The Man Who Wore All His Clothes by Allan Ahlberg & Katharine McEwan

By Maureen Tai, 30 April 2020

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When Ben was just starting to read for himself, it was a little tricky to find gender-neutral chapter books that were easy enough for him to read largely on his own, yet interesting enough to hold his attention. I hit the jackpot with Allan Ahlberg’s series about the escapades of the Gaskitt family. I’ve been a huge fan of the prolific British author ever since discovering his baby board book masterpiece, Each Peach Pear Plum, and The Man Who Wore All His Clothes does not disappoint. This slim tome has simple text, colourful illustrations, and is chock-full of engaging characters who find themselves in laugh-out-loud situations, perfect for the emerging reader. Continue reading

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola

By Maureen Tai, 27 April 2020

IMG_8888Tomie dePaola’s recent and unexpected demise prompted me to revisit one of his classic stories, Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs. First published in 1973, this softly illustrated picture book is based on the author’s life when he was a child. It is a touching memoir of the close relationship between a little boy, Tommy, and his grandmothers, and is a lovely, albeit lump-in-the-throat inducing read, in particular for young ones who are grieving the loss of a grandparent. Death is never an easy topic to discuss with children and dePaola’s simple yet heartfelt story makes talking about loss a little easier. It also reminds us to savour the moments that we spend with our loved ones as each of those moments, however trivial or fleeting, becomes a memory that we can treasure once that person is gone. Continue reading

The Frog and Toad Treasury by Arnold Lobel

By Maureen Tai, 17 April 2020

“Winter may be beautiful, but bed is much better.” – Toad

IMG_3681Anna was barely six months old when we were gifted a hard copy of The Frog and Toad Treasury by a dear friend. I confess to not having grown up with these delightful early-reader stories, written in the 70s by the award winning children’s illustrator and author, Arnold Lobel. But I had the incomparable pleasure of reading them aloud to Anna many years ago, listening to her reading them to herself and then, to her younger brother, and today in a sunny spot in the living room, reading them again and having a good chuckle. The tales are as timeless as the friendship between the two anthropomorphic amphibians, and as enjoyable as my first reading over a decade ago. Continue reading

In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van & illustrated by April Chu

By Maureen Tai, 5 April 2020

“In a fishing village by the sea, there is a small house.”

IMG_7158Growing up, I’d never lacked for books but I’d also never read any stories that reflected my Asian heritage or experiences. It was not until I was much older that I realised how greatly my worldview had been shaped by a foreign (read: British) influence and how little knowledge, pride and appreciation I had for children’s stories told by Asians. I have avowed to remedy this, not only for myself but for my own half-Malaysian children, and I am always on the look out for picture books that are proudly and unapologetically Asian. In a Village by the Sea is one such recent discovery, a gentle and sumptuously illustrated ode to fisherfolk in Vietnam.

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Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye & illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

By Maureen Tai, 24 March 2020

“Sometimes I think the world is a huge body tumbling in space, all curled up like a child sleeping. People are far apart, but connected.” – Mona

IMG_7342Mona is a little girl who lives in the United States of America. Her grandmother, whom she calls ‘Sitti’ (the word means “granny” in Arabic) lives far away across the seas, in a village in Palestine. Mona and Sitti inhabit different time zones, and they do not see each other often, but they think of each other a lot. This gentle and beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of Mona’s visit to Sitti’s homeland and of what the little girl learns about her grandmother’s life, despite neither of them being able to speak the other’s language. It is a story about family, and about forging human connections across geographic, linguistic, age and political barriers. It is a story for our fractured times. Continue reading

Katie and the Starry Night by James Mayhew

By Maureen Tai, 13 May 2019

IMG_5351A visit to a multi-sensory exhibition of Van Gogh’s works prompted a fond recollection. My oldest child, then 5 or 6, had spotted a print of The Starry Night at a shop and exclaimed excitedly that it looked just like the picture in our Katie book. Upon returning home, she insisted that we read Katie and the Starry Night again – for the umpteenth time. On a re-visit of the picture book today after several years’ hiatus, I am struck anew by the artistry of the illustrations and the marvellously imaginative story of Katie, an adventurous little girl in a red coat, bright red ribbons in her hair. Katie has an unusual and dare I say, enviable, way of interacting with the artwork she encounters …  Continue reading

BE STILL, life by Ohara Hale

By Maureen Tai, 4 May 2019

Be still, life, be still
Like fruit in a bowl.
And you might hear the hum
Of a crisp summer’s apple,
Or a pear joining in with a
     Pear kind of babble!
– Ohara Hale

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BE STILL, life 
is a jolt of joyful exuberance.  Seemingly random text, sometimes rhyming, sometimes not. Alphabets of different sizes, sometimes block, sometimes cursive. What unifies the playful and carefree words and the bold and whimsical drawings is the celebration of the simple pleasures of life. Isn’t it fun to look around, to really listen, to really feel, and to just be? Why, now that you mention it, it is!
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