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As the year comes towards a close, I pause for my tradition of looking back at my writing year in this 2021 that is fast passing.

2021 turned out to be very much like 2020’s pandemic pause. Although there was no Circuit Breaker in Singapore this time around, our lives and movements ebbed and flowed with ever-changing Safe Management Measures in tandem with Delta’s spread.

When the pandemic started, I felt I could not ‘write as usual’. How could I…in a world fraught with so many problems?

Yet the pull of words has been especially strong this year.

This year has turned out to be a writing year like no other. I found myself with a bumper crop of 10 new books (9 new book releases – 3x of my usual output + 1 book for my dad). It was like a huge divine bookquet for my Jubilee Year this year, along with several other cheer points, for which I am immensely grateful:

1. Little Godwit & Little Mole find voices in Storytel (January)

Little Godwit Finds His Wings and Little Mole’s Awesome Star were published by international audio book publisher Storytel. This was followed shortly by my Tibby series. Storytel literally gave voices to 5 of my picture book titles.

2. Little Mimic’s Superpower (March)

The Little Mimic’s Superpower, the 3rd book in my Little Series, was released in March with a 5-star review rating from Readers’ Favourite and a beautiful storytelling by friend and former CNA anchor Suzanne Jung. 

3. Marky Polo in Tokyo (April)

Marky Polo in Tokyo, as inspired by Caleb, was launched at a Zoom session at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. I was thrilled to also do a mum-and-son photoshoot for a Straits Times Life! feature for the debut book of my new Marky Polo Travels series and last book of my Little Series. Such a special interview for me.

4. Tibby and Wild Rice drama (April)

I was delighted to learn that Wild Rice Academy had licensed rights to use Tibby the Tiger Bunny for their children’s drama workshops and coincidentally, my dear friend’s son Ted had been busy rehearsing for it.

5. Hornbills in my Neighbourhood (May)

Hornbills in my Neighbourhood, my 5th and last book in the local wildlife picture book series, was released! Reading up on these self-Stay Home Notice female hornbills topped the facts I learnt about our local animals in writing this series for Wildlife Reserves Singapore. 

6. Just Teddy – My One-of-a-Kind 50,000 copies (May)

When I entered into a collaboration with Our Daily Bread Ministries, my hope was that my little Mustard Seed book would increase in reach and purpose. The print run of over 50,000 copies since launch late last year has been exceedingly, abundantly beyond what I could imagine. Praise God for this little mustard seed book that was baked into daily bread and multiplied in God’s hands!

7. Just Teddy in Mandarin animation (June)

My “fearfully and wonderfully made” Teddy went from print to animation in a delightful short storytelling video clip produced by Our Daily Bread Ministries Taiwan. My heart was warmed from watching and listening to the storytelling of how Just Teddy went from ‘ordinary’ to ‘extraordinary’, in the Chinese translation of Just Teddy, whose Mandarin title translates to Ordinary Extraordinary.

8. My Life, My Stories (August)

I spent many months interviewing my dad last year on his life story and more rounds of editing and refining of the manuscript this year before I finally decided to change the narrator voice from 3rd person POV (point of view) to 1st person POV. And I could not have completed my last mile of publishing My Life, My Stories without my dear friend Bernice who did a huge favour of doing the book layout for me and Hong Koon who helped with the printing. And it was just in time for my dad’s 77th birthday in August, which also marked the end of his chemotherapy treatment.

9. Moonbeam’s silvery shine on Little Godwit, Little Mole and Little Mimic (October)

For my Jubilee birthday, I received the sunny news that my Little Series (of Little Godwit, Little Mole and Little Mimic, illustrated by talented John Lim) won the Silver Medal for Best Picture Book Series at the 2021 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards! I was so starry-eyed that all three picture books were recognised in one silvery shine. No need any other birthday present liao, I told Ben.

10. I Can Recover at Home! – A Covid Home Recovery Guide for Families & Kids (November)

I have never written anything so fast in all my years. I didn’t have time to get critiques from my writing critique pals. I had to parse health protocols into layman terms in super speed. And I had to be my own editor on the language and story pacing front.

But, with God’s favour, the response to our Covid e-book (which I collaborated on with amazing illustrator Josef Lee and superman doctor Darryl Lim) has been overwhelmingly encouraging. It’s been very well received by parents and the medical community who told us that the book is very clearly written, beautifully illustrated and extremely helpful.

I Can Recover at Home! has been downloaded about 15,000 times from my blogsite. And that’s not counting the countless copies that went viral on Whatsapp. We even received an email from a Canadian medical facility saying that the book pdf had reached them and asking advice on how they could use this for their own community. We were also extremely well supported on the media/social media front:

  • Health Minister Ong Ye Kung shared our e-book on his Facebook and Instagram pages on our book launch day.
  • Straits Times Life! gave us a full-page feature story.
  • Our book made ST’s Facebook TV channel’s “The Big Story”.
  • Shin Min Daily and Mediacorp 8 contacted us and both ran half-page features on our ebook.
  • Methodist Message featured Darryl’s testimony on his telemedicine initiative.
  • Salt & Light featured my testimony on our e-book collaboration.

We have since launched our Chinese edition, with the Malay and Tamil editions to follow soon.

11. Marky Polo in Beijing (November)

Illustrator Nicholas Liem and I launched Marky Polo in Beijing at the Singapore Writers’ Festival this November. It was the first time we were meeting since our illustration kick-off meeting earlier this year. Nic of course outdid himself and blew me away with his brilliant artwork and humorous comic-infused moments in this 2nd book of our Marky Polo’s Travels’ series.

12. I really, really enjoyed writing my Wow Wild Asia series (November)

My Wow Wild Asia series of 3 picture book readers arrived in November! This was a series that I was inspired to write at the start of this year. I experimented with the voice and wrote them in 1st person, present tense for my first time. I really, really enjoyed writing these books in one go. And the writing experience and ‘practice’ gave me the 1st person point-of-view style that I adopted for our Covid e-book. Illustrator Evi Shelvia’s brightly coloured palettes gives this series such a cheery feel!

13. Find Happy through Sew Sow Good Stuff SG (December)

The final book release this year came as part of my Sew Sow Good Stuff SG fundraising initiative in collaboration with a mum and daughter and a few volunteers. Our fundraiser had a successful sell-out and wrapped up just before Christmas.

Find Happy is my very first inspirational concept picture book and it is illustrated by 22-year-old vet studies undergraduate Daryl Wang.

As this year comes to a close, I look at my Jubilee year without specific writing plans.

I only know that I would like 2022 to be a year of like-minded collaborations where I can use words to encourage and uplift at a community level. I’ll commit it in God’s hands to steer where that goes.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” – Proverb 16:9

December started out on a rather discouraging note.

But God’s invisible hand brought so much encouragement every step of the way, from dear friends to acquaintances to complete strangers, whose words and actions uplifted me greatly.

This Friday, on this Christmas Eve, I look back with so much gratitude and thankfulness to God for:

1. Good Stuff

With the favour of friends and supporters, our Sew Sow Good Stuff fundraiser met and exceeded the fundraising target for Child at Street 11, a quality childcare centre for children from low-income families. Happy to have gotten all the packages out to buyers last week and wrapped up on remaining stuff yesterday, in time for Christmas.

2. Great Fellowship

Since last Friday through this week, I have been having amazing one-on-one (mostly) fellowship with several friends who built me up with so much encouragement.

Through sheer providence, this whole week has been spent fellowshipping/ meeting/ communicating with healthcare folks – from close friends to new acquaintances. It has been a most healing week (pun intended 😊). A couple of these divine appointments slotted in based on their availability, not mine.

(With Jamie, my poetry-writing palliative doctor friend…let’s just say the others are photo/social media-shy)

I had two lunches with two dear doctor friends, dropped off gift packages to another three doctor friends, had a zoom meeting with a healthcare team and took my dad for his heart check up with another doctor friend. In between that, the senior nurse, who has been of great help to our family during my dad’s cancer treatment, emailed me a huge note of encouragement that made me cry.

And a dear and only non-doctor friend of this week (well, she’s a book doctor…) turned up at my home with my favourite cake.

3. Best Physician

During cancer treatment this year, my dad’s heart went back into abnormal rhythm due to the stress of the chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I thank God for the good news that we received this Tuesday that his heart has now returned to normal rhythm – his Christmas gift – on top of his birthday gift of remission.

I’m so thankful for all the healthcare folks and friends who have journeyed with us through my dad’s cancer treatment this year, my late mum’s cancer treatment two years back and mine five years back.

On this Christmas Eve, I’m reminded of the Best Physician of all time – Christ, my Saviour and Healer. In Christ, I have found healing physically, emotionally and spiritually for all that has happened this past decade.

“Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that you have been healed.” – 1 Peter 2:24

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqBpifDpNKc

I’m really, really chuffed to end this year with the release of my final picture books for the year with my 3-book Wow Wild Asia series:

This is the first time that I wrote in 1st person Point-of-View and in present tense, and I discovered that I really, really enjoyed experimenting with this new style of writing. And I love how illustrator Evi Shelvia brought my manuscripts to life with her vibrant, whimsical artwork style!

I spent some time thinking about the choice of three animals that I wanted to feature for my series.

I started with otters because there’s now a growing population in Singapore and I wanted to plant a tiny flag on that in the fun facts section.

In googling for story ideas, I also found out the most amazing fact I’m learning for the first time (though this is my 3rd otter book…haha):

Baby otters really need swimming lessons from their mum because they aren’t instinctive swimmers!

What a fantastic premise for a story, I thought. Out of that came Boleh, the little otter that is afraid of water. And Boleh means “can do”.

The 2nd animal I decided to write about is the Sunda clouded leopard, a secretive creature that lives in trees. What if a little leopard is afraid of heights? Out of that came Sayang (meaning “precious”), a loved little leopard who receives help to conquer his fear of heights. After all, love overcomes fear!

The choice of the last animal took a while to come to me. Then I stumbled on a Youtube video of a baby sun bear that was following his parent to collect honey for the first time. Out of that came Tahan (meaning “tolerate”), who learns to tahan bees and overcome his fear of them.

Wow Wild Asia series is published by World Scientific Education as part of its World of Discovery book collection of titles to help children love STEM and discover Asia.

It’s appropriate for children from 3 to 7 years old and beyond, and comes with a glossary explaining difficult words. There are two post-story pages of fun facts to introduce children to these beautiful animals of Asia.

My 3 books are sold in a bundle of 9 picture books (Level B Readers) at $46 only from World Scientific Education’s ebookstore.

This weekend, our Sew Sow Good Stuff SG collaborative launched the sales of our fundraiser for Child at Street 11 with a new line of specially developed products.

A few people have asked what this little book is about and who the target audience is.

It’s for anyone from 4 to 104 years old! It’s simple sparse text which a young child can understand. But underlying it is a deeper theme, so it’s a good gift for adults too.

This is my very first concept picture book ie. there is no specific story plot. Rather it is based on the concept of Finding Joy.

Although it is all of 50 words, I spent two months writing, revising and parsing every word through several rounds of revisions. Precisely because there were so few words, every word had to count and be there for a reason.

I wanted to write about finding hope and joy amidst this Covid climate. That although so many things are not within our control, yet we can choose to seek out things within our control and find joy in these small but meaningful endeavours.

For me, the image of dark clouds, strong winds and heavy rain came very early on when I started thinking about this little book. Because these are elements that are beyond our control. Just as we have been facing all these climate changes and an invisible virus wreaking havoc on our world.

I also wanted three characters. To represent Community.

That as we weather the storm together, we can come out of it together too.

22-year-old Daryl Wang is the artist behind this fully illustrated book. She’s a university undergraduate studying to be a vet and doing passion projects on the side through her own Paper Forest label. I left the text open to interpretation so she decided on the three animals – Sun Bear, Goose and Red Panda.

Her mum Chiao Lin is the artisan behind Pink Velvet Handmade. She designed the stuff toys based on these three animals. Clearly, artistic talent runs in this family.

We were supported by a few friends who joined us in sewing these stuff toys. (Yes, I started sewing during Covid!)

Sun Bear, Goose and Red Panda are printed on earth-friendly reusable bags which we are selling individually as well as in a bundle – 1 stuff toy + Find Happy gift book + reusable bag.

100% of proceeds goes to Child at Street 11, which provides highly subsidised quality childcare for children from low-income families.

It’s a small community initiative but every sale will add up to help these families.

Order your gift products from our online order form here as gifts and sow good!

Had the pleasure of launching our Marky Polo in Beijing at the Singapore Writers Festival two Saturdays back.

These in-person events are so few and far between these days that it was the only time that illustrator Nicholas Liem and I have met since the kick-off meeting on this book at the start of this year. I’m glad we did so we could finally take some photos together!

There were plenty of safe management measures in place. We could not talk or socialise with the audience. Seats came with sticker labels, reminding people to sit apart.

Our welcome pack include ART swab kits – truly a sign of the times.

There was no Festival bookstore in Arts House, to reduce mingling. Instead, the charming National Library Board bus was parked outside Arts House and was the “pop-up bookstore”

What really warmed my heart happened after our event.

A family of four came up to me to ask for autographs. The mum said she was glad to see me as they were told that they could not speak to us at the event. She shared that her kids have loved my books from young. Then she pulled out 3 of my books for autographs. One of the books was my first edition of The Tale of Rusty Horse ie. my first print-run of the book from 13 years ago!

It would be an understatement to say that it absolutely warmed the cockles of my heart to see that this family had kept my book with them for 13 years and then taken the trouble to bring it to Arts House (in this Covid climate) to get me to autographed it!

Thank you to this lovely family for their encouragement and also such an uplifting reminder why I continue to plough on and write!

The past month has been an intense but meaningful period, which started on the day right after my Jubilee year birthday.

Two nights before my Jubilee year, I received a very long late-night WhatsApp text from Dr Darryl Lim, who was Caleb’s paediatrician from 4-5 years ago. It had always been a doctor-patient’s mum relationship, so we weren’t exactly in contact after Caleb switched to seeing GPs once he passed preschool years.

What created a dotted-line connection between us was when I bumped into Darryl whilst driving into the carpark of Mt Alvernia carpark on Day 2 or 3 of Chinese New Year 2019. I remember it vividly because I had gotten my mum admitted into hospital, for what was to be her final three weeks before passing.

Darryl was crossing the road to his clinic and called me as I was turning into the carpark. We said a rushed “Hi” to each other. That led to occasional WhatApp season’s greetings. But that was that.

That was until 16th October last month when Darryl sent a long WhatsApp message sharing about a volunteer telemedicine initiative that he had started in support of MOH’s Home Recovery Programme. With this initiative, his volunteer paediatric team from private practice could take some load off our hospitals through their telemedicine consults with Covid-positive children recovering at home. He shared about how parents and kids were fearful and uncertain of the Home Recovery process and thought that the doctors calling them were scam callers.

I could not resist writing Darryl into the story!

Through sheer coincidence, I decided to have a Indian doctor in the children’s A&E to reflect our multicultural team of doctors. Then, Josef drew him from imagination. When Darryl saw the draft, he told us that he has a good friend who is a doctor in A&E who looks exactly as Josef had drawn. So, we got permission to use his real name here too. For me, these two pages are such a beautiful picture of private and public healthcare folks working hand in hand for the health of our children.

Darryl asked what I thought of his idea of doing a simple booklet with illustrations to explain the Home Recovery journey (which then evolved into a full-fledged 36-page children’s picture book). Was it practical and executable? He said he’s my biggest fan and can I help produce this book? Haha… Also, by the way, it would need to be quick and there’s no budget, so can I do it pro-bono?

For something like this to work, I knew I needed an illustrator who could produce the right illustrations + quickly + free… Haha again. The name that came immediately to mind was Josef Lee, who is a picture book author and illustrator.

I started following Josef’s Facebook posts of his pandemic picture book stories a few months ago. And as I read his stories, two thoughts had crossed my mind:

Firstly, I thought… Wow, I really like how Josef is using his talent during this pandemic in his tribute picture-stories to healthcare workers, teachers, migrant workers et al. I would really like to do more of such meaningful writing that is uplifting and beneficial to others in this pandemic period.

Secondly, I like Josef’s artwork style, with its somewhat retro-comics feel and two/three-colour illustration style. I thought this was one person I would like to collaborate with at some point.

I parked these thoughts at the back of my mind.

Fast forward to 17th October morning. Josef came back to mind immediately as the right creative to help with this project. I must confess that my initial thought was simply to introduce Darryl to Josef and ask both of them to work on this together. After all, Josef is an author as well as an illustrator.

I messaged Josef through Facebook (because we actually don’t know each other and I didn’t have his mobile), asking if he could take on this pro-bono project. Then I settled down to some spiritual quiet time. As I did, a second thought dropped into my mind quite immediately.

Hey, Darryl asked you to help. You are now approaching Josef, who you don’t know, to take the entire project off your hands. Why don’t you collaborate instead?

Oh, I said to myself. I guess if Josef comes back to ask me to collaborate, I take it as the sign and confirmation that I am meant to work on this.

When I ended my quiet time, I looked at my phone which pinged with a message from Josef. He said yes and proposed that we collaborate on this, with me as the author and him as the illustrator.

The sign was clear.

We got on board with the project immediately. I started a three-way WhatsApp chat group that same afternoon. We had our kick-off Zoom meeting with Darryl, Josef and myself two days later (right after my birthday). From then on, we were on an intense super-speed bullet train ride in the creation of this e-book through days and nights. (The editor of my other books actually re-emailed me, saying it was not like me to not answer emails. But I simply did not have the bandwidth or headspace to look at anything else).

The invisible hand behind this project prepared me on this speed-writing front with experience I had gained from two of my latest book series.

Marky Polo Travels is a hybrid picture book series which I developed, as inspired by my son Caleb, to appeal to kids like him who were moving out of the picture book bracket to junior chapter books and comics. My hybrid picture book series blends comic book panels with picture book pages to bring a more pacy and lighter touch to the storytelling. Informational boxes across pages allow for fun facts on the city that we spotlight in the book. And I added extra post-story pages to highlight other city attractions and more fun facts on the native animals.

Marky Polo’s creative framework inspired the format for our Covid home recovery ebook. And the invisible hand that brought Josef and I to collaborate also brought on board an illustrator who does both comics and picture books and works at lightning speed. A typical picture book production process takes minimally 6-9 months from concept to publishing. With God’s enabling, we completed this book in 3 weeks. And this is the first time Josef and I are collaborating, and we still had to factor medical input from Darryl and his team in my writing and Josef’s illustrations.

My latest Wow Wild Asia picture book series, which will be out by end of this month, prepared me to write from a first-person point-of-view perspective. My children’s books have always been in third person point-of-view writing style because it’s easier and more familiar for me. Working on three picture books for Wow Wild Asia in first person POV earlier this year gave me the confidence to dive straight into first person POV for I Can Recover at Home!

The title came easily too because my Wow Wild Asia series comes with first person POV titles – I Really, Really Don’t Like Water! being the first book I’ve written in this soon-to-be-launched series.

I believe that the invisible hand of God brought Darryl, Josef and me together to produce I Can Recover at Home! Our work process has been very much on the same page and an excellent complement of skillsets.

I love what one of the doctors on the paediatric team (that reviewed our draft copy) said. She was quoted in our e-book’s feature story in Straits Times Life! on Monday 15 November, and her quote captured the heart of why we produced this book.

Dr Agnes Tay from International Baby Child and Adolescent Clinic in Ang Mo Kio said this: “The e-book is simple to read yet includes accurate facts and practical details. This delightful work of art struck me with its clarity and its message of hope and assurance that all will be well. It is truly a labour of love.”

For me, our labour of love came out of the invisible hand of God and His Love for our little ones who fear Covid and the recovery process. A subject of fear was turned into a theme of clarity and hope in our little picture e-book. And I hope that it will help our children towards allaying their fear of the unknown through this Home Recovery journey that we have now made known through this book.

I thank God for His invisible hand which is very visible to me.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

Thank you Straits Times and Elisa Chia for supporting us with a full page feature story in today’s Straits Times Life! on this free e-book which we created as a gift to our community!

Read the full and free-to-read story here:

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/parenting-education/free-comic-e-book-mooted-by-doctor-to-help-kids-cope-with-home

Very privileged to be part of this collaboration to produce ‘I Can Recover at Home! – A COVID Home Recovery Guide for Families & Kids’ – together with illustrator Josef Lee and Dr Darryl Lim. We have produced this e-book for young children to provide a reassuring peek into the journey of recovering from COVID at home. It is also meant as a handy guide for parents and caregivers caring for their COVID-positive kids. We’ve packed it with helpful information, useful tips and website links.

This e-book is produced as part of a voluntary community initiative. It is also meant to be a supporting resource for the team of doctors providing free telemedicine care for children with COVID, in support of our Ministry of Health’s Home Recovery Programme.

You can download the FREE e-book from this blog’s homepage (look for download button in top right column).

Please help to share this e-book resource with friends and families with children under 12 years old. Together, we can move towards living with COVID as an endemic!

You can download the free e-book on this blog’s homepage from 14 November 2021!

Thrilled that Marky Polo gets a spot in Straits Times’s Fun with Kids column for his travels to Beijing in both the print and e-edition of Straits Times Life today!

The e-version of Straits Times Life includes a pagespread from our book!

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/parenting-education/fun-with-kids-snow-citys-ice-hotel-gallery-arts-trail-in-jurong-where

The print edition has a different layout format.

Whichever way, I’m delighted all round!

Get your copy of Marky Polo in Beijing in the bookstores or with World Scientific Education’s online store!

! Marky Polo in Beijing arrived at my doorstep hot of the press today!

In the second book in our Marky Polo’s Travels series, Marky’s cousin Martial Polo invites him to Beijing, after hearing of his first trip overseas to Tokyo. Martial Polo is a Wushu enthusiast who dreams of being a renowned martial arts expert like Great-grandmother Muay Thai Polo. Martial turns Marky’s holiday into an exhausting strength-building, endurance-training workout. Can Marky endure Martial’s bossy nature and find a way to enjoy sightseeing in Beijing at a slower pace?

Marky Polo in Beijing is packed with amazing illustrations of Beijing, a humorous and entertaining story and lots of fun facts. We hope kids can travel vicariously through the pages of this augmented reality integrated children’s book and enjoy this educative read. Inside pages to follow in the next post!

Thrilled to have worked on this with amazingly talented illustrator Nicholas Liem and World Scientific Education. And of course our taskmaster cum Publisher Ruth Wan who brought Nic and I together for this fantastic collaboration.

You can visit World Scientific publishing website to pre-order the book before it hits the bookstores: https://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/12485