Book Reviews: The Day the Crayons Quit & If You Want to See a Whale

First published on 23nd September, 2013 in The Star

THIS week, two picture books published this year that are my favourites so far and seem unlikely to be beaten by any late contenders (it’s already September after all, and I rarely like Christmas books). The first is laugh-out-loud funny and plain adorable. The second is a quiet, gentle story that’s perfect for bedtime. Both are, partly, about a child’s capacity to imagine and dream.Read More »

Book Review: Popville, In the Forest, and Under the Ocean by Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud

First published on 14th July, 2013 in The Star


I THINK it’s come to the point where 3D versions of movies are being produced just because. It’s like a matter of course, just like filming in colour. I don’t get it though. I mean, 3D effects are not necessary for all movies. I can understand why a superhero/action film might benefit from being 3D (Spider-Man leaping into your lap is, I believe, the sole content of some people’s sexual fantasies), but The Great Gatsby? Really? I fail to see the point, and I don’t intend to find out whether there’s one. (I wait, with dread, for a 3D Casablanca.)

Anyway, what I think about 3D movies is what I’ve recently started to think about pop-up books … which are, really, 3D books, or books with 3D illustrations. Suddenly, it’s like every title needs to pop, and, because of the very nature of pop-up books (their production is time-consuming and labour-intensive), the pop-ups are the main event, not the story – at least not when classics are turned into paper art. There’s no way the unabridged The Wizard of Oz could be made into a pop-up book (imagine the price tag!). Instead, massively abridged versions of these books are produced. Sometimes, only key scenes make it into the book as is the case with Robert Sabuda’s The Chronicles of Narnia.Read More »

Book Reviews: Thursday’s Children & Listen to the Nightingale by Rumer Godden

First published on 26th May, 2013 in The Star

THIS week, two ballet novels by Rumer Godden. Thursday’s Children and Listen to the Nightingalewere out of print, but are two of the 15 titles that Virago Books has acquired for its Modern Classics list.

I’m not sure if girls still love reading ballet stories. A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with a group of young ballet students in a local dance school and was dismayed to find that none of them had heard of Noel Streatfeild’s classic Ballet Shoes. They liked reading but they didn’t read ballet stories. I suppose it was presumptuous of me to assume that just because they danced, they would like to read about dancing. Perhaps only those of us who love ballet but don’t actually dance need to live vicariously through the characters in ballet books.Read More »

Interview: Deborah Ahenkorah


First published on 11th October, 2011 in StarMag

AFRICAN children have something in common with Malaysian children. They have limited choice when it comes to books that reflect their lives. Although the continent has produced many great novelists who have achieved international recognition through their powerful accounts of life in the various African nations they hail from, there are no African children’s authors of similar stature.

Twenty-four-year-old Deborah Ahenkorah, co-founder and executive director of the Golden Baobab Prize, grew up in Ghana reading Nancy Drew, the Famous Five and The Babysitters Club. She says, “I didn’t really realise the absence of African stories in my reading diet until I went to college in the United States on scholarship and I realized that I couldn’t answer any questions on Africa because I didn’t know Africa. I wanted to talk about America and Europe all the time, I knew those places … through my books.”

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Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

monster callsFirst published on 3rd July, 2011 in StarMag


Author: Patrick Ness

Publisher: Walker Books, 215 pages

IN a radio interview, Patrick Ness said that he wept during the writing of A Monster Calls. “If I’m writing anything that’s this difficult and I’m not upset, then I’m not doing it right,” he said. “If I’m not crying why would I think anybody else will be moved?”

When I received my review copy of the book, I read the last couple of pages and found myself simply blubbing. I then read the book all the way through and, at the end, I cried again. Ness has obviously done it right.Read More »

Interview: Emily Gravett

First published on 23 April, 2010 in Star2

emily 1

EMILY GRAVETT must be the most prolific picture book creator in existence. In five years, the 37-year-old Brighton-native has produced 10 books – nine wholly by her, the 10th, a collaboration with Julia Donaldson (author of The Gruffalo and many other much-beloved picture books).

But when I speak to her on the phone, Gravett frets about being unproductive: ‘I don’t think I’ve published that many books,’ she said from Singapore, the final leg of her recent Asian tour to promote Cave Baby, her collaboration with Donaldson. ‘I could be publishing more – I feel a little uneasy whenever I’m between books.’

Gravett is inspired by everyday situations, conversations on the radio, things she overhears in shops and on the bus. She claims to work in a ‘very chaotic’ way.

‘I have a sketch book and I mess about with ideas. A book usually comes together in a bit of a mess. There’s a lot of reorganisation and sorting things out.’

Gravett’s books are either deceptively simple (like Orange Pear Apple Bear, The Odd Egg or Blue Chameleon) or extremely complex, full of subtle jokes, witty asides, and visual gags.

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Book Review: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamilo

edward-tulaneFirst published in 2009 in The Star


By Kate DiCamillo

Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Publisher: Candlewick Press, 208 pages

(ISBN: 0-763-62589-2)

EDWARD Tulane is a china rabbit, finely dressed, trimmed with real fur. He has jointed limbs, leather shoes and a gold pocket watch. He doesn’t sound very cuddly, but he is an exquisite object, specially made for a little girl named Abilene.

Abilene adores Edward and Edward … well, Edward thinks he is “an exceptional specimen”. The rabbit never ceases to “be amazed by his own fineness” and takes Abilene’s love totally for granted. Why wouldn’t she love such a beautiful toy?

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Interview: Shaun Tan

A shorter version of this interview was first published on 27th September, 2009 in The Star.Shaun_Tan_portrait300px

MOST PEOPLE tend to associate picture books with simple stories, illustrated with simple, brightly coloured pictures. Of course, those with a more intimate knowledge of this medium of storytelling know that there is more to picture books than just pretty pictures that simply offer a visual description of a straightforward, basic text.

Picture books may deal with complex and difficult themes and subject matter, and this may be reflected in either the text or the art, or both.

Shaun Tan is a picture book artist whose work is definitely more complex than what the average person might expect to find in a alphabet or counting book. I know people who started collecting picture books after they read one of Tan’s. The Melbourne-based 35-year-old started his career drawing for science fiction and horror novels. His art appears in picture books written by John Marsden (The Rabbits) and Gary Crew (The Viewer and Memorial) and he also illustrates his own books (The Red Tree, The Arrival, The Lost Thing, Tales from Outer Suburbia).


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Book Review: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

hitlerFirst published on 19th April, 2009 in The Star

IT’S funny how one sometimes avoids reading a book for no reason other than it’s not yet the right time to read it. I know other avid readers will know what I’m talking about. It’s what keeps one buying books although dozens sit unread on one’s shelves.

I’m forever in pursuit of the perfect read – the trouble is I keep recognising potential perfect reads, future perfect reads. It’s impossible to tell which book will keep me riveted on any given day until it actually does.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Puffin Books, 192 pages, ISBN: 978-0142414088) by Judith Kerr is a book that I have “avoided” for years. I love Kerr’s picture books, but somehow never felt inclined to pick the book up. I didn’t even see it as a “potential” good read. Goodness, was I wrong!Read More »

Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

graveyardFirst published on 12th Oct, 2008 in StarMag

By Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 289 pages

THIS BOOK opens with a murder – three murders, actually – and yet, I would call it a comforting book. A man, Jack, is sent to kill a family of four, including two children. The opening paragraph contains the description of a knife, its handle and blade wet with blood. But, yes, on the whole, a warm and fuzzy book.

The title doesn’t suggest a cozy story. Neither does the cover (a thin and ghostly woman astride a pale horse haunts the back).Read More »