By his own confession, author Alan John would have stuck with “fairy tales and humorous books or the best-looking ones” if you’d left him to shop for children’s books when his daughter and son were young.
This changed when his wife brought home a book about a science teacher with crazy hair that he would never have picked.
“Because, eeek, science,” he says. “But Miss Frizzle And The Magic School Bus series became everybody’s favourite.”
He and his wife made it a point to read widely with their children, now 31 and 28.
“We searched for good children’s books everywhere and included books in which the main characters were coloured or Asian, and where girls were the main characters.”
The 67-year-old adds: “If we want to encourage curiosity and a love of reading and hope the kids will learn to view books as a source of surprise, pleasure and a unique enjoyment, we ought to let them read a variety, including local books.”
John, former deputy editor of The Straits Times, published his first children’s book, The One And Only Inuka, in 2018. It is a homage to Singapore’s only local-born and much-loved polar bear, who died on April 25 that same year at age 27.
Asked how he would introduce the book to young readers who did not grow up with Inuka, he says: “It doesn’t matter if they don’t know Inuka. It’s about loving a polar bear in the zoo.
“Quek Hong Shin, who illustrated the book, captured Inuka’s playfulness and star quality wonderfully. When we read it to children at childcare centres, they had been more captivated by Inuka’s antics and always love his birthday cake with a fish head on top.
“There are other animals that appear and, sometimes, a kid likes one of them more than Inuka, which is all right too.”
He notes that it is not as easy for parents these days to spread the love of reading to their kids. “If we had babies today, I guess they’d grow up seeing us with our faces stuck in our phones, sadly,” he admits.
So, make time to unplug and pick up a book instead.
“My wife and I were always reading the newspapers or magazines, or taking books with us on holidays,” he recalls. “So, reading wasn’t an activity for our children, but something everyone liked and did, and both caught the reading bug.”
What to read with your child
- Author Alan John shares his favourite titles.
By Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch
“Grace wants to be Peter Pan in the class play, but other people tell her she can’t because she’s not a boy and she’s black.
“This is a story of a girl with plenty of imagination and ambition who learns that you can dream any dream you want.
“It was a ‘girls can do anything’ book for our daughter, but our son liked it too, even though there are no boys or men in leading roles.”
SANJI AND THE BAKER
By Robin Tzannes, illustrated by Korky Paul
“This is a story of neighbours quarrelling over food smells and going to court to slug it out.
“The baker downstairs is not happy that Sanji ‘steals’ the wonderful smells coming out of his shop and wants him to pay.
“The book excites all your senses as it drives a message about fairness and justice.
“I think of Sanji whenever I pass an Old Chang Kee outlet and inhale but do not buy a curry puff.”
• This is part of a series in which experts give tips on how to get kids to love reading.
• For more stories on how to help your child succeed in school and life, go to the Smart Parenting microsite at str.sg/smartparenting