Singlit spotlight: New children's book charmingly depicts how the blind experience colour

PHOTO: Far'ain Jaafar

Yusuf has an assignment at school — to ask his family members for their favourite colours. He asks his mother, father, and even his baby sister. But should he ask his Uncle Daniel, who is blind?

This is the synopsis of a new children's book by author and early childhood educator Far'ain Jaafar, who wrote this book in hope that readers would "know that there is no default way that humans live, communicate, learn or move."

And Far'ain would know — not only is she a foster mother, but she has two biological children aged seven and three, including one who is neurodiverse.

So when we asked Far'ain what inspired her to write Uncle Daniel's Favourite Colour, she enthusiastically responded, "Kids! Their curiosity about the world inspired me to write this book."

"When children see a person with disabilities, they ask their significant adults about it," she said, sharing about how parents can use diverse books as a parenting aid.

"I understand that sometimes significant adults may find it uncomfortable to explain about disabilities to their children. This is where diverse books play an essential role. Besides promoting language and literacy development, diverse books are helpful tools for teaching empathy, encouraging pro social-behaviour, kindness, compassion and introducing accurate diverse representations."

At 32 pages long, Uncle Daniel's Favourite Colour is a short book. But the idea first took root in Far'ain's heart 10 years ago when she had the opportunity to work with a blind person while studying at at Ngee Ann Polytchnic.

Several years later, the idea clicked.

"The light bulb moment happened when I brought my students out for a sensory walk around the neighbourhood. My preschoolers asked about the tactile tiles on the pavements. That's when it suddenly clicked. I merged my learning about the blind community and my role as an educator into this book. I wrote this story more than a decade ago."

Read our Q&A with Far'ain for the full story:

What was it like writing Uncle Daniel's Favourite Colour? What kind of research went into it, and to what extent did you consult or engage members of the visually impaired community while writing it?

During my time at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, I had the wonderful opportunity to dialogue with a blind person. At that time, my school was preparing to set up Dialogue in the Dark (DiD).

Subsequently, I also had the opportunity to dialogue with blind guides of DiD and experience DiD when it opened.

When I was in university, I also had the privilege to meet with a blind person at Perkins School for the Blind.

This was part of my teacher education to learn more about communities with various needs. I was brought on a whole tour of the school and began to truly understand accessibility.

The school has fully furnished sports facilities, playground and even a swimming pool. My much younger self was mind blown to know that the blind can engage in sports!

I merged my knowledge about the blind community and my experiences as an educator while writing the book.

PHOTO: Far'ain Jaafar

You've written two (three actually) other children's books! What goes into writing a book that is both educational, yet fun and entertaining for children?

I am an educator by profession, therefore my brain is conditioned to connect stories to resonate with children and make it teachable.

I'd say being around children and looking at the world from their lens goes into writing a book that educates and entertains.

With Uncle Daniel's Favourite Colour, I weaved in topics such as senses, colours, family and accessibility!

Fun fact: Yusuf is biracial. His mother (Uncle Daniel's sister) is Chinese while his dad is Malay. I have many biracial families as dear friends and I wanted them to be portrayed in our local literature. The characters in the book are named after people in my life too.

PHOTO: Far'ain Jaafar

What do you hope to inspire or raise awareness for after people read this book? What do you hope they will take away from it?

I hope my book starts conversations in homes and schools about our diverse world.

I hope the story tickles the reader's curiosity about the structure of our world and how we make it hard or easy for others.

As it is written for the sighted community: I hope it raises awareness about the blind, grows mindsets and promotes a kinder, equitable and inclusive society.

Aside from being an author, you're also a mother! Can you share about some life lessons you've learned in your journey parenting a neurodiverse child, and how has this impacted your creative process?

Mothering my child has definitely impacted the way I write. The stories that buzz in my head are more attuned towards helping to tighten or close those gaps, dismantle bias and prejudice. 

Some life lessons I learnt are: 

1. I am my child's biggest advocate.  

2. Continuously unlearn and relearn. 

3. Take time to rest and heal as this is a marathon, not a sprint. 

This article was first published in Wonderwall.sg.