This children's book should be on every reading list this school holidays

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Singaporean author and poet, Felix Cheong, is back with his second children's picture book, Do You See What I See?, and needless to say, it is a delight!

The book is a collection of poems, rhymes and riddles for children, with cute, eye-catching visuals.

Sample this:

You can’t hear my bark,
Though you listen hard.
I don’t like being loud,
Though I may seem proud.
I may be silent
But I’m resilient.
When storms come around,
I will stand my ground,
I won’t pack my trunk,
My roots have been sunk.

What am I?

"Can you find four letters in the picture that spell the answer?"

Isn't it clever, and a great way to introduce poetry to kids?

Felix Cheong

We asked Felix Cheong, recipient of the National Arts Council Young Artist Award for Literature in 2000, about the inspiration behind Do You See What I See? and why children need to read poetry. Here is what he has to say!

Interview with Singapore author Felix Cheong

Where did you get the inspiration for Do You See What I See? I mean, this concept of making language learning fun and interesting through rhymes and questions at the end?

"The inspiration was really the Osbourne series of puzzle books which I used to read to my son more than 20 years ago.

Do You See What I See? is written in the same vein, but with a twist. Instead of mazes, the child reader is prompted to look for letters – to solve a riddle posed by the poem - or words hidden in the beautiful artwork by illustrator Anngee Neo. 

The activity at once teaches him spelling and word recognition. This element of interactivity is similarly built into my previous picture book, Use Your Head, in which join-the-dots activities are incorporated as part of the storytelling."

We loved Do You See What I See?! It is simple, funny, clever and imaginative. As the author-poet, what do you hope parents and kids will like and enjoy most about this book?

"I hope – as does my publisher, Straits Times Press – that making this book interactive will make poetry appealing to children and their parents. It is to get them to love and enjoy words, their playfulness in sound and rhythm."

Felix Cheong

Why should children ready poetry?

"We often forget that poetry is in many nursery rhymes and lullabies. Poetry is the oldest literary form and the oldest form of storytelling.

Epics such as Homer’s Illaid and The Mahabharata were told, over thousands of years, in poetic form. And we often forget that children love wordplay – listen to how a child repeats words and plays with them.

Do You See What I See? thus taps into this innate love for poetry."   

How different are the challenges in writing a children's book vs fiction for adults?

"Writing children’s books requires a lot more thought, not just because the child’s range of experience is limited, but also his understanding of the world.

The number of words required is also smaller, which entails brevity of expression that has to cut to the quick. Yet a writer should not talk down to the child reader, but write the text in such a way that it connects with him at his level of comfort. So it’s quite a balancing act!"

Do you feel that in Singapore, poetry should be introduced to children earlier, in primary school itself? 

"One of the biggest misconceptions people have of poetry, is that it’s “difficult”. Poetry is no more “difficult” than other literary forms like theatre and fiction.

In the same way novels and plays have their own narrative structure and ways for the reader to approach the text, poetry, too, has its own conventions.

So early exposure to poetry will certainly help students to appreciate it and not be fearful that it’s “difficult”."

What are some of your favourite books for children? Any local favourites?

"I have so many favourites it’ll take me a few pages to list them all! I love the Dr Seuss and Shel Silverstein classics; the poetry and novels of Roald Dahl; the Harold and the Purple Crayon series; the Thomas the Tank Engine and the Paddington Bear series, and the evengreen The Little Prince. 

Among local books, I love The Rock and the Bird, a lovely allegory written by Chew Chia Shao Wei and illustrated by Anngee Neo; Karung Guni Boy by Lorraine Tan and Eric Wong, and Where’s Grandma? By Edmund Lim."

As a father yourself, how much of your own experiences find their way into the books you write for children?

"I used to read a lot to my son in his childhood years. It was what we called “father-and-son time” – that half hour before bedtime when we sat and read together. That was how he built his vocabulary and eventually, by age three, he could read on his own.

These days, would you believe it, I read to my cat! Her name is Meow Meow (an unimaginative name for a writer’s cat, I know, but there’s a back story to how she came to her name!)

Every evening, about 9 pm (if I’m not working late), I’d read to her from a cache of picture books I have collected. She’d plonk herself on my bed, close her eyes and sit quietly as I read to her. (See photo below)

Felix Cheong

Why do you think it's so important for kids to read physical books (especially in this age of the Internet and social media)?

"Hard copy books have a physicality that you can’t get with the digital medium. The words feel tactile and seem to spring from the page.

Your eyes also tend to read more carefully, more mindfully, word by word, line by line, rather than skim (which is what most people do on the iPad or phone). Over time, this reading habit will create in you a feel and love of language."

Lastly, when will Do You See What I See? be available in stores in Singapore?

The book will be launched on 9 March 2019 at 5 pm at Forum the Shopping Mall atrium, at the SingLit pop-up bookstore. 

Also READ: 15 Endearing Classic Children’s Stories

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Written by

Jaya