Newcomer Malaysian author bags top children’s book award in Singapore

A fantasy book responding to the issue of dementia was one of two titles to win the Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award in Singapore on May 27.

Malaysian-born, Singapore-based Daryl Kho’s Mist-Bound: How To Glue Back Grandpa, which was published by Penguin Random House South-East Asia, came tops in the middle grade category; Singaporean artist JH Low’s Lemonade Sky, published by Epigram Books, won the picture books category.

The biennial award, organized by the Singapore Book Council, recognizes outstanding children’s books by Singaporeans or permanent residents.

This is the first time that there have been two prize categories since the award’s inception in 2011. The winners won S$3,000 (RM9,560) each during a recent ceremony at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content.

Kho, 42, a media licensing professional, wrote his debut book after his father suffered two strokes and developed vascular dementia. The first stroke happened three months before his daughter Alexis, now 12, was born.

Mist Bound tells the story of Alexis, a girl whose grandfather’s memories have been shattered. She journeys to the land of mist to gather ingredients for Memory Glue, but she must do so before her memories of her are gone for good.

The idea for the book came to Kho in 2014. The first draft was easy, but it was “a real slog” after that and he sat on the project for several years. When his father died in 2018, it was a wake-up call and he decided he had to finish the book.

Illustrations by Ellie Yong, aka SillyJellie, featured in Kho’s ‘Mist-Bound: How To Glue Back Grandpa’. The illustrations are presented in black and white in the book. Photo: SillyJellie

“It was inspired by his dementia and completed because of his death,” says Kho.

“One thing that helped me finish it was the idea that every time my readers read it, the adventure would start again. Every time it’s read, he would be saved again, and again, and again.”

Mist Bound was illustrated by Malaysian artist SillyJellie.

The other award-winning book, Lemonade Sky by JH Low, is about a boy who wanders around aimlessly in a city in the company of his imaginary friends.

Author and illustrator Low, 50, created it when he was doing a PhD in children’s book illustration several years ago at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, Britain.

He initially had some difficulty finding a publisher because Lemonade Sky is “not a mainstream children’s book.”

“It doesn’t tell a very child-like story. My main motivation was to try to express a kind of feeling that had been lingering with me since childhood. Expressing a feeling of some kind of boredom, feeling restricted, and wanting to find freedom, to break out of the status quo,” adds the educator, whose book won a place last year in the annual White Ravens catalog of the best children’s books from around the world.

Why call his book Lemonade Sky? Low says: “The boy (in the book) was chasing something different, even though he doesn’t know what it is. The sky is supposed to be blue – but how about chasing a sky that’s not blue?

He recalls that when he was a teenager, he saw a girl with crayons coloring a sky yellow. Her teacher de ella passed her a blue crayon and told her to color it blue instead. The girl obliged, but continued with much less enthusiasm than before.

“Kids have their own take on how to represent things around them. As adults, we are always eager to teach them rules and norms,” ​​he adds.

The judges of this year’s award are Dr Donna Lim, a lecturer at the National Institute of Education; Sydney Smith, an award-winning Canadian children’s book illustrator and author; and Adeline Foo, the bestselling author of The Diary Of Amos Lee.

The authors and illustrators behind the eight books on the shortlist were all in the running for the first time.

In a statement, the Singapore Book Council’s executive director William Phuan said he was “heartened” by the new crop of shortlisted creators.

“It shows that the children’s books scene is growing and maturing. Many of the creators come from diverse backgrounds, highlighting the appeal of children’s books as a viable creative medium.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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