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Calvin & Hobbes, one of my favourite comic trips, waxes lyrical about life and existence amidst pretend play. I used to chuckle at how Calvin’s dad has to deal with endless difficult questions.

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Then I became a mother and now I find myself in that position daily with a highly curious preschooler. When Caleb is not fighting Darth Vader and dashing about like Flash, he often lapses into philosophical moments.

Just this morning:

“Mummy, God made us for what?”

“He made us so He can have a relationship with us, like how Papa and Mummy want to spend time with you and talk to you.”

“How come we all die? I don’t want you to die!” he exclaims.

I explain the whole death issue… and know this is not over yet.

 

Last few weeks, he developed an interest in body parts:

“Why do we have a face?”

“Why must we have hair? For what?”

“How come our ears have no bones?

“Because it is made of cartilage. See? Isn’t nice that it is so bendable?” I said as I twisted his ear about.

“No, it isn’t. I want bone in the ear.”

“Go complain to God ok?”

 

Then, the questions about nature:

“What are trees for?”

“Why must we have water?”

And so on.

 

A few more weeks back, he pondered about marriage:

“Mummy, I want to marry you, but when you are young.”

It’s a Michael J Fox-as-Marty McFly in a Back to the Future movie moment for me. I explain how one day, he will grow up and meet someone he loves.

“I want to wear a suit like Papa in the (wedding) photo. Let’s make one now!”

“You will outgrow it by your wedding day. So, let’s wait till then before you make your suit.”

His mind wanders away from his wedding suit to the bride. “I know. I want to marry X.”

“That’s nice. Does she know?”

“I’ll tell her when we are in Primary one.”

Right.

“And I don’t want to drive to work next time. You send me.”

I tell him I am off-duty by then. If he doesn’t want to drive, he has to take a bus.

“I know. I will tell X to send me to work.”

I explain to him that marriage does not work as a dictatorship and you actually need to discuss things with your life partner and not make such unilateral decisions.

 

Then the questions about the people he sees, which he asks excitedly at the top of his voice:

How come that man has no hair?” He exclaimed.

“Ssh ssh..!” I explain social graces and how if he has burning questions about someone within earshot, he should whisper in my ear so it doesn’t offend the person in question.

And in the toilet:

“Hey, that auntie didn’t want hands after using the toilet!” He exclaims loud enough that everyone two floors up and down can hear.

I quickly squirrel him away to explain how some people have poor toilet habits. And since then, I notice every person who doesn’t want hands after using the loo and I shudder at how many there are.

“That uncle didn’t clear his tray!” He announced as the person table next to us gets up and walks out of Mc Donald’s.

 

Being a parent has been training me as much as I try to train Caleb. I have to learn to walk the talk and role model good behavior. And if I lapse, ever so often, I have a little voice in my ear (literally) who reminds me.

“You didn’t say Good Morning Kong Kong.”

“Oh…Good Morning Kong Kong.”

“No, you call him Papa. I call him Kong Kong.”

“Good Morning Papa,” I say dutifully to my dad.

“Good Morning Kong Kong,” Caleb says to his grandpa.

“Good Morning Daughter. Good Morning Grandson,” my dad chirps back on cue.

Then, we all tuck into Saturday morning breakfast where I get minutes of quiet time  before Questions 101 start all over again.

 

Over the past few weeks, I received delightful feedback on Why Did The Pangolin Cross the Road?, a picture book which I wrote for Wildlife Reserves Singapore. In the book, two children rescue an injured pangolin, which sparks off a class project, leading the class to eventually visit the Night Safari.

Pangolin front cover

A preschool principal wrote to me sharing that her students loved the book so much that they were inspired to do a school project on the pangolin. And could they make a bulk purchase of the books?

I directed that to Wildlife Reserves and was told that they had been receiving a number of enquiries about their outreach programme from preschools who had read the book. Apparently the book had touched both teachers and the children and had also resulted in a couple of school visits to Night Safari.

Wildlife Reserves is currently running the Pangolin outreach programme based on the same title – Night Safari Glides To School: Why Did The Pangolin Cross The Road? in Mandarin. The English edition of the programme should be out soon.

Why Did the Pangolin Cross the Road? and the Kai Kai & Jia Jia picture books I wrote for WRS are also available for sale at the WRS e-store.

And just recently, yet another pangolin was rescued by WRS. More on that here.

Photo Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore

 

 

 

Of the many milestones that Caleb has crossed from his baby years to now, two of the most fascinating to me have been how a young child learns to talk and then read.

Since last year, Caleb has been able to “read” simple one-line-per-page readers from school where the same line repeats through the entire book except for a one word change. To me, that’s definitely the precursor to reading, but not reading per say as he’s clearly reading from memory.

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So it was a huge thrill that at 5 years 1 month, Caleb picked up a book out of the blue (like a few blue no-bedtime reading months because he wants to play board games) and announced, “I know how to read!”

It was music to my ears and here’s 5 reasons why:

 1. I didn’t teach him to read

Some friends assume that being an author, I actually teach Caleb reading.

I don’t.

I don’t know how.

And I haven’t tried.

Up till last month, I didn’t even know what “Phonics” means. And the only reason I do now is because Caleb’s kindergarten educated us parents on that.

I’ve simply read to Caleb, and have done that from the time he was 3 months old.

I have not read daily either (for reasons that become clearer from Caleb’s first book choice).

Marvin K Book cover

2. He had a mindset change

Up to this time, over the past year leading up to this, Caleb had repeatedly moaned, “I cannot read!”

And I would repeatedly say, “Yes, you can. One day, you will be able to read.”

It finally came to pass.

 

3. That he chose to pick up this book unprompted and read it.

I’ve not read picture books to Caleb for a while, especially Marvey K Mooney (which, though picture-filled, is technically categorized as a Bright & Early Book for Beginning Beginners). But this is his very first Dr Seuss book (and his favourite) and I’ve read this to him umpteen times since buying it when he was 3 years old. Over the past few months though, we both “forgot” about this book. Due to a change in reading diet (for me), I’ve instead been reading early chapter books to him. So it’s been all about story and little chance for him to recognize words (as opposed to a picture books/beginning readers with much less text).

That tells me his first reading of this book to me wasn’t a case of  memory work but real words recognition.

4. Caleb’s choice for a first book

I’ve generally bought books according to Caleb’s interest. He loves superheroes, Star Wars and highly humourous books. So, those are what I buy now.

Caleb could not have picked a better first book.

– It’s Dr. Seuss! Good taste – check!

– The story is highly inventive  – exactly how Caleb’s teachers have described him.

– It comes with a bunch of made-up words like “Krunk Car”, “Zumble Zay” and more. He could not remember a few of these on his first read, but by his second reading to me, they were rolling off his tongue.

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Caleb and I make up words all the time, which started when I told him he was my tiger-bunny, a character made up of a tiger and bunny, in my picture book Tibby The Tiger- Bunny, as inspired by him.

So, his picking this book and being able to read these made-up words pleases me immensely from a words-worth viewpoint.

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–        The story is about Marvin K Mooney, a dilly-dallier. His highly exasperated mum is trying to get him going out of the house. Story of my life at this point with getting Caleb K. Mooney to do things, from bathing to leaving home for Kindergarten. (See Reason 1 on why I don’t read to him daily.)

I’m tickled that Caleb sees the parallel humour in his first self-read book.

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Caleb’s been so pleased with this achievement that he’s been picking up the same book to read every time. And that’s fine. Out of that roughly 200 words, he’s reinforcing his recognition of many commonly used words and some slightly harder ones.

I’ve now started re-reading to him Dr Seuss’ I’ll teach my Dog 100 words as the next book of his choice.

I know, in time, it will translate to my tiger-bunny reading 100 more words.

 

 

 

 

 

I recently gave three talks at ISS International School, Singapore. The three groups of children were 4 years, 5-6 years and 7-8 years old respectively.

Because I gave the talks over three consecutive hours, it really impressed upon me how different each session turned out. It’s amazing how these growth years see the children progress through so many developmental milestones.

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I played the animation for Prince Bear & Pauper Bear and The Tale of Rusty Horse for all the children but that was where the similarity ended for the sessions.

With the youngest ones, I did a reading of Tibby & Duckie, my current favourite read-aloud of my books. I had fun taking the children through Duckie’s characteristics which differed from the other ducklings.

When I was sharing with the 5-6 year olds about how I started writing, several of them chimed in that they wanted to write their own books too. There and then, we had an impromptu creative writing/drawing session where the children designed their book covers along with book title and their main character. 

“Remember to write our names on our book!” One child reminded the others repeatedly.

I was tickled and reminded of how thrilled I was to see my name on my first book Prince Bear & Pauper Bear.

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With the third group of 7-8 year olds, I was inundated with questions on writing and publishing even before I started my presentation. It ended up more of a dialogue session.

I was impressed when one boy told me how a story must have a beginning, a middle and an end. Clearly his teachers and the wonderful teacher-librarian who organized my visit had prepared the children well.

Another student stumped me momentarily with a question no one has ever asked me in all my school visits. It was the scene in The Tale of Rusty Horse when Rusty met the caretaker’s son for the first time. The student wanted to know why the boy could not walk and why I had not explained the reason in that scene. 

“Wow, you are asking about Point-of-View and backstory,” I told him.  I explained that it has been written from Rusty’s perspective and Rusty would not have known why at that time, except for what he could see ie. the that the boy was carried and appeared unable to walk.

Also, sometimes the writer doesn’t put in all the backstory as it isn’t necessary to that story. In this case, the “why” was less important and it was more about “how” Rusty responded to the boy’s situation.

It was a visit that left several impressions on me both as an author and a mum to a very questioning preschooler.

Earlier this month, on 4th March 2016, I was invited to dialogue with a class of 66 Wheelock College students studying for the Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education.

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As part of their curriculum work, the 66 students were split into 22 teams to work on a social studies project for preschoolers. The topics revolved around community spaces and facilities in Singapore, ranging from Hawker Centres, Community Centres, Library, MRT, Coffee Shops.

Each team of 6 members was tasked to produce two deliverables. The first was an informational book to educate the children on the facts eg. the MRT system. The second was a corresponding fictional story which weaved in facts on the same topic ie. MRT (a “faction” as some writers call it these days).

My role was to critique all 22 project manuscripts and concepts on the spot. As I mentioned to Wheelock lecturer Elaine Ng, my style here would be Paula Abdul rather than Simon Cowell with the critiques!

The students were amazing in cobbling together their projects within a week’s deadline, with the teams putting together mock-ups of their books on top of their manuscripts.

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One team cleverly used mother and child orang utan characters for their children’s story to illustrate riding on an MRT, weaving in proper etiquette like not swinging from the ceiling handles on the train and other funny episodes. Since I’m constantly telling my own preschooler to stop acting like a monkey, I could see the humorous parallels here.

That same team cleverly developed a games and activity book using the network of MRT stations to educate children on train routes.

Another team wrote a story using a hawker centre food tray as the main character narrating the story, along with illustrations. I chuckled through the clever and fun “show, don’t tell” lines they employed to demonstrate hawker centre etiquette.

Yet another developed an activity book with a shopping basket which preschoolers could pluck out to contain their purchases as they “shopped” through the book pages.

I was very heartened to see how creative this cohort of pre-school teachers-to-be are and I hope that they will always have supportive teaching environments where they can nurture our young to learn through play and creative thinking.

I wrapped up with a brief sharing of my own writing journey with the Class before zipping off to pick up my monkeying preschooler from kindergarten.

Wheelock Author Gp Photo

 

 

 

I had a very special day over the weekend. Together with Ben, Caleb, our cousins, nephews, niece and godson, we watched the theatre adaptation of Bunny Finds The Right Stuff. By coincidence, a few other friends bought tickets for the same show. We made up a sizeable group.

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Together with the show’s cast and my friends’ kids (minus a few camera-shy ones)

 

I had heard very favorable reviews of the show from friends over the past week. But watching it from the front row seat was something else altogether.

I felt sympathy when Bunny flopped about from her lack of stuffing.

I was amused when Bunny talked to the fishes swimming circles around her.

I chuckled when Bunny climbed into a giant flowerpot and daisies sprouted out of her head.

I was amused when Bunny popped with blueberry stains and ran from the birds swarming around her.

I was delighted when Bunny’s friends gave her a bubble bath, and blew bubbles into the audience.

I gasped when Bunny climbed a ladder hung from the ceiling.

I grinned when Dinosaur, Grizzly and Kangeroo got the children in the audience to help find stuffing for Bunny.

And I swayed to the amazingly catchy songs which the characters sang throughout the show.

Most of all, my heart warmed as I watched the show, and I felt joyful seeing how my book went from page to stage, staying true to the story.

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Ben & Caleb at PIP’s Playbox

 

This coming Sunday 13 March, Bunny Finds The Right Stuff ends its show season after running 30 shows over the past 14 days.

It was 10 years ago when I fretted and flopped in indecision over whether to return to corporate work or continue writing after publishing my first book Prince Bear & Pauper Bear. This theatre production really hit the sweet spot for me and refreshed me with a new burst of energy and reminder as to why I write what I write….Okay, that last bit sounds unintentionally Dr Seuss.

I’m just glad that Bunny provided the right script for children’s theatre and am thankful for God’s favour on this little picture book.

Elise Bunny

My niece with her favourite bunny

 

 

This morning, I woke up to find my Bunny Finds The Right Stuff theatre show in the news!

Bunny theatre show in the news - Straits Times 5 March 2016

Bunny theatre show in the news – Straits Times 5 March 2016

Esplanade Theatre is staging a special edition of the theatre adaptation of my book for special needs children this coming Monday. Read more over at the Straits Times website here!

Bunny Finds The Right Stuff children’s theatre show will run from now till 13 March. Ticketing details over at Esplanade’s site here.

 

 

 

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