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Maggie Steele, the storybook heroine who vaults over the moon, has been attracting thousands of visitors from around the world. So many visitors, in fact, that she’s using a time zone map to keep track of them all.* People are … Continue reading →
Every year, the Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC) in Singapore sets up a wonderful bookstore for the festival attendees. This year, the bookstore was the best it's ever been because it was run by Bookaburra, a specialist children's bookseller in Singapore that believes in "good books and even finer children." There was a greater variety of the latest children's and young adult books from all over the world and the people from Bookaburra were doing a great job hand-selling. This, of course, was dangerous for the wallets of all the festival attendees!
While in Singapore for the AFCC, I made sure to visit Woods in the Books, an independent picture book shop for all ages. The shop had a well-curated collection of new and classic board books, picture books, comics, and graphic novels from around the world. The Sunday afternoon I was there, there were so many customers: artists, families with very small children, and young professionals (I could even hear them talking about the books they were reading). Very heartening!
Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth
Written by Emily Haynes / Illustrated by Sanjay Patel
Published by Chronicle Books
40 pages / 10″x 9-5/8″
The bold, bright colors of India leap right off the page in this fresh and funny picture book adaptation of how Ganesha came to write the epic poem of Hindu literature, theMahabharata. Ganesha is just like any other kid, except that he has the head of an elephant and rides around on a magical mouse. And he loves sweets, especially the traditional dessert laddoo. But when Ganesha insists on biting into a super jumbo jawbreaker laddoo, his tusk breaks off! Ganesha is terribly upset, but with the help of the wise poet Vyasa, he learns that what seems broken can actually be quite useful after all.
To assist Filipino children's book creators to access regional opportunities, Australian children’s author Ken Spillman has made available a grant of ten thousand pesos (P10,000.00) to help defray the expenses of attending the AFCC held annually in Singapore.
To qualify, applicants must have published at least one full-length work for children or young adults. Evidence of the published work may take the form of a PDF file attached to the application or a link to the site where the work is sold.
Applicants are also asked to submit a resumé and a maximum of 500 words explaining how attendance at the AFCC might be expected to contribute to the applicant’s development and profile as a writer. A statement on why the applicant needs the grant may also be considered but is not a requirement. A commitment to attend the AFCC is also expected by showing proof that the applicant will pay or look for other resources to fund other expected expenses in the attendance of the AFCC.
The National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) will also give the chosen recipient a fifty percent (50%) discount on the AFCC registration fee. A special code will be emailed to the chosen applicant which may be used to register online.
With the above-stated requirements, applications may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submission of applications is on March 15, 2013 for attendance to this year’s AFCC which will be held on May 28-29, 2013. All submissions will be treated confidentially.Add a Comment
There are many policies around the world designed to encourage ethnic desegregation in housing markets. In Chicago, the Gautreaux Project (the predecessor of the Moving To Opportunity program) offered rent subsidies to African American residents of public housing who wanted to move to desegregated areas. Germany, the United Kingdom, and Netherlands, impose strict restrictions on where refugee immigrants can settle. Many countries also have “integration maintenance programs” or “neighborhood stabilization programs” to encourage desegregation. These policies are often controversial as they are alleged to favor some ethnic groups at the expense of others. Regardless of the motivation behind these policies, knowing the welfare effects is important because these desegregation policies affect the location choices of many individuals.
I am interested in one such desegregation policy in Singapore: the ethnic housing quotas. Using location choices, I analyzed how heterogeneous households sort into neighborhoods as the ethnic proportions in the neighborhood change. To do this at such a local level I had to assemble a dataset of ethnic proportions by hand-matching more than 500,000 names to ethnicities using the Singapore residential phonebook.
The ethnic housing quotas policy in Singapore is a fascinating natural experiment. It was implemented in public housing estates in 1989 to encourage residential desegregation amongst the three major ethnic groups in Singapore: Chinese (77%), Malays (14%), and Indians (8%). The quotas are upper limits on the proportions of Chinese, Malays, and Indians at a location. Locations with ethnic proportions that are at or above the quota limits are subjected to restrictions designed to prevent these locations from becoming more segregated. For example, non-Chinese sellers living in Chinese-constrained locations are not allowed to sell to Chinese buyers because this transaction increases the Chinese proportion and makes the location more segregated.
Using transactions data close to the quota limits and controlling for polynomials of ethnic proportions calculated using the phonebook, I documented price dispersion across ethnic groups that is consistent with theoretical predictions of the policy’s impact. The findings suggest a model where Chinese and non-Chinese buyers have different preferences for Chinese neighborhoods.
Indeed, my estimates show that all groups have strong preferences for living with members of their own ethnic group but the shapes of the preferences are very different across the three ethnic groups. All groups have ethnic preferences that are inverted U-shaped but with different turning points. This means that once a neighborhood has enough members of their own ethnic group, households want new neighbors from other ethnic groups. Finding tastes for diversity and differences in the shapes of ethnic preferences is consistent with previous research using data on racial attitudes from the General Social Survey in the United States and also surveys of ethnic relations in Singapore.
I used these estimates of ethnic preferences to perform welfare simulations. The seminal work by Thomas Schelling on tipping showed that externalities exist in a model with ethnic preferences because a mover affects the utility of his current and future neighbors by changing the ethnic composition of the neighborhood. Due to these externalities, Schelling showed that policies such as the ethnic quotas could potentially be used as a coordination mechanism to achieve equilibrium with integrated neighborhoods. My welfare estimates show that under the quota policy, about one-third of neighborhoods are close to the optimal allocation of Chinese, Malays, and Indians respectively.
The Review of Economic Studies aims to encourage research in theoretical and applied economics, especially by young economists. It is widely recognised as one of the core top-five economics journal, with a reputation for publishing path-breaking papers, and is essential reading for economists.
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Subscribe to only business and economics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS. Image credit: HDB flats at Tampines New Town. By Terence Ong. [Creative Commons], via Wikimedia Commons.
Adeline Foo is the best-selling author of the Diary of Amos Lee series, as well as many picture books, inluding Guai Wu:The Chinese Elf and a series of heritage books that highlight the unique Chinese-Malay-Eurasian hybrid culture of the Singapore Peranakans. Here are a couple of tasters from our new interview with Adeline:
I know in five years’ time, the scene for e-books or e-publishing is going to change drastically. People are talking about audio books and books on iPhone. Even kids as young as two are able to navigate around an ipad, so there may come a day where only classics get re-issued in print, because they have justified their shelf life in the children’s book market, but for first time authors, the direction might be to jump straight into e-publishing, thereby bypassing the need to incur cost in printing.
I was very pleased when I found a book on mating behaviours of spiders. I found it very funny that a spider’s courtship ritual is so similar to a human’s! Because my publisher warned me that I couldn’t use anatomically specific words, I had to look for alternatives, and I thought naming an arachnid’s mating organs would not get me into trouble!
As you know, most authors do not get to meet or talk to the artists in America, but in Singapore, we do things more consultatively, and the community of authors and illustrators is small.
Myra Garces-Bacsal of Gathering Books fame has just written a Personal View for us – “A Delectable Taster of Picture Books from Singapore”:
Ever since the birth of Gathering Books a year ago, I have endeavored to know more about children’s literature in Singapore, the Little Red Dot that is my current home now. When Marjorie emailed me about putting together my Personal View on children’s books in Singapore, I knew I would have a tough time – but an enjoyable one as well. And being the researcher that I am, I headed straight to the library to immerse myself in more and more children’s books written and illustrated by Singaporean authors.
Among the qualities I observed from the variety of picture books that I took pleasure in reading was that most of the narratives (1) are informative; (2) are meant to educate or share some knowledge concerning an individual’s developmental disorder/illness; (3) highlight some environmental issue or societal concern; or (4) provide some random fact about animals, place, or groups of people. Given that Singapore is an excellence-driven society with a high premium on education, this does not surprise me at all. Despite the country’s being a ‘tiny red dot’ on the map, I continue to be amazed at the variety of picture books that are available that so effectively demonstrate the richness of Singapore’s heritage and history.
Head on over to the PaperTigers website to read the rest of Myra’s article, including her selection of picture books… I guarantee that you, like me, will be trying to work out a way to get hold of them! Here’s a delectable taster:
Adeline Foo, illustrated by Stephanie Wong, The Diary of Amos Lee: Girls, Guts and Glory
Epigram (Singapore), 2009.
The Diary of Amos Lee: Girls, Guts and Glory is the second of three stories (so far) in Adeline Foo’s immensely popular series that charts Amos’ last three years at primary school. Amos writes his diary when he’s in the toilet, “to get away from my troubles”. Among other things, his troubles involve a bully Michael; what he considers betrayal in his friend Alvin making friends with a new girl, Somaly, who has recently arrived from Cambodia; and his annoying little sister WPI (that’s Whiny, Pesky and Irritating) bringing home a stray cat.
Of course, these and all the other situations disentangle themselves satisfactorily – Michael finally recognises the value of his team-mates, including Amos; Somaly not only becomes a friend but also an inspiration; and far from wanting rid of Tom the cat, Amos ends up as “official guardian of the world’s first three-legged cat” – it’s a long story! Along the way, Amos welcomes a new brother into the family. Amos and another friend, Anthony,also put together a science magazine: the first issue about reproduction in spiders and humans sells out; the second, about Tom’s adventures, is not quite so universally popular but certainly has its fans, too. And throughout, there is swimming training.
Amos Lee’s voice is both credible and hilarious, his concerns real and often touching. As well as the date, each entry has a heading, which emphasises the short, chapter-like bites of text. This would be a great book for reluctant readers, especially boys. Amos is curious and at times deliberately naughty, but he is also a very motivated child, and this motivation may well rub off on readers. No matter how hard he tries, Amos can’t keep his diary hidden from his mother, so her voice comes through intermittently, with comments and spelling corrections. Rather than being interfering, this helps to establish the solidity of Amos’ relationship with his family.
The book is well laid out, with different fonts and text sizes. Stephanie Wong’s expressive, often comical illustrations are dotted throughout, adding sparkle and further dynamism to the story. Wong’s facial expressions are very funny, and their variety is neatly offset by the very cute Tom’s repertoire of two – awake and asleep.
Adeline Foo has created a laugh-out-loud, un-put-downable book. Young readers will love Amos Lee’s Diaries, and their parents will like them too – if they can get a look in!
Singaporean Emily Lim is the award-winning author of the picture books Prince Bear & Pauper Bear, The Tale of Rusty Horse, Just Teddy, Bunny Finds the Right Stuff, and Baby Panda Finds His Way - all stories that give readers the warm fuzzies! Here I chat with Emily about her work and children's literature in Singapore.
Why do you write children's literature? Can you please tell us about your path to publication? What keeps you inspired and motivated as a children's book writer?
I started out with children's books as that was the genre under the First Time Writers and Illustrators Publishing Initiative, organized by our Book Council and the Media Development Authority [MDA] of Singapore. Under that Initiative, winners were given a grant to get their book published. I was in between jobs at that time. So I decided to research on the publishing process and publish my own book. I borrowed "how to" books from the National Library and attended a few book conferences to figure how I could do that.
In the process of researching, I discovered a love for picture books because they can distill so much wisdom in so few words. I also received quite a lot of feedback and response from friends and readers on how much they loved my books and how it impacted them in different ways. That fuelled my passion to continue writing.
I noticed that the themes of self-worth and the search for identity are found in almost all of your books. Why do you write about these themes?
When I started writing my picture books, I did not have a specific theme in mind. I simply wanted to write something which could hopefully inspire. I ended up drawing from my personal experiences. It was very subconscious so I only realized it after I wrote the stories.
My first book Prince Bear & Pauper Bear became my "coming out" story. The toymaker had forgotten to stitch Pauper Bear a mouth so he could not speak. But he found love and second chances when a boy brought him home and repaired him. I struggled with speaking when I first came down with Spasmodic Dysphonia, a rare voice disorder. And like Pauper Bear, my voice has since been restored.
The Tale of Rusty Horse is my "acceptance" part of my story. Rusty, an old forgotten rocking horse, longed to be a real horse so that he could be a crowd favorite again. He got his wish granted for a while. But he finally chose to remain a rocking horse to be a friend to a lonely handicapped boy and through that, discovered there was real magic in true friendship. Like Rusty, I too became very concerned with crowd opinion about my voice condition. But I finally realized that being true to myself was the real deal. Just Teddy is my "realization" story. Teddy went to great comic lengths to
The deadline for submissions to the 2012 Scholastic Asian Book Award is just under a month away, on 17 October 2011 – 5.00p.m. Singapore time.
The National Book Development Council of Singapore and Scholastic Asia have jointly launched the 2012 Scholastic Asian Book Award (SABA). The award will recognise Asians and writers in Asia who are taking the experiences of life, spirit and thinking in different parts of Asia to the world at large. SABA is awarded to an unpublished manuscript (original or translation) targeted at children of ages 6 to 12 years.
This year’s inaugural award was won by Uma Krishnaswami and we can’t wait to see the book. Former Managing Editor of PaperTigers Aline Pereira was one of the judges: read about her Personal View about the Award and the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, where the Award Announcement was made.
Singapore, 20 April 2012 – Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts launched the National Library Board's (NLB) Asian Children's Literature Collection at the Woodlands Regional Library. This is the first time a library will be housing a comprehensive thematic collection.
Mrs Elaine Ng, Chief Executive Officer, NLB, said, “The Asian Children's Literature Collection will serve a range of users like researchers with scholarly needs, teachers assembling lesson materials, parents looking for bedtime reads for their children, and the young who love fascinating tales. We can use these fairy tales, folklores and fables to help our children understand our values, beliefs and customs.”
With the inclusion of this collection, Woodlands Regional Library has about 181,000 books and other materials in the children's section. Visitors can borrow from a selection of 7,200 books including Chinese, Malay, and Tamil books.
There are another 800 books for visitors to browse within the library. This way, more visitors can benefit from these books as we only have one copy of them. Accumulated over 50 years, this collection is listed in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) “List of Nationally and Internationally Significant Collections”. Rare books which have been around for more than 100 years will be on display. These include first editions, out-of-print editions, as well as a handwritten edition. The handwritten edition of Princess Meera displayed in the library, is one of only ten copies in the whole world. Another rare book, Salam the Mouse-Deer, is no longer printed. Some of these books have bilingual contents too.
Woodlands Regional Library will also be organising a six-month exhibition on “Asian Cinderellas” with various interesting portrayals of the classic fairy tale. While Cinderella lost her glass slipper in the classic version, the Asian Cinderellas lost items like golden slippers, anklets and rings. There are more than 1,500 of such tales in the world. One of the earliest known Cinderella stories came from China, during the Tang Dynasty. There are also stories from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Persia. There is even a Hmong tribal story on Cinderella.
The library will organise more of such exhibitions to cultivate interest in reading and appreciation of Asian culture and heritage. This will be supplemented by talks on Asian literature and storytelling sessions. In conjunction with this launch, 22 other public libraries are also organising storytelling sessions for the next ten days till 30 April.
PaperTigers is a proud sponsor of the 3rd Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) which takes place this week in Singapore. From May 26 – 29, participants from around the globe will gather ” to meet, interact, network and find common ground and business opportunities with the entire community of children’s content creators.” Last year’s AFCC was highly successful with over 600 conference participants from 23 countries. ( Read our blog posts about the 2011 AFCC by clicking here and our website focus issue on Singapore and the Asian Festival of Children’s Content by clicking here). The 2012 AFCC is bound to break attendance records with the introduction of new awards, a country focus (Philippines), specialized language workshops and a greater reach to communities in Asia. Be sure to check the AFCC’s Facebook page for timely updates and photos from this year’s event as well as the AFCC website . If you are lucky enough to be attending this year’s conference and will be blogging, facebooking or tweeting please leave a comment below with the relevant links so we can follow along!
A delegation of artists (including children’s book writers from the Asian Storytelling Network), students and business people will be in Cape Town, South Africa from 16th-20th Mar 2011 for a festival called Spotlight Singapore organized by The Arts House in Singapore together with support from organizations in Cape Town.
Sayang Singapore: Building Bridges in and for Singapore – a look at how individuals and organizations have used children’s books to build bridges in a multi-racial, multi-cultural society. Rosemarie Somaiah
My Journey with Children’s Books: Some Personal Reminiscences – a look at how the style and content of children’s books have changed over the past 50 years and how that influenced my own work. Marjorie Van Heerden
Sharing Stories with Children. Rosemarie Somaiah
The Book and the Buzz: An Open Sharing of How Life Experience Can be Turned into Fiction. Rosemarie Somaiah and Helen Brain
Launch of a poetry anthology, Man/Born/Free: Writings on the Human Spirit from Singapore - featuring contemporary Singaporean writers. Luminary Singaporean poet, Edwin Thumboo, will be in attendance.
Any inquiries please contact rama(at)bookcouncil(dot)sg or Re Storm (South African coordinator)at re(at)raintree(dot)co(dot)za
My husband and I (yes, my husband and I, for I'd somehow persuaded this lifelong-will-not-attend-musicals-under-any-circumstances citizen) traveled to the Penn campus last evening, walked the wide streets to the Penn Museum, and waited with hundreds of others for the door to the Harrison Auditorium to open. We were there in that old-world space to watch "Sing, City! 3: Red Dot Dreaming," a musical that my student Rachel both directed and co-wrote.
"Once every two years, Club Singapore's members set aside their books, come together and put up a musical that attracts Penn Students and Singaporeans from all over the East Coast for one night only," the promo had explained, and that's about all I knew when those doors swung open and I was rushed, within the crowd, toward the stage. It might have been a rock concert or a celebrity jam. It might have been another country. Rachel Rachel Rachel, hundreds (it seemed like hundreds) were chanting, chanting the names of the other actors, too, the names of the musicians and the dozens of students who had worked for months to put on this self-parodying show. What is a Singaporean? What is a Singaporean Penn student? Over the next few hours, those questions would be answered in a smartly choreographed and well-paced theatrical spectacular that had Rachel Rachel Rachel laced through its every original song, its well-told tale.
Every imaginable Singaporean stereotype marched onto that stage and then devolved or evolved, became more. Every imaginable Singaporean joke (it seemed to me) was elevated and exploited, delivered by actors having contagious fun and underscored by clever multimedia titling. All the while, behind me, sat those hundreds, that crowd, cheering the actors on—talking out to them or back to them, shaking hand-made signs, calling out awwwww in unison, as if those who had come to watch had rehearsed their lines just as religiously and vigorously as those who had come to perform.
Rachel Rachel Rachel, we all called out, when it was done, and then those on the stage took to tossing this petite, extra-special, she-can-do-it-all-and-so-she-will (Rachel, I know you don't think much of hyphenated of language, but heck, I keep using it here) student into the air. I've never seen anything like it. I might not again. But oh, was it something to leave my world for awhile to enter hers.
A final note: My husband admitted to having had a fine time. I have proof. I saw him laughing.
I’ve just arrived in Singapore to take part in the upcoming Asian Festival of Children’s Content and thought I would post a few pictures taken during my first afternoon in the city. I’ve only been here a few hours and to say I’m impressed would be an understatement. Singapore is amazing! The weather is beautiful, the people so friendly and the city itself is stunning: modern highrises mixed with colonial buildings, multicultural enclaves such as Chinatown and Little India, all surrounded by immaculate parks and tropical greenery.
The first two photos were taken at Vancouver International Airport and show the First Nations artwork which is highlighted throughout the terminal, then it’s on to Singapore. Enjoy!
Now the jet lag is catching up to me and it’s time to get to sleep. The festival starts on May 25th so I will have some time tomorrow to get to discover Singapore a bit more…
Malaysian Tales: Retold and Remixed
edited by Daphne Lee
Book launch by Zi Publications
Sun 19 Jun, 2011, 2pm – 5pm
KL Alternative Bookfest, The Annexe Gallery, Central Market, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
This stunning new collection features 16 classic tales as reimagined and retold by some of Malaysia’s brightest raconteurs. Preeta Samarasan, Kee Thuan Chye, Amir Muhammad, and other Malaysian writers spin new tales from old favourites like Si Tanggang, Singapura Dilanggar Todak, Raja Bersiong, Batu Berbelah, Batu Bertangkup, and the legends of Hang Li Poh, Admiral Cheng Ho, Puteri Gunung Ledang and Mahsuri.
The collection was edited by Daphne Lee who, after corresponding with for several years, I was thrilled to finally meet in person at the 2011 Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore. Daphne is a writer (she has published six picture books, as well as short stories in magazines and anthologies) and publishing editor of OneRedFlower Press, which specialises in Malaysian picture books. She also writes a weekly column about children’s and young adult books for Malaysian Daily and The Star (click here to read her article on my AFCC presentation), and runs reading initiatives for a Malaysian non-profit organisation. On her blog The Places You Will Go she shared her thoughts on how Malaysian Tales: Retold and Remixed came about:
When I first thought of collecting stories for this anthology, I imagined it would be for children. I didn’t grow up with Malaysian fairytales, myths and legends. Like many Malaysian children from English-speaking families, I was raised on the stories of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. I was baptised in the Catholic church and so Christian mythology was part of my life.
As an adult I felt something was missing. Why did I know European fairytales, myths and legends and not the fairytales, myths and legends of the country in which I lived and belonged? The obvious reason was because my parents never told me any of the latter. My mother would occasionally relate bizarre stories, of Chinese origin, about a filial son who went to incredible lengths to prove his love for his aged mother, but for most part she (and my sisters) read me stories which included fairytale staples like Snow White, Cinderella, The Goose Girl, The Bremen Town Musicians (my favourite) and Rumplestiltskin.
We had a few lovely hardbound copies of fairytales by Andersen and the Grimms. We did not own any collections of Malaysian traditional tales. This was why I thought of compiling one. However, this was several years ago and since then a few anthologies, including two fully-illustrated ones, have been published for children.
By the way, I think it’s worth mentioning that fairytales, myths and legends are not just for children. Collectively, these types of stories are often called folktales, a term that, in the strictest sense, refers to their original oral form, when they were shared with largely illiterate communities by amateur and professional storytellers. There was no idiot box to entertain then and, instead, common folk relied on travelling storytellers, or pengli
I received a scrumptious parcel through the post this week – some gifts and goodies from Corinne and Aline’s time at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in Singapore. I’m going to unpack them slowly and with relish here on the blog so that you can enjoy them too.
First up is picture book The Book that was Handed Down, which won the inaugural Hedwig Ama Children’s Book Award, announced at the AFCC. Written by Yixian Quek, illustrated by Grace Duan Ying and designed by Goh Caili, it was published in Singapore by Straits Times Press in 2008. We can certainly be grateful to the Award for raising the profile of this extraordinary book.
On the surface it’s the simple story of a little girl Ping, our narrator, who is pretty disgusted about how she always has to have hand-me-downs… The book is no different: it used to belong to her brother, and certainly carries the imprint of its previous owner. But, of course, this is a book we’re talking about here – not clothes that are grown out of and forgotten. When Ming sees his sister with the book, he remembers how much he loved it and starts reading it aloud. Ping is then captivated in her turn, and together they share the adventures held between the book’s covers.
Complimenting the text perfectly are the illustrations, which cleverly blend the actual “Book that was Handed Down” with a depiction of the narrative. Ping is so serious and earnest and cross at the beginning, you can’t help feeling for her – but, as is so often the case, once she gets beyond superficial appearances, she finds her life is enriched both by the actual story contained within the book, and by the opportunity it affords for her to connect with her brother. The uncluttered effect of the strongly delineated illustrations also belies the number of details that will delight children as they make unspoken connections while listening to the story.
The simplicity of The Book that was Handed Down makes it immediately appealing; its complexity means that it will endure. Now I wonder whom I can hand it down to? I’ll just have to muss it up a bit first…
David W.F. Wong, The Jade Bangle
The Koi Pond
The Missing Chopstick Armour Publishing, 2004.
In this unusual coming-of-age series, David W.F. Wong tells the distinct stories of three different young Asians who stumble upon mysteries that change the way they view their own lives and give them a new perspective on the future. Each of the titles stands alone as a solitary novella. In fact, it is not the characters that tie the books together, but rather the structure and form of the stories themselves.
In The Jade Bangle, originally self-published in 2000 and the recipient of Singapore’s National Self-Published Book Award, sponsored by the US-based Writer’s Digest, twelve-year-old Annie hears the story of a family heirloom, in which she learns about the horrors of war and discovers some remarkable truths about her family. In The Koi Pond, thirteen-year-old Alvin finds an old key while helping his father realize his life-long dream of digging a koi pond in the family garden. Unraveling the mystery of the key leads him to a lonely old woman with a story that changes young Alvin’s outlook on his future and the aging woman’s own perspective on her past. In the longest of the three books, The Missing Chopstick, Kim returns home to Singapore after her first year of university in Chicago and unearths documents and newspaper clippings that lead her to uncover secrets about her life and the cruelty of the world, while solving the mystery of the single chopstick her mother had given her as a child.
All of the books are plot-driven and make for a quick and compelling read. The intricate mysteries each young character pursues are filled with heartbreak, endurance, and the power of love to conquer all. Indeed Wong, himself a Presbyterian minister and the author of several spiritual works for adults, infuses each book with a subtle Christian message and references to the Bible without being heavy-handed or preachy.
Beyond the religious subtext, the books all celebrate the value of family love and loyalty, the importance of kindness, and the transformative power of forgiveness. The books also reference important historic events such as World War II (The Jade Bangle), the plight of the Vietnamese “Boat People” who fled the war in their country during the 1970s (The Missing Chopstick), and the more locally relevant Bukit Ho Swee Fire of 1961 in Singapore, in which 16,000 people lost their homes in a single day (The Koi Pond).
This series is notable for featuring Asian youth on the cusp of personal transition who explore stories from a larger context that have an impact on their lives and the way they see themselves. Wong has made history personal for his characters while giving readers engaging stories that will encourage them to think about their own lives and their ability to influence the lives of others for the better.
Aline Pereira is an independent writer, editor and media consultant specializing in multicultural children’s books, and until January this year, she was Managing Editor of PaperTigers, a post she had held since 2004. So we are very happy to welcome her back with a Personal View she wrote following her attendance of the Asian Festival of Asian Content in Singapore in May.
Aline had a special part to play in the Festival as she was one of the judges for the inaugural Scholastic Asian Book Award, along with “Chief Judge Nury Vittachi, journalist and Hong Kong’s best-selling English language author; Anushka Ravishankar, award-winning children’s poet and author (India); John McKenzie, principal lecturer at the School of Literacies and Arts in Education at the University of Canterbury (New Zealand); and literary agent Kelly Sonnack (Kelly grew up in Singapore), from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency (US).”
In her article, Aline shares with us her impressions of the Festival as a whole, and gives us a peek behind the scenes of the award. You can read the whole article here - and here are a couple of extracts to whet your appetite.
The big picture
A consistent thread seemed to run through a good number of the panels and sessions, as well as through informal conversations: “There are plenty of valid ways to produce and deliver a book”. This naturally led to discussions about the enormous changes the publishing world has gone through in the last decade or so, and all the things that have played a part in these changes. And to think that there was a time, not long ago, when people believed the Internet was a passing fad… Now one can only ignore the internet, social media and digital platforms at one’s peril. Without a doubt, these new technologies have affected the way children’s books are acquired, published and marketed, but one of the many things I came away with from those sessions and conversations was that having these new tools, platforms and processes is simply a means, not the end goal. Without losing sight of readers’ needs, the end goal continues to be finding ways to foster the creation, reception, and dissemination of a diverse children’s literature in all genres, mediums and platforms. When it comes to bringing children and books together, it should never be an either/or scenario, but a “the more, the better” one. After all, why get territorial and deaf to voices (platforms, devices) that are not our own? With regards to Asian content, AFCC was a call to join forces in that effort.
One of my favorite sessions was presented by US publisher Neal Porter (Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press) on which types of books travel well to other countries, which don’t, and why. He calls himself an “intuitive publisher”, meaning he publishes what he loves, without worrying too much about the marketability of a project – a privilege most publishers these days don’t have, and one he’s earned after decades of hard work and a successful track record. I have always admired Neal’s imprint, so it was wonderful to learn about which of his books have traveled successfully to/from other countries, even if the majority of the examples given were of books that have traveled between the US and
Adeline Foo, illustrated by Christine Lim Simpson, Guai Wu: The Chinese Elf
Ethos Books, Singapore, 2009.
Adeline Foo’s retelling of Grimm’s The Elves and the Shoemakers not only gives the story a Chinese setting, but it introduces themes such as bullying, loneliness and a search for love and acceptance, which throw into relief the already familiar theme of poverty. Guai Wu is taunted by the other children because of his unusually pointed ears: “Guai Wu! You look like an elf!” Soon his only way to deal with the teasing is to respond as though he really is a monster, thereby isolating himself even further.
Guai Wu, an orphan who depends on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter, is taken in by a lonely widow, a seamstress whose business is not going well and who is also grieving the loss of her child. One night, the widow leaves out a piece of cloth she intends to sew the next day – but in the morning she finds in its place a pair of exquisitely embroidered slippers, which are bought almost before she has a chance to admire them. The same thing happens for a while before she discovers who has been making them…
The engaging narrative conveys the many emotions that emanate from the story, without being overly explicit – but without glossing over them either. So Guai Wu is “sad and lonely” and the widow “didn’t like to think too much about the past. It only brought pain to think of the child she had lost to sickness.” The unhappiness of the two protagonists is exposed without overburdening young readers, who are immediately caught up in their plight and come away at the end not only with a warm glow, but also with a feeling of relief that all is now well.
The beautifully detailed illustrations bring the historical Chinese setting to life, with plenty of domestic features such as furniture or accessories to catch the eye. Rich, intricate embroidery contrasts with the simple interiors. The emotional shifts in the story are equally transparent in the different characters’ faces, and will help readers relate to Guai Wu especially.
Young readers will be carried along by the love and kindness that spill out from the pages of Guai Wu, and perhaps the story will help them to remember to be kind themselves.
Mr. Rama Ramachandran is the Executive Director of the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS). Over the course of his career as a librarian, including in his role as National Librarian of Singapore, he was always actively involved in the NBDCS, serving as its Honorary Secretary and subsequently as its Chairman. Following his retirement from the National Library, he was appointed Secretary General of the International Federation of Libraries and Institutions (IFLA). In 2006, he was invited to become Executive Director of the NBDCS, in order to bring to fruition the vision he had had for the organisation during his term as Chairman. One of the initiatives he has brought into being is the acclaimed Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC), an annual event that has now been running for two years. You can read our recent interview with Mr. Ramachandran by clicking here.