaven, the first book of Brandon Mull’s New York Times bestselling fantasy series.This is a story about two kids who stayed with their grandfather whilst their parents took a vacation. The kids soon discover that Fablehaven is a haven for fairies and other magical creatures, some of whom are very dangerous.
I personally found the characters a bit too dark and creepy for me.Whilst it is imaginative with lots of plot, it simply wasn’t a page turner for me. It took way too many chapters to get into the story problem and I found that all the scene building and descriptions slowed the read for me. I skimmed the pages to get to the end.
Then I went back to re-read Dragon Rider, a book which left me wanting more.
 
Dragonology Chronicles
The Dragonology Chronicles -The Dragon Prophecy
Douglas A Steer
Templar Publishing
After my infatuation with Dragon Rider, I picked this up at Bookaburra because it has dragons in it.This is the 4th book of The Dragonlogy Chronicles. Written in first person, a young boy Daniel and his sister are trained by Dr Drake, the Dragon Master, in the ways of dragons. The trio must save dragon-kind from an evil villain who is enslaving the dragons to serve her purpose.
I think there is enough plot and action for children to enjoy this.But again, I ended up skimming through this to get to the end. The voice and writing style didn’t quite appeal to me.
I hope I will “hit” more books that I love as I get more familiar with middle grade books so I maximise my precious reading time.

Lots has been said about parenting. And every other parenting book you pick up says something else.

Keep-Calm-and-Mother-On-2D-Copy

“Keep Calm and Mother On” is perhaps the best generic advice to a mum.

Pauline Loh, award-winning author and my writing buddy, recently put together a compilation of 399 Best Things Ever Said About Motherhood (published by Armour Publishing).

Of these, I found my favourite quotes from children’s books:

“And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all…

and he sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day

and into the night of his very own room

where he found his supper waiting for him

and it was still hot.”

                                                  – Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things are

 

“Mother said that if I’d just waited for the apples to ripen, I wouldn’t have become sick. So now, whenever I really want something, I try to remember what she said about the apples.”

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

 

“It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My mom says some days are like that.”

   – Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Alexander

 

“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. Love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling

 

You can read more of Keep Calm and Mother On by Pauline Loh at Armour Publishing’s website. Buy a copy for yourself, your mother and your husband’s mother!

In this new year, Caleb turns 4. It’s a number that he has been looking forward to very much. Through the past year, he’s reminded everyone of that.

“I am 3. Soon I will be 4.”
“I’m still 3,” whenever he was asked how old he was by an adult.
“I am almost 4.”
“Next year, I will be 4. Soon, I will be 10.” That one is a leap, but he’s clearly in a hurry to grow older.

If I had to describe what it was like with my 3 year old last year, my favourite phrase comes to mind. Annoyingly cute, exasperatingly adorable.

Bike Helmet, Swim Goggle, Spiderman tee (everyday for 3 months)

Bike Helmet, Swim Goggles, Spiderman tee every day for 3 months

1. A Year of Tug-of-war of Wills

“Caleb, brush your teeth.”
“No!”
“If you don’t, your teeth will rot and fall on.”
“I want my teeth to drop and fall off.”

And “brush your teeth” is interchangeable with “take your bath/eat your dinner/change your clothes” and just about most things.

The “no, no, no” from age 2 simply evolved to more advanced “no” which exasperated me more as he volley-ed endless refusals with advanced language skills.

 

2. Greater swings from Clingy-ness to Independence

I saw and received the same consistent reports from his teachers.

“Caleb is so independent. He can button his own shirt and wants to do everything himself.”

Really?

It’s been a different picture at home.

“Mummy, feed me!”
“Mummy, help me!” even as he put the spoon in my hand and brought it to his own mouth.

“Mummy, do this…do that…”

It reached a point of exasperation when I burst out one day,” You know how to do these things! Why do you keep asking me?”

With tears welling up in his huge manga eyes, he looked at me. Between sobs, he gave a sobering reply, “Some children want their mummy to do things for them. But when their mummy is not around, they can do by themself.” (Editor note: singular and plural is so confusing for 3-year olds.)

At which time, I paused and realised that even as he grows in independence, he continues his swing back to dependency and wanting to know I am there for him. A development stage in his internal tug-of-war between independence and security.

“Ok, I will help you,” I softened my voice, remembering that soon enough, he will be pushing me away and asking me not to cramp his style.

"Don't Take My Photo" - the standard refrain for 2014

“Don’t Take My Photo” – the standard refrain for 2014

3. Time together, Time apart

This year, more than Caleb’s first 2 years, I have felt the need to have more time out for myself. I have felt less guilty asking my mum to watch him so I can have my personal time. And it has been good for me as part of the process of learning to let go, given my OCD nature to not want to delegate anything, especially medicine feeding when Caleb was sick, to anyone but myself. Never mind that my mum is a trained nurse of over 40 years.

On two occasions recently when my mum was on leave this year, I very gleefully left Caleb with her to go get my nails done for the 2nd and last time in 2014.

When I got home, Caleb rushed to the door, hugged me and said,”Mummy, I love you so much.”

“Really?” I said, amused at the effusive reception I received at the door after my pampering and very rare mani and pedi.

“I don’t want you to go to work,” he said. My mum had told him I went to work.”I want you to stay at home with me. I don’t want you to earn money. Papa is earning money already.”

And last month, Ben and I took our first vacation ever, away from Caleb for 2 nights. Okay, we didn’t leave the country but Sentosa is technically overseas because we crossed the toll bridge to an island.

On day 1, Caleb was fine and having fun.
On day 2, he told Grandma,”Can you pretend to be Mummy so I can call you Mummy?”
On day 3 night, we returned home. When I opened his bedroom door, he was playing quietly in his pajamas. He looked up and saw me. His eyes lit up and he sheepishly ran over and hugged my leg and didn’t let go.

That night, he said, “You are the cutest mummy in the world.”

“Oh, how come?” I asked.

“Because I love you so much. I don’t want you go away again. I will be so sad.”

And so, as 2014 came to a close last night, Ben and I attended our church Watch Night service for the 1st time in 3 years. It was a tradition we practised for many years to usher in the new year on a spiritual and reflective note, but stopped after Caleb was born.

Even as I continue to give my best hours to Caleb as a stay-home mum, I’m learning to start Day 1 of 2015 with room and time for myself to grow up too.

 

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