A cup of coffee can spark exciting things. In the case of sisters Seema Dadlani-Ramchand and Harsha Dadlani-Dhalani, a conversation over a cup of coffee less than a year ago had them thinking about writing fun and easy-to-read books for children to understand the Singapore scene.
The two are working mothers with full-time jobs - Mrs Dadlani-Ramchand works in the civil service and is pursuing a part-time master's degree, while Mrs Dadlani-Dhalani works in a bank. But the two are passionate about writing and "love to engage our children in creating stories and storytelling".
"We read a lot to our kids and sometimes pen stories for them about incidents or experiences they are familiar with, and they always have a lot of fun listening to these stories," said Mrs Dadlani-Ramchand. "So we thought it would be interesting to do it on a wider scale."
They learnt about the SG50 Celebration Fund, applied for it and had their application approved.
"As new writers, with no prior experience in the book industry, our objective was to contribute something memorable and meaningful for Singapore's 50th birthday celebrations," she said.
Fast-forward a few months, and with additional support from the National Library Board and the National Book Development Council of Singapore, the sisters published a series of six books, Jayden And Janelle, which were launched on July 18.
Aimed at pre-schoolers, the books focus on different aspects of the Singapore identity, including taking pride in being Singaporean, racial harmony and multiculturalism and local delicacies like ice kacang, chicken rice and roti prata.
The stories in the books are told through the perspective of two Singaporean siblings: Five-year-old Jayden and his three-year-old sister Janelle, who live in Marine Parade with their parents and their grandparents.
The authors' own experiences are evident in the stories. Hello Aunty! Hello Uncle! is Mrs Dadlani- Ramchand's favourite book as it is based on the neighbourhood walks that she and her husband take their two children on: "The sights featured in this title are actually places along the way." She adds that the story "encourages children to be friendly with their neighbours by greeting them, even if it's a simple 'hello'".
Since the launch, the sisters have received "very encouraging and positive feedback" on the series from parents, who share with them that their children have enjoyed the series.
Added Mrs Dadlani-Ramchand: "One parent mentioned that her son takes the story book with him to childcare every day as he loves it so much!"
Another parent shared that "her daughter now talks about eating ice kacang", after reading the book Now May I Have Some Ice-Kacang, Please?.
This book is Mrs Dadlani-Dhalani's favourite. The mother of three children - aged two, six and eight - said: "After introducing ice kacang to my children a couple of years ago, they have always looked forward to eating this local favourite dessert when we go to the foodcourt or hawker centre. My six-year-old son even claims that he loves eating it so much, he would like to have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!"
The authors have also conducted several storytelling sessions, including one at Gardens by the Bay, and "the children always tell us that the stories are enjoyable and ask us to read more!".
For now, the books are available for sale online at www.jaydenandjanelle.sg. As a non-profit project, they are sold purely on a cost-recovery basis. The sisters are also working with various organisations to distribute the books to public libraries and selected pre-schools in Singapore, and to Singaporeans in Australia, the US, the UK and China through the Overseas Singaporean Unit.
With the warm welcome the sisters have received, "we will definitely explore doing more books in the future", said Mrs Dadlani-Ramchand, "perhaps more localised themes and experiences that can be incorporated for future Jayden And Janelle stories".
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