Today’s post comes from Barb Reid, Head of Libraries at UWCSEA East here in Singapore. She has picked out a range of her favorite picture books from and about Singapore, suitable for children ages 3 to 7. You can find our previous post, with an overview of publishers, bookstores, and other resources for SingLit, here.
The English language picture book industry in Singapore has grown considerably in the past few years, encouraged by grants, literary prizes, and the growing trend for self-publishing. Picture books by local authors often seek to teach a life lesson (to children or adults), are travel guides for small people or showcase some aspect of history. It is a rare picture book that I read and think that it has been written just for fun. Apart from Singaporeans and Permanent Residents there are many foreigners living in Singapore who are writing and publishing (often self-published) books.
Below are some recommended books.
Dad’s Too Busy (Emma & Ginger: Book 1). Author: Lily Kong; Illustrator: Jeanette Yap. Epigram Books, 2016. ISBN: 9789814757676.
This book is one of four books in the Emma & Ginger series. This contemporary story documents a small girl’s life in a fun way while hopefully teaching Dad and Mum a lesson. Mum is busy working; Dad is preoccupied with his laptop, reading, and the housework. While all this is going on Emma and Ginger (the cat) get up to mischief. Not too much mischief though, she still does all of her homework without prompting and unsupervised, brushes her teeth and puts herself to bed. (Dad is on the iPad now!) The happy ending is that Mum and Dad apologise and promise to listen to Emma from now on. I’m not sure I believe that–let’s see how the next three books pan out!
Jun and the Octopus. Author: Ekkers; Illustrator: Lim An-ling. Singapore Children’s Society, 2019. ISBN: 9789811415029.
This book is really worth highlighting for its subject matter. I have been searching for books to support safeguarding and this book fits the bill. Jun and the Octopus is told in the style of a folktale from Asia. This story will provoke discussions about how it is not always a stranger that is a tricky person, sometimes the perpetrator is closer to home. It is beautifully illustrated and and the subject matter is handled gently. I feel that this book is a trailblazer for Singapore where sexuality is rarely discussed in children’s books.
The Mango Tree. Author: Hidayah Amin; Illustrator: Idris Ali. Helang Books, 2013. ISBN: 9789810751340.
This book is a personal favourite of mine. It is another risky book by Singaporean standards because the author, through the guise of a children’s story, points out some discontent that she has with the government. Singapore is covered in tall public housing blocks and condominiums. Only 5% of housing in Singapore is landed property. This is the story of a large Malay family who were split up when their property was resumed by the Government in the re-development of Singapore. Surprisingly, the house was never demolished and if you visit Singapore you will see it in Kampong Glam.
Makan Time / Waktu Makan! Author: Sharon Ismail; Illustrator: Elieth Sardinas. Translator: Rilla Melati Bahri. Dua M, 2013. ISBN: 9789810775780.
Makan (Eat) Time, is a bilingual (English / Malay) book that uses simple language and bright illustrations to take the reader into the all important Singapore hawker centre. In March 2019, Singapore applied to include hawker culture in Singapore on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This book shows, describes and teaches the local names for many of these delicious favourites. The story also highlights another aspect of Singaporean culture where children are often cared for by Grandparents. The glossary describes the food in the book beautifully.
More detailed information about food culture in Singapore can be found in the Heritage cookbook (picture book) series.
The Incredible Basket. Author: Quek, Hong Shin. Epigram Books, 2018. ISBN: 9789814655453.
It seems only fair to mention at least one Red Dot Book. The Incredible Basket was shortlisted in 2018-19. I read it aloud at least 16 times. It really grew on me and the children seemed to like it too. For the children, it’s historical fiction portraying Singapore in a simpler time but also showing certain things that children living here are still likely to see in certain parts of Singapore. The central character uses his imagination, is kind, and resilient so that makes this book a useful addition to the library collection.
Please visit the UWCSEA East Primary Library catalog to discover other great children’s titles from Singapore.