By hook or by book

At Ang Mo Kio Public Library, out of about 50 children's bookshelves, only one carries local children's books.

When The New Paper on Sunday was there on Nov 3, only one child went to the local shelf and pulled out a book - only to put it back after three minutes.

The National Library Board numbers suggest the lack of interest in local children's books is mirrored at the other 26 libraries.

At the opening of the 18th edition of the Singapore Writers Festival on Oct 30, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Ms Grace Fu, said Singaporeans need their own Singapore literature that is unique to the country's culture, tradition, experience and memory.

"We need our own Enid Blytons and Roald Dahls so that our children grow up not just dreaming about jam, scones, tea, snowflakes and chimneys but of Singapore hawker fare and HDB flats," said Ms Fu, 51.

Local children's book author David Seow who wrote the Sam, Sebbie And Di-Di-Di series, says we have "our own Enid Blytons and Roald Dahls" but the problem is getting support from Singaporeans.

He says: "I agree that many children's literature books out there are filled with foreign content.

"But writing children's books is no fairy tale... There are many fantastic local children's book authors but what they need is support because it is such a competitive industry."

Mr Seow adds that he has been writing children's books since 1998 but it is tough to sustain it as a full-time job because the market is small.

He says international authors dominate the children's book scene here.

Mr Edmund Wee, publisher and chief executive officer of Epigram Books, says: "If we had to pick a problem with the market, it is that books don't get enough display space for people to be aware of Singapore children's authors and their stories."

He has a point.

Mother of three Caroline Chin, 34, says she usually picks up international books.

"I guess it is because I do not see many local books for young children in bookstores," she says.

Local authors have it tough because they are seen as copying the narratives and illustration styles of international authors, says Ms Wai Han, business development manager at Ethos Books.

"In addition, the subject matter by international authors tends to be more diverse, which appeals to parents and their children.

"There is also the case of hidden assumptions, with parents placing greater confidence in the standard of English used by international authors," she adds.


Author and illustrator Quek Hong Shin, 35, just launched his first children's book, The Amazing Sarong, last Sunday with Epigram Books.

He says: "If you want to make money, don't go into publishing. Singapore does not really have a reading culture... Sometimes people who have a story to tell don't dare to step out because they feel that others may not care."

He says it is essential to have more children's book writers in Singapore, but that can only be done not just with the support of locals, but also by exposing readers to literature at a younger age.

The Singapore Writers Festival ends today.

This article was first published on November 8, 2015.
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