Monday, May 23, 2016

Making the push for reading and appreciation of Singapore literature

Reading has been in the news a lot lately. In March, Straits Times reported that an NAC survey showed only 44% of Singaporeans had read a book in the past year. This statistic is even sadder when you consider that for some, this one book could be 50 Shades of Grey. The common excuse given was lack of time, which I feel is rubbish lah. I constantly see people on their phones. If they have time to Facebook for hours, they have time to read.

A reading culture is best nurtured when young. Unfortunately, I feel our school environment doesn't help. The obsession with grades, tuition and studies leaves little time for much else. Our kids are so bogged down that when they have free time, all they want to do is zone out. It's made worse by the fact that many parents prefer to have their kids read only educational books (Guide to Acing your PSLE!) and fiction is considered simply a "nice-to-do" but unessential activity. How do we groom a reading habit with such practices?

It was therefore such a refreshing change when Lesley-Anne and I spoke at the Canadian International School last week and found out from the librarian that the kids there are avid readers. Last year, each student borrowed an average of 40 books. The librarian had set out a special Danger Dan borrowing box and all the books were out!

Here are more Danger Dan updates:

First, Secrets of Singapore was one of the finalists in the recent Singapore Book Awards (Best Non-Fiction Title)!

Even though the book didn't win in the end, we were happy to have made the finals list. We were even more thrilled that and even happier that our publisher, Epigram Books, was the big winner at the awards. Here we are the inimitable Mr Epigram Books himself, Edmund Wee, and Lydia, the designer for Secrets of Singapore.

To celebrate the awards, Secrets of Singapore and all other winning/shortlisted titles at the Singapore Book Awards are going for 20% off on the Epigram Books website, now till end of May! Coupon code: SBASLP2016.

In other news, the first book in our new Danger Dan and Gadget Girl series, The Animal Abduction, has already created plenty of excitement in schools, especially with the introduction of the new furry character, Power Paws!

Here's a review of the book by book blogger, Priscilla. She gave the book five stars and suggested it be included as supplementary reading for schools. Quote:

"Kids shouldn’t be kept in the dark when it comes to serious issues like global warming and wildlife conservation. But that doesn’t mean you should tell them bluntly in the face. Somehow, the mother-daughter writing team managed to keep the book light-hearted, educational, and engaging."

Finally, Straits Time reported in May that Singapore's literary scene was enjoying a revival. I'm not sure I would go that far but certainly, the increased publicity and focus on reading has helped. And I'm very proud to be associated with Epigram Books, which has been at the forefront, pushing for Singapore literature to gain recognition and acceptance in its own right.

Danger Dan got a small mention in the article as one of the most borrowed children's titles from the National Library Board. It's a modest achievement but we're always happy to hear that kids enjoy reading Danger Dan. It's what keeps us going. Here's hoping the trend will continue!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mum's the word

My mother passed away when I was 18. I write this as a matter-of-fact, without any self-pity because the truth is that we never shared a close relationship. She was an authoritarian figure, who believed her word was law, whether or not she made sense. And there I was, this questioning teenager who wanted to know the reason and rationale behind each action. It was a clash in worldviews that could not be reconciled.

Her parenting style was typical of parents that generation. You obeyed or you got scolded (or caned). They showed their love by providing food on the table, a shelter and other necessities. Providing emotional support was not in their handbook. Neither was consultation. My mother would sometimes throw away my toys when I wasn't home, and I wasn't allowed to complain. Her love felt conditional, like it depended on me doing well in school. I guess that's how they were brought up themselves and they didn't know any other alternatives.

I'm not saying the fault was all hers. As my sister sometimes reminds me, I was a broody, grumpy teenager. I wasn't exactly a ray of sunshine to live with either. But I remember that each time I felt my parents did something completely unreasonable, I would tell myself, "if I ever become a parent, I would never do that to my kids!"

Of course now that we're parents ourselves, we often laugh at our childish promises. Some of my friends tell me they have completely turned into their mothers. "Do you think money grows on trees?" "Cry? I'll give you something to cry about!" or more likely in Singlish: "Hah? You got WHAT in maths? Want to die issit?!"

But one part of me never forgot the promise I made to myself that I would try to be the kind of parent I wished I had (the operative word being "try"). I was fortunate to have role models in the form of my late piano teacher and an aunt. From them, I understood the importance of unconditional love and care, and strove to do the same for my kids. There have been many instances of failure, of course. I've lost count of the number of times I've yelled "Just do what I say!" when challenged by my kids instead of offering a reason. When I'm frazzled, tired or lazy, it's easier to snap, "Go away!" than answer their questions.

Still, I know my bond with my kids is way stronger than the one I ever had with my parents. And when Mother's Day comes around, I'm reminded of how blessed I am in this respect. To be able to chat with my daughter like we're best friends, despite her strong will and stubborn streak, and even write books with her without us trying to kill each other. To have the sweetest teenage son who shares his thoughts with me as readily as he shares his hugs.

I've spoken to many mums and I'm aware that some feel very distant from their kids. Yet, despite our human failings and imperfections, we can build beautiful relationships, if the intent and the commitment is there. Don't give up. That's the encouragement I hope to share with all mothers out there who might be wishing they had better relationships with their kids. It might take some time, it may seem impossible now, but I truly believe anything is possible. Few things in life are stronger than a mother's love and will.

So this Mothers' Day, I wish you the blessings of a child that's close to you. Love fiercely, continuously and unconditionally, so that your children may share your heart and shine brightly for others. Happy Mothers' Day!

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