Go local: Introduce your kids to books by Singapore authors and illustrators

SINGAPORE – The next time you and your kids go to a bookstore, check out the books by home-grown authors and illustrators. Then, buy some home and bond over them.

From time to time, the local creatives come together with publishers and various organisations, such as the National Arts Council, to inspire more readers to pick up Singapore literature.

The latest initiative is the inaugural Singapore Children’s Book Festival from June 21 to 23.

Over the weekend, there were storytelling sessions by authors, arts workshops inspired by their books, a gallery showcasing illustrations and a book fair.

It was co-organised by the Singapore Book Publishers Association and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa), University of the Arts Singapore.

The festival aims to encourage children to develop a lifelong passion for reading and storytelling through their engagement with local children’s literature, says Singapore Book Publishers Association president Edmund Wee, 72. He is also the founder of publisher Epigram Books.

He says: “Parents and educators in Singapore are increasingly cognisant of the need to buy and read local stories to their children and pupils.

“Yet, they remain largely ignorant of what is being published because children’s books get so little media coverage, in part due to their non-literary status.

“Even more alarming is the unawareness among the public of the growing number of small publishers producing such good books.”

Why is he championing local literature for kids?

“It is important for children to read stories that reflect them, their experiences and their background. It allows them to feel seen and represented, and fosters a love for Singapore as a vibrant home,” he says.

Echoing his sentiments are authors including Daryl Kho, author of children’s fantasy novel Mist-Bound: How To Glue Back Grandpa (2021). He says: “During my childhood, my shelf was largely occupied by titles from English authors. There were hardly any local options.

“I grew up wondering why I never had crumpets for tea, but instead, ang ku kueh and curry puffs with kopi.”

The Singapore Children’s Book Festival is a much-needed initiative to showcase the “many amazing books” that the country has to offer now.

“A Singaporean parent, hunting for the next read for his kid, will likely head only to a bookstore’s main children’s section,” the 45-year-old says, adding that it is mostly stocked with international bestsellers.

“Where are the books from Singapore and South-east Asia? Oh, they’re placed in a shelf at the back, under Asian stories.”

It is essential to introduce kids to a balance of local and foreign titles. Kho cites American children’s literature scholar Dr Rudine Sims Bishop, who shared how books serve as “windows” and “mirrors”.

With “window” books, readers put their feet in others’ shoes and live in their world. Such books help build understanding and perspective.

“Mirror” books, on the other hand, reflect the readers’ context and environment. They develop self-awareness.

If kids spend too much time looking in “mirrors”, they risk becoming self-obsessed and close-minded. But keep looking outside the “windows”, and they risk wanting to always be somewhere else.

go local: introduce your kids to books by singapore authors and illustrators

Evelyn Sue Wong's Just A Little Mynah multilingual picture book series with illustrator Dhanendra Poedjono has text in in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. PHOTO: EPIGRAM BOOKS

Evelyn Sue Wong, 74, who wrote the Just A Little Mynah multilingual picture book series (2020 to 2022), says: “From stories predominantly about children in the Britain and the United States just decades ago, there is a burgeoning number of books set in Singapore and Asia for Singapore kids to read.”

Singapore is a country of diverse people, languages and cultures and a city in nature, which inspired her to write the Just A Little Mynah multilingual picture book series (2020 to 2022).

Her stories, with illustrations by Dhanendra Poedjono, follow a friendly bird character which interacts with Singaporeans from all walks of life in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

She adds: “In storytelling workshops, I encourage children and parents to read our local books, not only in English but in their mother tongue language too.”

go local: introduce your kids to books by singapore authors and illustrators

Chloe Chang has illustrated more than 20 children’s books published locally and overseas. ST PHOTO: BRIAN TEO

It is encouraging that young Singapore parents seem to be more conscious of supporting the local scene, says illustrator Chloe Chang, who has been involved in more than 20 children’s books published locally and overseas.

“As a result, the quality and quantity of locally published children’s books have increased steadily over the years.”

The 31-year-old was given the Illustrator of the Year Award at the Singapore Children’s Book Festival opening ceremony on June 21.

She adds: “Our local publishing scene is still fairly new. The original Winnie The Pooh children’s book (1926, by British author A.A. Milne and British illustrator E.H. Shepard) is older than our country. We still have some ways to go before establishing any classics.”

Catching the reading bug

Beyond fostering a strong sense of identity and belonging, reading local children’s books helps spark imagination and creativity in young minds, says Nafa School of Young Talents principal Sabrina Long. She is also the dean of the art and design faculty.

Kids can learn that their everyday lives are full of potential for storytelling, thus nurturing a future generation of writers and artists, Mr Wee adds.

But what if your children are simply not interested in books, local or otherwise?

go local: introduce your kids to books by singapore authors and illustrators

Low Lai Chow (right) with Margaret Leng Tan, the subject of her biographical picture book about the Singaporean toy piano virtuoso. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Author Low Lai Chow, 42, suggests that parents lead by example.

“Kids are likely to want to read if they see the most important people in their lives derive precious pleasure from reading.

“This cannot be forced or feigned. If you’re bossing your child to read while catching Pokemon on multiple phones, you cannot blame him or her for wanting to play games instead of wanting to read,” says Low. She has written nine children’s titles, including Becoming Margaret Leng Tan (2023).

The biographical picture book, based on the Singaporean toy piano virtuoso, is illustrated by Dan Kuah.

Low and her seven-year-old only child, who is still working on reading independently, go to the library often.

“I keep a lookout for books that align with my daughter’s current interests. I also borrow those that I find joy in reading out loud, which are written in such a way that the words roll off the tongue easily,” Low says.

“Sometimes, she will read aloud one page and I’ll do the next page. Other times, she practises silent reading. Optimising quality reading time together has been priceless in encouraging her to read.”

go local: introduce your kids to books by singapore authors and illustrators

Author-illustrator Quek Hong Shin has more than 20 children’s books to his name. ST PHOTO: HENG YI-HSIN

Author-illustrator Quek Hong Shin, 44, recommends reluctant readers to look at the pictures first.

“Wordless books, comic strips and even watching cartoons or films based on literary works are good ways to encourage children to read more,” says Quek, who has more than 20 children’s books to his name.

His picture book Chou Chou (2023), about a girl’s relationships with her security pillow and grandmother, is told solely through illustrations.

go local: introduce your kids to books by singapore authors and illustrators

Quek Hong Shin’s picture book Chou Chou, about a girl’s relationships with her security pillow and grandmother, is told solely through illustrations. ILLUSTRATION: QUEK HONG SHIN

Parents should let their children explore all genres and find “that book” which will get them into the reading habit.

“For my daughter, it was when our kind neighbour gave her a copy of Harry Potter when she was nine,” says Kho, whose only child is now 14.

“The reading bug bit Alexis hard. Since then, we’ve never had to push her to read.”

Here, local authors and illustrators recommend Singapore children’s books that they enjoy.

go local: introduce your kids to books by singapore authors and illustrators

Some Singapore books to introduce to your children, as recommended by local authors and illustrators. PHOTOS: EPIGRAM BOOKS, GRACEWORKS PUBLISHING, PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE SEA, PEPPER DOG PRESS

Chloe Chang
“The Emma and Ginger series (2016), written by Lily Kong and illustrated by Jeanette Yap, is a heart-warming one about a girl named Emma, her parents, her adorable cat Ginger and the everyday problems they face.

“I’d also like to recommend Oyster Girl (2022), which explores Hokkien culture through the medium of food. It is author Joyce Chng’s tribute to her late grandma and beautifully illustrated by Teressa Ong.”

Evelyn Sue Wong
“My two older grandchildren are nine and six years old. We love all picture books by author-illustrator Quek Hong Shin, such as The Incredible Basket (2018), The Brilliant Oil Lamp (2019) and The Humpback Whale (2022), and those he teamed up with writer Alan John on, such as Grandma’s Tiger (2022).

“These books, and Quek’s most recent collaboration with author Ames Chen, Short Of Nothing (2024), help children to see themselves as well as others.

“They also spark curiosity to learn more about Singapore’s history, and diverse people and cultures, with thoughtful humour.”

Low Lai Chow
“Yellow Man (2021), authored by Chan Li Shan and illustrated by Weng Pixin, is a wonderfully refreshing portrait of the late performance artist Lee Wen.

“Living in Singapore, there’s this uneasy collective tension that comes from feeling pressured to conform and stay within societal comfort zones. Or worse still, resisting doing something for fear of feeling judged.

“The book is a reminder to live life on one’s own terms.”

Daryl Kho
“The Prophecy Of The Underworld trilogy series (2022 to 2024) by Low Ying Ping features the wacky and irreverent misadventures of a teenage hero. She also wrote the four-part Mount Emily series (2016 to 2017), which has inspired a TV series.”

Quek Hong Shin
“Karung Guni Boy (2016), written by Lorraine Tan, is a story about the power of a child’s imagination. The cardboard artwork by Eric Wong is beautiful and magical.

“I also like Elephants Live Upstairs! (2022), written by Melissa Ong and illustrated by Javon Chan. The story is hilarious and very relatable, especially if you have a loud neighbour.”

Josef Lee
“Get a copy of Lemonade Sky (2021). I love how author and illustrator J.H. Low transforms familiar scenes from Singapore into whimsical creations that are full of imagination.

“Another book I’d recommend is The Red String (2024), illustrated by Ah Guo, for the creative use of a red string that ties all the scenes in the book together.”

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