We’re stepping up the reading practice again, so I’m popping in to share a link. Progressive Phonics is a free curriculum that worked for Layla, and I’ve just tried one lesson on Z, which left him in giggles and hankering for more. We’re still soldiering on with Ladybird’s Peter & Jane series–we’re now at Book 4–and Z attends a weekly phonics class, but I’ve already given notice that he’ll be withdrawing after May.
* This post was first published in July 2012.
A couple of days ago, I received two mails–one from a blogger friend and another from a reader–both asking for links to the book posts that I’ve cleared out over the years. My friend suggested I put up a list again in case others are interested too, and I thought I should, while I have time!
So here it is, a list of picture books that we’re still loving right now. Some titles like the Peter Sis books are more for me at the moment, but I’m hoping Layla will soon be able to read them and realise how cool they are. (And Z too, eventually!) And for the record, I paid only $2 for some of these books but I think they’re worth the full price. The M. Sasek books and Mordicai Gerstein’s What Charlie Heard are on my “to-buy” list; please feel free to suggest your favourites too!
Books About Real People
Carole Boston Weatherford: Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People To Freedom
Mike Venezia’s artist series
Books About Real Life
Cynthia Rylant: The Relatives Came
Mem Fox: Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge
Books To Learn From
Backyard Books: nature series
Catherine Ripley: Do The Doors Open By Magic? (And Other Supermarket Questions)
M. Sasek’s country books
Mel Boring: Fun With Nature (Take-Along Guide)
Steve Jenkins: Never Smile At A Monkey
Tomie dePaola: The Cloud Book
Books That Make Us Smile
Mike Thaler’s Black Lagoon series
*This post was first published in October 2012.
I couldn’t think of a compelling childhood story to tell today, so I cheated: A few months ago, I’d found a link to download “When Daddy Was A Little Boy,” one of my favourite books from back when I was a kid.
For the longest time, I was under the impression that this was a book about my dad! It helped that the “daddy” in this book wore black-rimmed glasses too. Anyway for years I’ve been hoping this would turn up in one of my book thrifting sprees, but what are the chances of that?
Not that I would turn down the chance to own the hardcover version, but I’m loving my digital copy right now. In some ways, reading this book connects me to my childhood more than any reminiscing I could do, because I’m reminded of my five-year-old self eagerly flipping pages to find out what “Little Daddy” would do next.
I’ve already started reading a few of the stories to Layla, and I read one tonight as well. It was about Little Daddy entering school later than most of his peers and having to get used to pushing matches, pesky kids (the sorts who stick their tongues out at you), and sitting next to girls. Even in three short pages, there was a lot for Layla to laugh about and relate to.
And then there was this bit:
I want you to remember that when you feel like crying, try to laugh. That’s a piece of advice that will serve you well for the rest of your lives.
Good advice for my daughter, and perhaps for me too.
*This post was first published in September 2012.
This was once my pet project, where I wanted to get to know a country better by picking up a book. Sadly I abandoned my book quest months later because it was starting to feel forced and some slots were seemingly impossible to fill; I didn’t think I’d ever find a good book about Uzbekistan, for instance. (I’d put The Railway on my list but never borrowed it.) Even hunting for decent Singapore stories was proving to be a challenge—perhaps we moms need to band together to write something meaningful!
But recently I’ve been coming across “Around The World” booklists again (here and here), and for tonight I’d like to add my top picks too, of books that go beyond cursory mentions of a country’s landmarks and history to provide some real insight into its heart and soul.
Update 2016: I’ve added in some recent discoveries too!
The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini): As I’ve mentioned before, these books made me want to open my home to every single kid in Afghanistan. Although both books falter towards the end with overly dramatic yet predictable twists (I was reminded of the long-running HK drama serial Kindred Spirit!), they do their job of creating awareness about the lack of safety and freedom in Afghanistan, and you do come away appreciating what you have.
Voices Of The Heart, Beyond The Great Mountains (Ed Young, picture books): If you like learning about Chinese characters and the pictures they supposedly represent, you’ll love these books for the artistry in the pictures and text.
The Wall (Peter Sis, picture book): I’d pick books like these over A-Z country fact books any day. Through his impressive drawings, Peter Sis tells the story of his childhood in Czechoslovakia under communist rule: “He didn’t question what he was being told. Then he found out there were things he wasn’t told.”
Shah Of Shahs (Ryszard Kapuscinski): I had to read this because it was the book that Mariane and Daniel Pearl bonded over, and in a way, it heralded the beginning of their love story. If you’ve read 1984, there are similar themes here, except this has real people and more feeling. It’s also on The Guardian’s list of 100 greatest non-fiction books (look under “History”).
Good Night, Commander (Ahmad Akbarpour, picture book): This one’s about an Iranian boy acting out a battle scene in his bedroom, as boys do. Except this boy has lived through a war and knows its price: he’s lost his leg, and his mother too. The story is framed within a normal life–the safety of a bedroom, a dad who pops in to check on him, dinner with the relatives later–which only adds to the poignancy. But his mother’s picture on the wall (and her voice in his head) is a reminder that some things can never be taken away from us.
The Librarian of Basra (Jeanette Winter, picture book), Silent Music (James Rumford, picture book): Both these books address the topic of war (how could a book on Iraq not?), and both books have an important message for their readers: In the Librarian of Basra, a library’s entire collection is in danger of being destroyed, and a librarian has to devise a plan to keep the books safe. (True story!) And in Silent Music, a child of war discovers that he can find solace within himself: “I filled my room with pages of calligraphy. I filled my mind with peace.”
Untangling My Chopsticks (Victoria Abbott Riccardi): A disenchanted New Yorker escapes to Kyoto to learn about tea kaiseki—a sequence of dishes served before a tea ceremony—and in the process unravels the mystery behind Japanese culture. “Through tea kaiseki I genuinely had come to believe that when you leave a meal, moment, or place not quite completely satisfied, you cherish it that much more because it was ephemeral and left you wanting.” It’s the Japanese way apparently, and I could definitely learn from this because I’m quite the opposite!
Grandfather’s Journey, Tree Of Cranes (Allen Say, picture books): These books offer a glimpse into Japanese culture, but they’re also about being torn between two cultures: “The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.” I suspect that’s how many immigrants feel.
Apples Are From Kazakhstan (Christopher Robbins): I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book–certainly not to fall in love with it immediately! Seriously, if this book were a person this would be my dream date, it’s totally smart and funny. The author meets everyone from regular folk to the Kazakh Beatles to the president, and Kazakhstan is now on my to-visit list.
How I Learned Geography (Uri Shulevitz, picture book): This offers a peek into another illustrator’s difficult childhood days in the city of Turkestan (now part of Kazakhstan). My girlfriends have asked me why I always pick such depressing picture books, but I think they’re uplifting because they have promising endings!
Dia’s Story Cloth (Dia Cha, picture book): The Hmong people have a tradition of embroidering their life stories onto cloth, and in this book, the author explains the story behind each section of one of her story cloths, from peaceful times in Laos to civil warfare, to her family’s eventual escape and resettlement in America.
Listen To The Wind (Greg Mortenson, picture book): A mountain climbing nurse named Greg Mortenson loses his way and lands in a village called Korphe, in Baltistan, Pakistan. To thank the villagers for their hospitality, he asks if there’s something special he can do for them. As it turns out, the kids need a school–and it does get built, with Greg’s help. At the end of the story, we’re treated to photos of actual people and places, and there’s a note by the artist about how the people of Baltistan inspired her to reduce waste in her own art processes. Best of all, the book tells kids how they can help other kids too!
#10 The Philippines
Cora Cooks Pancit (Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, picture book): We have Filipino friends and neighbours, so I picked up this book to help us learn more about their food culture. It’s a heartwarming story about a little girl who gets her first taste of helping Mama in the kitchen. She gathers the ingredients, helps shred the chicken, and checks that the noodles are suitably soft. At the end of the night, the family praises her as they sit down to enjoy their “pancit” (pan-SEET) together; it’s a popular noodle dish in the Philippines. What I like most about the book is the way it captures a child’s delight at working in the kitchen: “She watched the noodles somersault over the carrots and celery. She made the soft onions sway this way and that… A few mushrooms escaped from the pot. Oops.”
*This post was first published in February 2016.
I remember reading books with grown-up themes by about 9. Part of it was accidental–my mom brought home some bargain-bin Mills and Boon romances that landed in my hands instead. (If I remember correctly, she handed them to me!) I also found a YA stash in my class’s library corner, which covered dating, rape, and teen pregnancy. I suspect I was the only kid in the class who brought those books home.
Unfortunately, that early awareness didn’t mean I was ready or eager for proper literature, and I only stopped reading trash in my 20s.
Compared to me, Layla’s a much more balanced individual–she likes a little of everything, and even though she’s super athletic, she also enjoys lounging around with a book. It’s the same for her reading diet; she’s easygoing so she’s happy to let me pick out her books, and open to trying new titles.
Before I list her reads for 2016, here’s a recap of what she read over the November-December holiday:
* The Mysterious Benedict Society (she started with one book early last year, and I got her the rest of the series just before her final exams–they were her stress busters!)
* How To Train Your Dragon (we got her three books for Christmas; she finished them within days and is happily re-reading them)
* Harriet The Spy (I picked this up at the library because it seemed like something she might like, and she did.)
* The Hobbit (We have the illustrated edition, a beautiful gift from a friend! Layla said this was “too long,” so I gather she’s not ready for it although she finished it.)
* When You Reach Me, Liar And Spy (I haven’t read Liar And Spy, but I’ve read When You Reach Me and felt there were certain things Layla wouldn’t understand at this point, such as divorce and race/class issues. But she can revisit these books when she’s more mature.)
* A Wrinkle In Time (I bought this because it was the inspiration for When You Reach Me. Layla said this was just “OK,” am glad I didn’t get her the trilogy.)
* The Phantom Tollbooth (a friend recommended this, I liked it although I haven’t finished it yet! I bought the hardcover annotated version for myself.)
So, 2016. These are some titles that I hope to pick up for Layla. It’s a short list because there’s not a lot of free time during the school term:
* El Deafo
* Inside Out And Back Again
* Where The Mountain Meets The Moon
* Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl
* I Am Malala
I should mention that I’m still buying picture books for Layla because I think they do a wonderful job of making topics accessible and interesting for any age group. These are some picture books from our collection that she hasn’t read yet:
* Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space
* Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings
* My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, And Giant Bugs (Hoping she can read The Metamorphosis soon!)
* Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff In Simple Words (another lovely gift from a friend!)
We’ve also received some books from local publisher Epigram to review, and pictured above is a poem from “Farrer Park: Rhyming Verses From A Singapore Childhood” by Ann Peters.
I’m a poetry-lite person (i.e. I love Lang Leav, while Paradise Lost is best remembered as a grad school nightmare), so I liked this as soon as I opened it. The illustrations are tasteful, the colours pleasing, and the stories sweet and funny, like this one about Dollah’s father who worked as a cleaner:
His wife, the women all would say
Was so much luckier than they
Getting husbands like this to sweep
Would be enough to make them weep!
But they didn’t know what she knew
And she wasn’t about to drop a clue
She hated all his cleaning sprees
In fact, she’d thought he’d gone loopy!
She wished that he just wouldn’t clean
Where her cloth had already been
And if he really wanted to help
Why hadn’t he fixed that kitchen shelf?
Ann Peters uses words that I haven’t heard in years–“washerwoman,” for one–and she recreates sights that we don’t see anymore, like 7 or 8 people piled into a tiny car. Those were the days where no one cared about seatbelts! She’s probably about my mother’s age because some of her memories are from before I was born, back in the day of “tick tock” noodle sellers and ice balls. But others, I can relate to–we have a few Uncle Govans in the family:
Uncle Govan had a laugh
That sounded something like a barf
You would hear it at a party
Where whisky made him hale and hearty.
I’ve mentioned “strewing” on my Instagram account, where I occasionally post book photos and book-related thoughts. Strewing is something I read about on The Artful Parent, it’s about leaving invitations for discovery around the home, and my version of that is to leave random picture books on the dinner table for Layla to enjoy with her lunch. “Farrer Park” is perfect for that purpose, and it’ll be appearing on our dinner table soon.
*This post was first published in April 2015.
I think Layla truly discovered the joys of reading last year, and ironically, it began with a set of Enid Blyton books that she received for her birthday. (Ironic because I’ve had an unspoken Blyton ban in the home, meaning that I wouldn’t buy or borrow these books for Layla, but I have no objections to gifts.)
Anyway, the set of books was the Malory Towers series, and just as I’d predicted, she absolutely could not put them down. When she finished the whole series, she began rereading the books, and in just a few months, they had become so well-worn that you would’ve thought she’d owned them for years. It was funny because I started to strongly encourage her to take a break from those books, and she ended up sneaking them to school and looking guilty if I looked through her bag and found them! Mine must be the only home on the planet where you can get caught for reading Enid Blyton.
She did move on from Malory Towers, and it happened quite unexpectedly. We visit my family every Sunday, and my brother’s an avid gamer who’s been exposing Layla to the joys of gaming. I may be finicky about the books we read but I have no issue with tech used reasonably, and I was more than happy that my 30-year-old brother and daughter now had something to bond over. He happened to download a set of Lego games based on movies because they were on sale, and they began playing Harry Potter, the Lego version. I’ve seen the game and it’s really cute as they’ve recreated the entire story (from Books 1-7) using only Lego-related graphics. So for months, they were at it, and since the game follows the Harry Potter plot, my brother would introduce characters to Layla and explain the story as they went along. After several sessions, Layla asked to read Harry Potter and that was the beginning of a new addiction–she used every spare moment to read and she couldn’t stop. I’d intended only for her to read up to Book 3 or 4, where the storyline is still rather innocent and upbeat, but she wanted to continue and I gave in. I think there are many things in the story that she won’t fully understand yet, but I love the writing and the ideas in Harry Potter, so I’m happy for her to reread the books or revisit them when she’s older.
Apart from Malory Towers and Harry Potter, she also gave a “10” to a book that I’d borrowed from the library during the holidays–The One And Only Ivan. She’s never given a book a 10-rating before, so it must be pretty special.
For this year, here are the books that I’ve picked up for Layla so far. I think she’ll be more receptive to them now that she knows she can enjoy books that aren’t solely about girls being girls:
And these are books in our collection that I think she’s not ready for yet, in terms of maturity, but I’ve read them and love them for their playfulness and soul. They both involve travel of some sort, as well as a leap away from the ordinary:
Some of the books on our list were from a local bookstore called My Imagination Kingdom. The owner Jaclyn had written to me and kindly offered us a voucher to shop there. I spotted a lot of familiar favourites at her bookstore, and I trust her taste. I’d even mistakenly assumed she was a mom, but no she’s not, she just loves children’s books and is passionate about furthering the cause of reading.
Jaclyn and I chatted over e-mail and here’s what she told me:
My interest actually started with storytelling. I volunteer with the library’s KidsRead programme where we tell stories to children from underprivileged families. After I started doing it, I observed that many of our children today do not get as many opportunities as I did when I was young to read a physical book for fun. It’s likely that they spend more time with screens. I started doing research on this and felt that there’s a lot we can do about this for children, by educating parents on reading aloud to their kids. We started the online store after that [which eventually became a physical store].
On which books to bring in: I go through quite a few different sources. Brainpickings is something I enjoy reading. Her recommendations are often unique and distinct. But apart from that, I also ask children what they read, go through Goodreads and the NYT bestsellers list as well as trade publications. Basically, anywhere and everywhere! I try to align what is out there with what I feel our customers and children will be interested in. But a lot of the time, there’s a fair amount of experimentation as well.
*This post was first published in January 2014.
Layla, Z, and I have been on the flu rotation since three weeks ago and we all sound like Tina Turner impersonators–some more than others. I’ve been good and have managed to go through my lone bottle of pineapple tarts slowly, yet I’ve already had to wipe out my supply of chrysanthemum tea and ling yang.
But well, I’m still enjoying those Mandarin oranges.
We’re going to be keeping our germs to ourselves for the festive season. I haven’t made plans to visit anyone save for my parents this weekend, and the only place we were hurrying to today was the library before it closed early at 5PM. Layla came home from school yesterday with a recommended reading list, and I spent an hour googling every author on the list to see what we could get our hands on. The list was a very thoughtful gesture, but as I went over it I wondered what the selection criteria was. Some of the books were so old that they weren’t available on Amazon or at the library. I couldn’t help but feel that this list was either compiled years ago, or based on whatever was available at the school library.
Still, it was useful because if you’d asked me to name authors for the 7-10 set, I’d stop at Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, and Roald Dahl. (Layla hasn’t asked for Enid Blyton and I’m happy not to make any introductions.) The list catered for a range of reading abilities and included picture books too, like Stellaluna and Rooster’s Off To See The World. I wouldn’t discount picture book recommendations because so many of them are beautifully written, much more so than the series books that seem to be hogging the children’s book charts now. Through the list, I discovered a few authors that I hope Layla will enjoy, and here’s what we picked up from the library today:
* I, Amber Brown by Paula Danziger. When I was a kid, I read The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and Can You Sue Your Parents For Malpractice? I think Paula Danziger’s books are interesting because she deals with insecurities, going against convention, and standing up for your beliefs, but yet she keeps it light and funny. You can read reviews of her books here.
* Rumblewick’s Diary #1: My Unwilling Witch Goes To Ballet School by Hiawyn Oram. The school recommended another title by this author that was out of print, so I did some searching and found this series. Was quite eager to borrow this after reading this review from a parent: “In a world of girl’s fiction that is short on substance and long on silly, the Unwilling Witch books are a breath of fresh air.”
* My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards. This puts us in familiar territory: I read this to Layla when she was 5, and it’s illustrated by Shirley Hughes. This was the first book from our library pile that Layla chose to read; it’s much like the Ramona series and I think we can move on from the pesky little sibling genre after this.
* Crow Boy by Taro Yashima. I’ve seen this around, even at booksales, but never picked it up. It’s a simple story but a touching one, and you can watch an animated version here. (Note that the ending has been left out.) I think this is what I miss most about picture books–that it takes all of 10 minutes for you to be transported into the story world, grasp the book’s message, and get closure!
* Ten Good And Bad Things About My Life (So Far) by Ann M. Martin. Ann M. Martin is the author of the Babysitters Club series; the titles and covers made it seem like fluff so I didn’t even open those books. I was really looking for her Newberry Honor book A Corner Of The Universe, about a shy girl’s bond with an uncle who’s autistic as well as schizophrenic, but it wasn’t on the shelves. I’m keen to read that myself. This book that we’ve borrowed has been described as “Ramona-esque,” so I suppose Layla should be enjoying this too.
I also borrowed a few books that weren’t on the list:
* Albert 2, Albert 3 by Lani Yamamoto. I borrowed these because we have Albert 1, where a little boy has some pretty big questions about his place in the universe. I found this at the NLB booksale and thought it perfectly represented the sorts of questions that we should be asking more often, about everything.
* Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers. I wanted to pick this up for Layla right after she saw the movie. I think a bit of fantasy would be a nice change from what she’s been reading lately.
* What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. This is another book I’ve been meaning to pick up for Layla, and I’ve bought this as a gift for another child before. It’s about a feisty girl who’s dealt a blow when she becomes (temporarily) bedridden after an accident. It’s definitely old-fashioned, but I like stories with resilient characters and still think it’s a good coming-of-age story.
From her reading list last year, Layla’s done with Charlotte’s Web, and she recently listened to Peter Pan and Wendy (this version, available at the library). She wound up liking Roald Dahl more than I thought she would so I got her a few more books from the Evernew booksales, like The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine, and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and she’s finished them all. Here’s what’s left for her to tackle from our home collection:
And finally, our beautiful copy of The Wind In The Willows was a friend’s gift for Layla’s 7th birthday. I’ve already borrowed the audiobook for Layla and she’ll be taking a break from her Ramona audiobooks (narrated by Stockard Channing; I love her voice!) to get to this. Another lovely gift was Pea Boy And Other Stories From Iran, which Layla has already started on. It’ll fit right in with our Read Around The World Collection.