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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!
Related link:

Today, I’m pleased to post the first of a two-part feature involving a soon-to-be launched children’s book based on Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the Founding Father of Modern Singapore. Part Two will be a High Chair Conversation Special with the author Hwee Goh.

Timmy & Tammy Discover Series for Young Readers

Timmy & Tammy Discover Series for Young Readers

There’s been a proliferation of books on Mr Lee over the past couple of years. However, there’s been a dearth of quality children’s books on Singapore’s pioneer leaders. I think Armour Publishing’s Little Knights imprint fills this important gap with its excellent debut book from its new Timmy & Timmy Discover series.

Timmy & Tammy’s bite-sized facts on Mr Lee are presented in colourful spreads to engage even reluctant young readers. As a adult, I too found it a fun read and gleaned interesting nuggets on Mr Lee.

T&T_discover_spread

We have read how our nation’s founding fathers were known for their thrift. But it’s personal anecdotes like these that really remind us of how Mr Lee and his team lived simply whilst shouldering huge responsibilities in nation-building.

T&T_discover_spread2

With Singapore’s Jubilee Year this year, National Day a month away and Mr Lee’s recent passing, I feel books like this one becomes an even more important read and keepsake as we parents share with our children about our country’s past, even as we guide our young ones to forge their way forward as Singapore’s future.

It’s likewise a great resource for educators to engage students on what Modern Singapore’s Founding Father has done for our Little Red Dot.

I’m doubly proud that Timmy & Tammy Discover: Lee Kuan Yew is written by my dear friend Hwee Goh. A former political journalist of 16 years, Hwee was in the press corp that travelled with Mr Lee and covered the news on his overseas trips. More on that in Part 2 of this feature soon.

Meanwhile, Timmy & Tammy Discover: Lee Kuan Yew is now available for pre-orders till 10 July 2015 and will come autographed and with FREE delivery! Check out how you can order your copies here!

Yesterday, I was invited to do a book reading at the lovely Children’s section of the Central Library.

Pic 8I sat at the base of the treehouse, reading Tibby & Duckie to a good crowd of parents and kids. This story presented many opportunities to get the kids into action:

– Like Duckie, we swam frantically, flew unsteadily and finally jumped to our feet and soared high as Duckie found her wings.
– Then, like Tibby, we craned our necks upwards to search for Duckie amongst the clouds. Funnily enough, when we looked up, we spotted cardboard monkeys hanging off the ceiling’s ‘trees’ all around the reading area.

Tibby&Duckie reading2

Ready to soar with Duckie!

Getting ready to soar with Duckie!

My book reading was part of Bookurator’s private Book Swop event at the Library’s multipurpose room, where parents and kids came with bags of loved books which they swopped with one another.

There was an author’s table for me, the picture book author, and Sheri Tan and Fernando Hierro – the talented couple behind the Rosie- Girl Overboard! middle grade book series.

Author Linn Shekinnah was most kind (and selfless) in helping to organize our author involvement in this cosy event, down to getting the library crowd to gather at our sessions, photo-taking as well as helping us at our book sales table.

Bookurator and its volunteers were amazing in organizing this charming event to encourage the love of reading, with an environmental layer added, through swopping loved secondhand books! There was also a desk where they collected books for charity giveaway.

I was thrilled to find a soft cover edition of A Very Big Storm at the swopped books table. “Hey, this is my book! I didn’t know my client reprinted in soft cover edition. Can I have it?”

The Bookcurator organizer chuckled and said that she needed to photograph that moment of me making that classic statement.

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call. Buttercups Kindergarten was having me as their featured author for their June holiday programme. As part of the programme, they would read several of my books and develop arts and craft activities around them. Would I like to drop by to say “hello” to the children?

Yes!

I visited the Kindergarten towards the end of the programme to share the inspiration behind my writing and also give the children a behind-the-scenes peek into how I published my Toy Title Bunny Finds The Right Stuff.

Buttercups Kindergarten

My takeaway from the visit?

My largest Thank You card ever, covering me from my waist to my chin. It was made up of several little ‘thank you’ notes from the children.

Thank you for leaving me with a BIG grin on my face!

Buttercups ThankYouCard

ThankYouCard(Inside)

 

For the Asian Festival of Children’s Content this year, author Linn Shekinah wrote an extensively researched essay on the Picture Book landscape in Singapore. She also covered how local Middle Grade books have successfully made their mark here.

Linn, thanks for coining me as one of the New Millennium Pioneers in Singapore’s Picture Book landscape. I feel a little old hearing that but that’s okay. I’m under 65 (in year and age :)) and write for young children, so it keeps me young at heart :).

Picture Book Story page

Page extract from Asia: Land of Perennial Stories

Picture Book Story Pg2

Page extract from Asia: Land of Perennial Stories

Linn’s essay was published in the recently launched AFCC Publication Asia – Land of Perennial Stories, a collection of essays for AFCC. Read more of Linn’s essay here.

 

ASIA Land of Perennial Stories cover

Asia: Land of Perennial Stories is edited by Dr Myra Garces-Bacsal, Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Myra is also Founder of esteemed books website Gathering Books. This is Myra’s third edited book for the AFCC Publications, which include personal reflections from picture book makers, artists, graphic novelists, poets, and middle-grade and young adult fiction writers coming from Asia. The series also includes perspectives from publishers, literary agents, members of the book industry, in addition to academic reflections on Asian children’s literature. 

Asia – Land of Perennial Stories is for sale from The National Book Development Council of Singapore.

Related posts:

Seek Truth, Renovate Scene, Tell Stories

AFCC Snapshot: Close Encounters of the Panda Kind

After an eventful week at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, I had the pleasure of attending the AFCC Closing Night dinner at AFCC Chairperson Claire Chiang’s home last Saturday. Ms Claire Chiang and her husband Mr Ho Kwon Ping were most hospitable and their children very kindly chipped in to serve the guests too!

CC Closing Party4

With Ms Claire Chiang, Mr Ramachandran, Book Council Exco members and other guests (Photo credit: David Seow)

I was also delighted to meet Singapore’s favourite Giant Pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia in the living room and could not resist taking a close-up shot with them. It was a close encounter of the panda kind since I write the Kai Kai & Jia Jia picture book series for Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Kai Kai & Jia Jia

I am generally not a photo-person but since author David Seow had his camera on hand and we were chatting with AFCC Keynote Speaker U.S. based author Ying Chang Compestine on her last day at AFCC, I also asked her to pose in a photo with me where I look like I am rubbing shoulders with a multi-multi-award-winning author! She gamely obliged. Ying is also a leading authority on Asian culture and cuisine in the U.S. and former food editor for Martha Stewart’s Whole Living magazine.

Rubbing  shoulders with Ying Chang Compestine, multi-award winning author (to the power of 100)

Rubbing shoulders with Ying Chang Compestine, multi-award winning author (to the power of 100) (Photo credit: David Seow)

After a week of talking about children’s books, I returned home to my talkative munchkin for close encounters of the parenting kind.

Related post:

AFCC Takeaways: Seek Truth, Renovate Scene, Tell Stories

The Asian Festival of Children’s Content is here and over! It’s been a week of adult conversation on children’s books and content. As I sit back to digest the various sessions, there were 4 immediate takeaways that impressed upon me from the Asian Writer’s And Illustrator’s Conference tract of this week’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content:

Tall Story1. From UK-based award-winning Filipino author Candy Gourlay’s Keynote Speech “Why Asia Needs More Writers for Children and Young People”:

What the U.S. deems ‘diverse books’ in their current “We Need Diverse Books” Campaign are actually our ‘normal books’ here in Asia. And for us here in Asia, whilst we all want to write commercially saleable books, we should really first write who we are. We need to ask ourselves: What is my truth? The rest is technical.
And as we write our local/niche stories, just remember to provide a bridge to the outside world (so they can relate).

 

 

Revolution is not a Dinner Party2. From U.S.-based award-winning China-born author Ying Chang Compestine’s various talks

The first line must hook the reader to read on and the final chapter must end on a satisfying note for the reader.

Whilst I have heard that many times at conferences, this truth really hit me on the head through Ying’s talks and later as she judged on SCBWI’s “First Pages” panel, where writers submitted their first 100 words for professional critiques in a public session (without the brave authors’ names mentioned).

For her multi-award-winning novel Revolution is not a Dinner Party (which has won practically every award there is to win in the U.S.), Ying revised her opening line 100 times. She effectively boiled down 3 paragraphs into a single line, where she captured who and how old her main character is and where the story took place.

And likewise, she revises her manuscripts 80-100 times until she knows it is the best it can be. She spent 3 months revising her final chapter alone. (Ed: I momentarily fainted when I heard that.)

She compares her revisions on plot and setting to setting up a home and asks herself: Is my furniture in the right place? She then moves the pieces around till they are perfectly situated and readers feel they are comfortably there in the scene itself.

LittleWayangKid3. From local film-maker Raymond Tan’s Keynote session “The Urgency of Telling Asian and Local Stories”:

Our generation’s mindset tends to follow the West. But there is an urgency for us to find our own stories and find who we are. The longer we take to find our stories, the more likely someone else will write it for us or it simply gets lost over time. We need to find those nuggets of our stories and bring them out into the sunshine.

(Raymond is the producer of Little Wayang Kid – the short film, then movie, then most recently picture book The Little Wayang Kid (in similar name variations for movie and short film).

4. And my bonus takeaway from this year’s AFCC?

I  spoke on a panel “Unleash Your Potential With Online Platforms” together with creators of time-driven writing and illustration challenges. Sarah Coldheart organizes the local version of NanoWriMo – where participants write a 30,000 word novel in 30 days. Author Tania McCartney spoke about her creation of the 52-week Illustration challenge which she started to get herself drawing again, that has since drawn 4,000 participants. JF Koh, Organiser of International 24-Hours Comics Day, shared about how his Challenge now has 180 local participants come together and sketch a comic in 24 hours and all the benefits he’s enjoyed from it. I shared my experience as the only Singaporean participant of author Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Challenge, where picture book writers are challenged to write 12 drafts in 12 months, where we exchange critiques in a member’s only forum.

My Panel photov2

With fellow panellists (L-R): Tania McCartney, Seriously Sarah, JK Koh and moderator Felicia Low (centre)

During our 1 hour panel session, Illustrator David Liew appeared midway, put his chair in front of us and appeared to be multi-tasking as he sketched and listened to us dialogue.

At the end of the session, he presented us with his own time-driven illustration challenge and my bonus takeaway!

Illustration of Panel

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