Monday, November 25, 2013

Pop Club review

Review of The Good, the Bad and the PSLE in this month's issue of Pop Club magazine! You can get a copy from all Popular bookstores with your Popular card.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Here comes Danger Dan!

This has been an eventful year for me, to say the least. And even as 2013 draws to a close, instead of winding down, the excitement is heating up.

Here's a piece of news that I've been keeping under wraps for the past few months:

I'm writing a children's book series! With Lesley-Anne!

There! I've never been terribly good with secrets so it's very cathartic for me to finally be able to share this publicly. Earlier this year, Epigram Books (my publisher of The Good, the Bad and the PSLE) called for a pitch for writers to propose a series of children's books. The brief was simple - it had to involve time travel back to Singapore's past.

I thought this was an interesting project and something that Lesley-Anne could take on. However, Epigram Books was rightly concerned that it might be too much for her to handle alone since she has to juggle school, so we came up with the proposal to be co-authors. To cut a long story short, we prepared synopses for the series and wrote a sample first chapter. And Epigram Books loved it, so we got the contract :)

About the books

The protagonist is Danny aka Danger Dan - a hyperactive 11-year-old boy who loves comics and has superhero fantasies. However in real life, he's an unlikely hero as he's small and scrawny, with three older sisters who constantly bully him.

His shot at saving the world (well, Singapore at least) comes when he travels back in time and meets Melody, an enigmatic 14-year-old girl from the future. There, he learns that certain parts of Singapore's history have been changed due to a time warp, with horrendous results! Danger Dan and Melody rush to correct the mistakes. In the process, they run into some wacky situations!

First book in the series is out January 2014. Reading age is 8-11 years old.


For me, partnering with Epigram Books has been absolutely fantastic, for many reasons. But one big plus is that they understand the importance of design, especially for children's books. The illustrator they selected really brought to life how we envisioned Danny and Melody. Apart from the illustrations, Epigram Books' inhouse designer also went the extra mile to add many visual points of interest. Don't you just love this teaser above? We do!

Thought process

When we heard that we had to write about time travel back to Singapore's past, our first thought was that we had to make the books FUNNY. In fact, we balked at using the word "history" altogether because we knew kids would immediately have the impression: "Yuck! Another social studies textbook disguised as a fun book!" And who can blame them? I feel that most attempts to jazz up social studies, either in book form or video form haven't been very successful so far.

So I want to say upfront that the books are not commissioned by any government agency. This gives us the creative freedom to think up storylines and pick the time travel periods according to what we feel would make engaging and compelling plots.

Danny and Melody navigate through various places and meet different historical figures back in time but these tend to be in the course of their adventure, not so much because we feel we have to feature them. This frees us from the burden of having to be politically correct. However, we always try to ensure our facts are accurate, of course. And it's actually quite fun when we stumble on fascinating little-known trivia of Singapore's past that we think might be interesting to include for readers.

Coming up

Exciting developments are underway - check out our Danger Dan Facebook page! Please like the page to be notified of updates. Besides notifications of book launches, Lesley-Anne and I will also regularly share titbits eg. what it's like to be co-authors (lots of angst but also lots of fun!)

Hope to have your support!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Curtains down - the secondary school journey

This evening, I will be attending Lesley-Anne's graduation ceremony for sec 4. This closes the secondary school chapter of her education journey and it's a milestone that I can scarcely believe we've reached. Four years sounds like a long time, yet they seem to have zoomed by.

As most of you would have guessed, Lesley-Anne is in an IP school, meaning that she wouldn't have to take 'O' levels (except for Higher Chinese next week). However, there seems to be some misconception among parents that because IP kids don't have to study for 'O' levels, they have an easier time. I once met a parent who told me he was worried about his daughter in an IP school because he heard that "IP kids spend all their time playing".

I've no idea how that urban legend came about but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I would have welcomed more free time because looking at Lesley-Anne's experience over the past four years, being in IP school is EXHAUSTING.

Let's talk academics first: the school still has three exams a year and numerous class tests, pop quizzes and assignments, most of which are included in the exam scores. Every subject is counted towards your average (unlike for 'O' levels) which essentially means you're expected to be an all-rounder. Promotion to the next level and to the JC section is not automatic. You have to meet a minimum grade average and many students live in fear that they are unable to do so. This leads to mega swotting and mugging almost all year round and especially during the year-end exams. And is typical with all top schools, the standard of exam papers tend to be higher, to the point of ridiculous. Killer papers are not uncommon.

I don't agree with this - I've always thought that the whole point of IP is to remove the focus on exams so that the students can have time to explore other areas. Alas, this is not so. The culture of exams, it seems, is too ingrained in the Singapore psyche to be abolished overnight. Clearly I can't speak for all IP schools but I'm sure Lesley-Anne's is not an exception.

Apart from academics, you have your other activities like CCAs which can demand an equal level of commitment. As I described before, the crazy intensity of band practices (and obsession over SYF medals) actually turned the CCA from love to hate for Lesley-Anne. It's unnecessarily energy-sapping.

But enough of whining. In spite of all these kinks, I do believe that Lesley-Anne's secondary school had more pluses than minuses. I can see that Lesley-Anne has matured significantly in her ability to express her views critically and coherently, and I credit her English and Literature teachers. Independent learning is a huge part of her school's methodology (although at times, it appears to have happened by accident due to poor teaching, lol!) and the skills she has picked up are invaluable. They will serve her well in JC and in life. Taking HCL has also improved her Chinese tremendously, something nobody can deny is an asset.   

Being in the humanities class in sec 3 & 4 was also a real blessing for Lesley-Anne. These are kids who have their own minds and will speak it. They're also not narrow-mindedly competitive over grades and have a whole lot of fun together. In fact, it was this team spirit that got the class voted "Model Class" for 2013. A nice way to end the year.

Even though Lesley-Anne has always struggled with Chinese and Maths, she did very well in the finals in the end. Except for HCL and A Maths where she scored B's, she garnered A's in everything else. In a school where it's common to see a straight A report book, it may not be spectacular results but you know what? We don't care. We're unabashedly proud of this young lady who has such a fantastic work ethic, is incredibly grounded and knows what's important in life.

As a parent, there's nothing else I can ask for.

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