Monday, June 22, 2015

Why quiet kids love naughty characters

Last week, Lesley-Anne and I participated in two events. The first was NLB's Read! Fest on Friday at Bishan library where Lesley-Anne talked about growing her love of reading and writing, and we shared the behind-the-scenes process of getting Danger Dan published. We were surprised and very encouraged by the great turnout, which according to NLB, was quite large for a children's author. 

Even more heartening: two mums had brought their kids to listen to us speak because they said Danger Dan got their sons to love reading. One had even travelled all the way from Simei to Bishan to meet us! To us, that's the ultimate compliment for any author - that our books are not only read and loved, they spark the love of reading. We're so very moved.

The second event was the very next day at the Celebrate Singapore Books fair at Wisma Atria. It was a meet and greet session - we answered questions from the audience and signed autographs.

Again, we were so blessed to meet a few young Danger Dan readers whose parents took the time to bring them down to meet us.

One observation I've made when meeting our fans - the majority of them seem to be very shy and introverted. When I ask them a question, some of them speak in whispers. Sometimes, it takes nudging from their parents before they would ask for autographs. More often than not, it's parents who tell us their child wants to know whether there will be another Danger Dan book. 

You know what? I feel such an affinity with these kids. Some people may find it unusual that quiet kids like Danger Dan because Danny, the protagonist, is so hyperactive and noisy. But to me, that makes perfect sense. As a kid, I was painfully shy and bookish. Raising my hand to ask a question in class was as terrifying as jumping off a cliff. Yet one of my favourite series was the Nicholas books which feature a clueless, active and mischievous boy. The character couldn't be more different from me.

But what some adults don't understand is that Nicholas was appealing to me precisely because he was so different. Fiction is a gateway into a fantasy world for kids to live a different persona. Why would I want to read a book about a mousy little girl? I was already leading that life! How much more exciting it was to read about this kid who always got into trouble and said the silliest things. Plus the books are hilarious and great fun to read.

When Lesley-Anne and I conducted a primary school reading workshop under the ASCD last year, the class had a quite a few kids whose hands were perpetually up, asked 101 questions and talked non-stop. Funnily enough though, at the end of the session when we called out the names of the students who had come up with the most creative and vibrant ideas (they had drawn costumes and time-travel concepts before the session), we discovered that the winning drawings weren't from any of the chatterboxes but the quiet kids sitting in the corner with nary a peep. Still waters run deep.

Lesley-Anne and I understand this perfectly because we're both introverts. Just because we don't open our mouths doesn't mean nothing is happening in our heads. On the contrary, there could be a whole fantastical imaginary world in there just waiting to explode! (We're the perfect case in point: two introverted females writing about a loud-mouthed, excitable boy.) So if you have introvert kids, don't assume they are thinking ordinary, boring thoughts. Give them an outlet, a trigger for the imagination and be prepared to see their creativity soar.

Same thing with reading: sure, it's nice to read about characters that you can identify with but don't assume that because your child is quiet, he or she would only be interested in serious characters or books.

When Lesley-Anne and I conduct school talks, it's sometimes hard to tell if we're making any impact at all, especially if the audience isn't very responsive. But we'd like to believe that sitting quietly in the school hall is a student who is encouraged by what we share and lives vicariously through Danger Dan. I imagine the kid snuggled on a comfortable cushion at home, chuckling to himself or herself while reading about Danny's silly antics. And that makes us very happy indeed.

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