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This morning, I made my way to Botanic Gardens, one of 18 community areas set up for those of us who wish to pay respect to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Founding Father.

memorial lawn

Being the typical Singaporean, I drafted a short note on the notepad of my iPhone at home. When I got to the Botany Centre, I was met with typically methodical Singaporean organisation.

NParks staff stationed in the carpark pointed me the nearest way to the memorial room. When the lift opened on level 1, more staff there directed me towards the room, all marked out by clear signage. Queue markers were set up, in anticipation of crowds during peak period. I arrived before lunchtime so I was able to walk straight into the memorial hall.

memorial photo

There, tables were neatly set up, with condolence books (and pens provided) where we could write our personal messages.

With a nod to the comfortable set up, I plonked myself on a chair, whipped out my iPhone, and worked on a second draft of my note. Like a well-trained Singaporean, I wanted to make sure I did not make any errors in the state memorial book.

my note to LKY

Dear Mr Lee Kuan Yew

I never met you personally beyond what I have seen and read in the media. But this week, I feel that I have come to know you on a personal level so much better through the testimonies of ordinary Singaporeans whose lives you have touched.

Just as you had galvanized and inspired us in life, you now do so in death, as all of us, young and old come together in memory of all you have accomplished for us.

Thank you for giving your life to building Singapore to what she is today. Our nation is built on your leadership, your sweat, your blood and your tears.

May you rest in peace and in unity with Mrs Lee.

God bless you and your family.

Emily Lim
A daughter of Singapore

LKY black flag

 Remembering LKY as A Boy named Harry

Remembering Singapore then and now (in photos)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

I was originally going to write about a few adoption picture books which I read as I am helping a girlfriend with a project on this subject.

But with the breaking news this morning that Singapore’s Founding Father and our first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has finally passed on, I thought I would instead share on a series of first-ever children’s picture books written about Lee Kuan Yew’s growing up years as my mini-tribute to a giant of a man who has greatly influenced the lives of us Singaporeans through what Singapore is today.

Mr Lee’s brilliant, unwavering, and uncompromising leadership  is what has brought Singapore her success today. Of course, no one is perfect – there are policies which people have criticised and Mr Lee has his fair share of detractors who feel he can be very harsh on those with opposing views.

LKY photo1

To me, that is all part of the package of who the man is. Like a respected authoritarian father whom I would  shudder to be in the same room with because I would feel I could never measure up with anything I said, I nonetheless feel a sense of gratitude to him and our forefathers for the roofs they have put over our heads, the clean water that flows from our taps, the education we have received and the security of living in a country whose streets we and our children can walk safely at night.

I will let the words and illustrations in Patrick’s books speak for themselves.

A Boy named Harry

A Boy named Harry – The Childhood of Lee Kuan Yew

By Patrick Yee

Published by Epigram Books

A Boy called Harry page1“A family friend suggested that his parents give him the Chinese name Kuan Yew, which means “light and brightness”. Harry’s beloved grandfather, Kung, who greatly admired the British, gave him the name Harry.”

A Boy Named Harry page2 “When Harry was a child, there was no TV and he didn’t have a lot of toys. He liked to play with spinning tops, marbles, kites – and even fighting fish! These games made him rather competitive; he always wanted to win.”

A Boy named Harry page3“Even though he was now in secondary school, Harry was as mischievous as ever. He was often distracted and wrote notes to his classmates during lessons. He even copied some of the things his teachers did or said. Once he was caught making a drawing of the back of his science teacher’s head, complete with a bald patch.”

Most of us only know Mr Lee as serious, severe and burdened by Singapore’s future. I especially like this last spread above because it reveals how he once was a mischievous kid like everyone else before he carried the weight of Singapore’s future on his shoulders.

Harry Grows Up

 Harry grows up – The Early Years of Lee Kuan Yew

By Patrick Yee

Published by Epigram Books

“But the worse thing about his first year at Raffles College was something called “hazing”. Every first-year student had to go through it as part of college life. Harry was forced by senior students to wear a torn green tie and wave a green flag, sing and even push a marble on the ground with his nose.”

Harry grows up page 2“Harry scored well in his Mathematics exams and was regularly the best student in that subject. But he could not believe that he wasn’t the best in English and Economics as well. The person who beat him for the first place in both those subjects was a girl named Kwa Geok Choo.”

A Boy named Harry page3“One of the first things Choo noticed about Harry when they reunited (in UK where they both later studied) was that he seemed different. Instead of the carefree person that she had known in Singapore, he was now someone who was deeply concerned about the British treatment of non-British people.

Harry thought about what Choo had said and realised that it was true. His experience in the war and his time in England had made him want to change how Singapore was governed when he returned to his homeland.”

MrLeeAndLateWife231014eI like how this ends with a true love story of how Harry went on to marry the woman who bested him in grades.

Along with fellow Singaporeans, I remember seeing the most tender side of Mr Lee through his wife’s final years before she died. On his wife of 63 years, Kwa Geok Choo, who died in October 2010, Mr Lee said:

“Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life… I should find solace in her 89 years of a life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.”

Today, as Singaporeans mourn the passing of a great man, we also reflect on how far Singapore has come as Little Red Dot in the  past 50 years in our nation’s Jubilee Year.

Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew dies aged 91 (The Telegraph)

The Best Quotes from Singapore’s Founding Father (The Guardian)

Harry books 1 and 2 can be purchased from Epigram Books. Read about illustrator Patrick Yee and his work.

Caleb has been a chatterbox from the word go. Since his first word “mum mum” at 6 months, he has been yakking away with relish.

Past three years old, he’s been talking from 6am in the morning till he sleeps at night.

Just this morning:
“Wake up. It’s morning time! You see, the birds are flying. The sky is blue. That means it’s morning. Wake up!”

He’s yakking through brushing teeth time.
“Brush teeth first, talk later,” I chide.

“Do you want to play the board game or talk about it?” I ask after waiting 10 minutes for him to throw the dice.

 

Conversations with Caleb have been getting more hilarious and absurd over the past months.

Throw in anything with farts and toilet humour and I get his standard refrain.
“Again! Poot! AHAHAHAHA!”

A couple of weeks back, he marked his first attempts at telling a complete story.

“Once upon a time, there was a superhero called Mummy. Suddenly there was noise. BING BANG! Ironman fought the villains and pass them to the policeman. Then they went to prison. And he gave them a summon.”

“Hey, what happened to Superhero Mummy?”

“Superhero Mummy rescued the rest of the people. The end.”

Technically, his story had a beginning, middle and end. The story arc and characterization will need refinement.

He’s also developed a penchant for combining words, which may have something to do with me explaining that in my book Tibby the Tiger-Bunny, Tibby is a combination of a tiger and a bunny.
Recently, after singing his self-coined “Time to wake up, time to wake up, it’s morning time” jingle, he stared at the clouds and cried, “Look, it’s a jet-a-boat”!

“There’s no such thing as a jet-a-boat. Do you mean ‘cata-boat’? It’s catamaran actually,” I say.

“No, jet-a-boat. Boat with jet engine.”

Ah..okay. Why didn’t I think of that?

 

My penchant for correcting his language received a shot in the arm yesterday. The nose actually.
At the dining table, I let out a huge sneeze that sounded like “AHHH..CHOAAA!”
“It’s wrong,” Caleb corrected me.
“Huh?” I said.
“There’s no such thing as Ahh Choa. You must sneeze like that.” He demonstrates. “AHHHH….CHOOOO!”
“Ah, thank you for teaching me how to sneeze right.”

 

Caleb’s creative humour has also had me in stitches over the most mundane details that I don’t even pay attention to. This week, we were in a preschool car park and he noticed yellow stripes on the carpark floor leading to the lift.

“This is a giraffe crossing,” Caleb said.
“Oh, how come?” I asked.
“It’s yellow so it is a giraffe,” he explained. “Zebra crossings are black and white stripes.”

How did I miss that?

Giraffe Crossing

Giraffe Crossing

 

And nothing escapes Caleb’s eyes. Yesterday, as we sat at our front porch, he spied a white cotton fluff-like thing fly past.
“Hey, what’s that?” he asked me.
“A feather or fluff or something,” I said dully, exhausted from entertaining him over a full week of school holidays.
“It’s a lizard with a parachute,” he noted.
“Yes, that’s probably it!” I said, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

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.

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