Six shortlisted for children's book prize

Six shortlisted for children's book prize
Ms Chew Chia Shao Wei, a freshman at Harvard University, won first prize in the Commonwealth Essay Writing Competition in 2009. Her essay was published by Epigram Books as an illustrated book, The Rock And The Bird. She is one of the six authors vying for the prize.

From a harrowing tale by a teenager haunted by her best friend's suicide to the capers of young boys through the murky forests of Malaysia, this year's nominees for the Hedwig Anuar Children's Book Award range from the heartrending to the high-octane.

Out of 63 submissions for the award, given to an outstanding published children's book by a Singaporean author, six entries were shortlisted for the biennial $10,000 cash prize.

This is a bump from 2013, when four contenders were picked from 33 submissions.

The award's judges, who include authors, educators and booksellers, told Life! that they evaluated submissions based on literary merit, production values, creativity and ability to capture attention and engage readers.

A statement from the panel said: "We were struck by the number of entries from young writers. This augurs well for Singaporean writing and publishing. Some entries were courageous and addressed important and difficult issues in age-appropriate ways."

The award will be given out on May 30 at the opening ceremony of the Asian Festival of Children's Content by Minister for Communications and Information, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim.

Half of this year's nominees were published by home-grown publisher Epigram Books in 2013.

They are Adeline Foo and Stephanie Wong's The Travel Diary Of Amos Lee: Monkeying In Malaysia!, about a group of boys holidaying abroad; Chew Chia Shao Wei and Anngee Neo's The Rock And The Bird, a book about a friendship between its titular characters; and Lee Ann's Letters To Aly, a suicide survivor's epistolary account of life after a friend's suicide.

Managing director of Epigram Books Edmund Wee says: "As the publisher of these three books nominated, I am delighted for the authors and illustrators, and truly grateful to the book council for running this award."

Foo, 44, a polytechnic lecturer, says: "I've two boys and a girl, and I feel accomplished when Amos' stories resonate with reluctant readers like my sons."

To write Letters To Aly, the writer who uses the pseudonym Lee Ann had to go through her diary, which was a "mentally draining and awful" process.

She said through an SOS spokesman: "I was in a better place than when I first started out, so the girl in my diaries felt like a stranger to me. I couldn't fathom why she carried such deep, dark sadness with her."

The other contenders are Pauline Loh's Not In The Stars (2012, Scholastic); Hidayah Amin and Idris Ali's The Mango Tree (2013, Helang Books); and Su-Lin Ang's Hidden In Plain Sight (2013, Scholastic).

Full-time author Loh, 49, recalls how there was scant literature available about the Orang Asli aborigines of Malaysia, whom she wanted to base her female protagonist, Mui, on.

"I was fascinated by them and I was told that they inter-marry with the Chinese, which was how I crafted Mui's family background. At the same time, I wanted to be clear that this was fiction and not a social commentary," she says.

Hidayah, 42, who runs her own publishing firm, says the spark of inspiration for her book came when the beloved mango tree from her childhood, planted by her grandmother, was felled by the authorities.

She says: "I was angry and depressed. So writing this book was like therapy for me. I wanted to immortalise the tree. I did it very quickly, within a month."

Among the six shortlisted books, four have previously been shortlisted or won other literary prizes.

For instance, Not In The Stars and Hidden In Plain Sight clinched second and third place at the 2012 Scholastic Asian Book Awards, which recognise excellence in Asian children fiction. Chew's work also won the 2009 Commonwealth Essay Writing Competition.

This article was first published on May 6, 2015.
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