Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bringing Danger Dan to schools

During the June holidays, we had a break from school talks but once Term 3 began, our school talk circuit kick-started once again.

Lesley-Anne and I were very privileged to have been invited to speak at and conduct a workshop for the inaugural Writer's Congress, organised by the East Zone Centre of Excellence for English Language (Primary).

Some 43 students from various primary schools in the East Zone attended the workshop which focused on creative writing. The kids were very engaged and participative, especially during the game segments.

There was a period when the kids had to wait to leave the classroom and they all whipped out Danger Dan without prompting!

Queuing up for autographs.

After the workshop, the students had to fill in a feedback form and we were sent the results last week. About 80% gave us an 'Excellent' rating and more than 95% gave us an 'Excellent' or 'Very good' rating! Yay! Some of the written comments mentioned that the sharing session was really inspiring and this was one of the best programmes they've attended. Such encouraging feedback - we feel very blessed indeed.

If you're a teacher and would like us to speak at your school, you may contact our book agent, Denise at or 9146 5522. We have a half-hour talk ideal for morning assembly where Lesley-Anne shares how she grew her love of reading and writing, and how she overcame obstacles to become a published author. We also conduct a 1.5-hour creative writing workshop, similar to the one mentioned above. Target age for both the talk and workshop is p3-6.

Here's a picture of a school talk I did a couple of weeks ago at Corporation Primary School. I did this one solo as Lesley-Anne had lessons in school.

Incidentally, we received this book review from an eight-year-old boy named AJ. We're so thrilled by the effort he put into both the writing and drawing. We think he's enormously talented and we love how he calls Danny's ears "extremely, extremely, extremely, extremely ginormous"! Thank you, AJ, you made our day! 

Increasingly, we've been hearing how kids enjoy our books and that makes us really, really happy. A mum told me that her son has been finding school stressful ever since they returned to Singapore and she's glad to see him chuckle to himself when he reads Danger Dan. Many Singaporean kids are far too serious and have little leisure time, so to know that our books make them laugh is the greatest feeling ever.

So here's a call to action: if your kids are between the ages of 8 and 12 and have enjoyed reading Danger Dan, why don't you drop us a line? We're looking to print readers' reviews in our upcoming Book 4 - Danger Dan Traces the Perilous Poison. Get them to pen a couple of sentences telling us why they like Danger Dan and send us a message on the Danger Dan Facebook page.

You can see samples of students' reviews in Danger Dan book 2 & 3 (page 1). Deadline: National Day, 9 August 2014.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Danger Dan book 4 in progress!

Here's a short update on Danger Dan: book 4 - Danger Dan Traces the Perilous Poison is shaping up very nicely! We met up with Epigram Books recently to discuss illustrations and edits and we're very pleased with how everything looks.

This is the part of the process that's the most fun - when the text is 90% ready and we see our words come to life under the hands of our wonderfully talented illustrator, James and designer, Lydia. Sometimes when suggesting illustrations, Lesley-Anne and I would wonder if it was even possible to draw Danger Dan with such complex expressions but we've never been disappointed yet!

Proposed covers. The difficulty was coming to a decision - around the table, we all liked a different one!

Danger Dan Traces the Perilous Poison is expected to be published in October, just in time for the year end school holidays. We're looking to print kids' reviews in the book so if your kids are between the ages of 8 and 12 and enjoy reading Danger Dan, why don't you drop us a line? Ask them to pen a couple of sentences telling us why they like Danger Dan and send it to us via private message on the Danger Dan FB page. You can see a sample of these reviews on the front few pages of Danger Dan books 1-3.

Deadline: National Day, 9 August 2014. We also welcome reviews from social studies/history or English teachers. If you're one and you think Danger Dan is great for kids, we'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Just another view on the NLB book-banning saga

Regarding the recent NLB saga, I initially told myself I wouldn't comment on it. It wasn't that I had no views on it - I had mighty strong views. But I found the whole incident distasteful and there was already so much mudslinging, I didn't want to add to the controversy. So I stayed silent and I even tried to stop reading articles.

But my FB newsfeed kept flooding with all kinds of headlines that screamed at me. Then yesterday, a reader Grace posted in the comments column asking me what I felt as a mother, writer and Christian. I told her I didn't want to write about it but later, it nagged at me that she was right. This saga hits me on all three fronts. By not addressing it, I was behaving like an ostrich. So I mustered up my courage to write a post and here are my views on the matter:

More than whether I feel that banning the books was right or wrong, I felt that it was UNNECESSARY. It turned a small matter into a colossal one. It widened the rift that had already begun to grow in recent years and became a battle of us against them.

As a result of the book banning, some Christians may congratulate themselves on having "won" this battle but the fact is we have won nothing. We have turned our backs on people, told them they have no place in our public libraries and in doing so, turned away more people from Christ than ever.

As a Christian, I believe that homosexuality is wrong because it says so in the Bible, which I accept as truth.
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality." - 1 Cor 6:9

However, the Bible never said to bring out your pitchforks. That's where I think many Christians trip up. I get the impression that Christians sometimes feel like they're obliged to take certain sides. If homosexuality stands on one side, they HAVE to take the other side because that has to be the right one. It's almost as if how hard I wave the anti-Pink flag is an indication of how strong my faith is.

I beg to differ. Taking actions in the name of Christ is dangerous when it's done without thought or love. Just because you call on God's name doesn't mean what you're doing is holy. For example, the witch trials in Salem in 1692 - where they persecuted and put "witches" to death, was done in the name of the church. I'm sure all the people who were for it thought they were fighting the good fight against Satan. It's mob mentality and religious frenzy at its worst, preying on the irrational fears of people.

Standing up for what we believe in should not entitle trampling on what others believe. Otherwise you might as well disband the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony (of which the Archbishop is a member). And going with the majority is a flawed argument. If you lived in a Muslim country, would you readily accept that you had to live by Islamic beliefs because they formed the majority? Or would you want the freedom to live out your own beliefs?

If only Christians would pour as much energy into eradicating some of the other sins listed in the Bible: greed, lust, envy, sloth, anger and pride, for example. Incidentally, the greatest sin is Pride. Not homosexuality. Pride.
"He is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions." - 1 Timothy 6:4

Sometimes, I wonder why some Christians make such a big deal about homosexuality vs all other sins. I suspect it's because for all other sins, it's hard to claim we're blameless. We have all lied at some point, been envious (that rich guy throwing money around!) or been lazy (played Candy Crush when we were supposed to be working!) But in the area of homosexuality, straight Christians know they have not and will never sin there. So it's easy to focus on that. If that's true, then we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and realise that our feverishness against homosexuality has nothing to do with righteousness and everything to do with self-righteousness. Another possible reason is the fear of a community we don't understand. And so instead of trying to understand and empathise, we choose to shun and despise.

Now, let's come back to the book banning and look at the books in question: parents said they didn't want their four-year-olds to accidentally come across the books and somehow be corrupted by the gay agenda. First, there are like a gazillion books in the library and the chance of your kid picking it up is already slim. Second, if you are a concerned parent, you're likely to pick the books for your four-year-old. But ok, for the sake of argument, let's say your child really does pick out this one book unsupervised and reads about two male penguins looking after a baby penguin. What are the chances he'll make the connection: "Oh! It's telling me a family can have two daddies and no mummy!" And then, finally make the further ludicrous connection: "I therefore want to be gay!" Seriously. Adults are the ones who project their own beliefs and prejudices onto things. Not children. Four-year-olds are more likely to think: "That baby penguin is very cute. I wonder if I can get mummy to buy me a toy penguin."

By banning these books, we're enabling a breed of parents I often come across - protective to the point of paranoia, where they feel they need to bubble wrap their children to shield them from every danger in life, real or imaginary.

And why only ban these books? Do you know there are children and young adult books that feature premarital sex? And divorce? These are all sins in the Bible too. (I sure hope I'm not giving NLB any ideas). And why stop there? What about books that depict greedy, envious, lazy, proud children? As a writer, I'm concerned that an institution should decide for me what sort of books I can let my children read. Already sometimes I feel that in writing, I have to be over-the-top mindful of being politically correct, lest people read some hidden meaning in my books, even if totally unintended. And as a writer, I'm completely opposed to the pulping of books because it disturbs me that a national library should think it's ok to destroy books. That's just a slap in the face.

To me, this unnecessary action of banning the books has snowballed into unhealthy territory. It legitimised zealots who now think that with the "majority" and authorities on their side, it's ok to publicly display their hate and disdain for LGBTs. There's already an anti-Pink Dot group formed. I foresee the LGBTs will retaliate with something else, and so on. Kinda like Palestine vs Israel - after a while, nobody cares who's right and what they're fighting for any more. Each side just wants to win.

It upsets me to see so many Christians behaving in such an un-Christian manner. The problem is that none of these actions were done in the "love thy neighbour" spirit. As long as something is done in the spirit of hate and strife, it's not backed by the Bible.

If you remember, Jesus regularly mingled with the people on the fringe of society - prostitutes, tax-collectors, lepers. He never lobbied for these people to be tucked away out of sight. He never lobbied for their rights to be taken away from them. He lived among them and made them feel loved.

It was precisely why the Pharisees were rebuked by Jesus although they were the religious leaders of their time. They were superior and judgmental. Behind their actions was not love for their fellow beings but self-satisfaction.
"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited." - Romans 12:16
Pope Francis, ever since he became Pope, has steadily conquered hearts and minds across the world. He says unequivocally that homosexuality is a sin. But he also said: “If someone who is gay and is sincerely seeking God who am I to judge? They shouldn't be marginalized.” Here is a man who gets it.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." - Matthew 7:1-5
These are MY views - I can't stress that enough. You don't have to agree with them. But if it helps seed the idea that perhaps peace is the way forward, not war, then that's enough for me, as a mother, writer and Christian.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." - Mark 12:30-31

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Student + dying = studying

When it comes to study methods, my kids are as different as night and day (ok, who am I kidding, my kids are different, full stop.)

Lesley-Anne is methodical and focused. She makes her own notes using multi-coloured pens and highlighters, and annotates her texts almost religiously. If there's something she finds difficult to remember, she tries different ways to jolt her memory, like redoing notes in other formats or organising them in little post-its which she sticks on her wardrobe. During exam periods, she holes herself in her room and emerges only for toilet and food breaks.

Andre, on the other hand, will simply stare at his books with a pained expression worthy of a Brazilian today after the World Cup semi-final match. When I catch him goofing off, he'll reluctantly read and re-read his textbooks. I tell him that reading the textbook is a very ineffective way of studying and force him to make notes, which he obediently does. Unfortunately, he copies down stuff in a notebook but without any form of processing so that when I do a random spot check and shoot him a question about something he'd just written half an hour ago, I'm usually rewarded with a blank look.

During exam periods, I suddenly behave like I have a multiple personality disorder. You'll hear me calling out to one kid: "Why don't you take a break? Like, really, take a break!" while screeching at the other: "Go study now! Enough with the breaks!"

Andre was supposed to study 50 成语 (idioms) during the school holidays. During the last week of the holidays, I asked, "Have you studied them?"

Andre: "They're very hard!"

Me: "I didn't ask you whether they were hard! I asked whether you studied!"

Andre: "But they're really very haaaaaaarrd! Even my friend who's very good in Chinese says they're IMPOSSIBLE." (Translation: he didn't do squat).


Two days before school reopened...

Me: "So do you know your 50 成语?"

Andre: "I think not bad. I roughly know 32."

I didn't dare ask what "roughly" meant.

Meanwhile, I asked Lesley-Anne whether she'd finished studying for her block tests, which were sadistically scheduled right after the June holidays.

"Well, more or less but you can never really finish studying for GP." And she scooted back to her room to do more revision.

How on earth did I spawn these two kids? I bet God is laughing at me right now.

These anecdotes make for a funny story but as parents, there's the underlying concern that our kids are not motivated to do well in school. I can keep nagging at Andre to study harder but my personal belief is that by the time our kids hit secondary school, they're too old to be hand-held and constantly told what to do. The motivation to study needs to come from within. They need to take ownership of their actions and understand the consequences, because at the end of the day, it's their life.

For my kids, I feel it all boils down to the fact that Lesley-Anne sees meaning in what she's studying whereas Andre doesn't. Over the past six months or so, Kenneth and I have had chats with Andre about his future and what he wants to do in life. He's told us in no uncertain terms that he's tired of all this mindless studying for subjects which he feels has no bearing on his future.

I've always believed that as parents, our role is to help our kids identify their dreams and goals in life, then provide the guidance and support to help them achieve these goals. The thing about kids is that they often don't know what opportunities are out there so their mindsets are pretty limited. So for Andre, what we did was to consider his personality, his abilities and interests, and show him what the possible options are. We showed him websites, let him talk to various people and the upshot of it is that he's now very keen on going into a particular industry.

I won't disclose what it is yet as it's still early days and things can easily change but for now, Andre's eyes light up whenever people talk about working in the industry. Even though it's a long way for him before deciding on a career path, having a goal such as this is good for kids like Andre who find school dull, because it gives them purpose. It also gives them direction which has immediate value for charting the education journey (eg. what subjects or courses to take). Andre now knows for each next leg of his schooling path, what he needs to achieve, which is more tangible than just "study hard and get good grades".

Little steps but hopefully in time, we'll get there.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The finer points of parent-teacher conferences

Before the school holidays, I attend the Parent-Teacher Conferences (PTCs) for both Lesley-Anne and Andre.

I have mixed feelings about PTCs. On one hand, I want to know how my children are doing in school. On the other hand, sometimes knowing is worse than not knowing. You know what I mean - going to a PTC only to hear the teacher confirm your worst fears about how badly your child is doing is about as enjoyable as having a root canal. Students definitely feel the same way because Lesley-Anne told me that her classmates who weren't doing very well in school were the ones who actively discouraged their parents from attending the PTC.

Another reason for not liking PTCs is that I usually don't really get much value from them. I feel compelled to attend them but I really don't need to meet the teacher to hear that Lesley-Anne should speak up more or that Andre needs to pay attention in class. Tell me something I don't already know.

But this year, I was pleasantly surprised both times. Andre's PTC, for instance. Andre's results haven't exactly been stellar so I was half expecting the worst. Instead, his teachers never once mentioned his grades and one by one, told me that he's a very nice boy with a great attitude.

When we met the Chinese teacher, I thought we would be admonished for raising a son who believed that scraping by with a passing grade for Chinese compo was the pinnacle of achievement. Instead, he said that Andre has a good attitude and just needs to have more confidence in himself. Although when Kenneth asked where Andre's weakness lay, the teacher did say "when he picks up his pen." Alamak! Somebody hand that teacher a trophy for stand-up comedy. 

Ok, I know I shouldn't laugh but sometimes, the best way to approach a situation is just to have a sense of humour. Andre's Chinese is what it is. Angst-ing over it is not gonna make an iota of a difference. I'm thankful that his teachers appreciate him for who he is and don't judge him simply based on his report book.

For Lesley-Anne, I wasn't expecting much since the school term only started in mid-February and the teachers have had limited face time with the students. In the past, some of her teachers barely even remembered her name until later on in the school year. So I was astonished when a few of the teachers displayed a keenly astute perspective of her personality, right down to who she gets along with in class and whose views she doesn't agree with (if you know Lesley-Anne, you'll understand that this is no mean feat because here is a girl who doesn't talk much and doesn't publicly reveal her emotions). They brought up specific instances of her behaviour, which showed that they saw her and paid attention.

But what I was most pleased about was that most of them seemed genuinely interested in her as a whole person. They didn't just zoom in on her schoolwork - they asked about her CCA and external activities. They felt that she had a lot to offer intellectually and wanted to help her grow. It was a refreshing change from PTCs where teachers made general statements based on grades. Oh, and that she should speak up more. I'm not sure if it's this school or just her batch of teachers but when I left the PTC, I felt that Lesley-Anne was very blessed to have such nurturing teachers.

As mentioned earlier, PTCs are a touch-and-go affair. I don't always emerge from them feeling like I've gained anything but this year, I'm very glad I went. I came back less worried about my kids' immediate education journey (for the rest of the year at least) because I know they're in good hands.

Thank God for good teachers.

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