Tea in Pajamas by Rachel Tey – Review and giveaway

While trying to recover from an eating disorder several years back, I made a list of all the things I’d love to be doing if I wasn’t shackled by the demands of the ED, i.e. spending every waking moment either overexercising, undereating, or obsessing about both. I held a serious desire to get back to doing all those things that once brought me so much joy and purpose, and creative writing featured prominently as one of those buried passions.

Tea in Pajamas as an idea for a story really just popped into my mind not too long after I made that list. – Rachel Tey

It’s amazing what lists can do. But Rachel Tey, author of Tea in Pajamas, didn’t just make a list and shove it to the back of her closet. She put on her writer’s hat and penned the story of her life (with a bit of help from her husband, who illustrated the book.) And the result is a delightful and fun tale.

Vera especially enjoyed the book – its magical qualities drew her in like honey to a bee. She even told me that she wished she could travel to Belzerac and taste Belle Marie’s cherry pie.

Tea in Pajamas

“Half an hour to go!” The booming voice of Monsieur DuPorc jolted Belle back to the present task at hand. Quickly, shelaid part of her dough at the bottom of her pie dish, trimmed away the excess, then poured the cherry filling over.

 

In the book, Belle Marie ends up back in Belzerac after having tea (coffee actually) in her PJs at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon. She’s right smack in the middle of a culinary contest, but her bestie Tess is nowhere to be seen. This marks the beginning of her quest to find Tess – has she been kidnapped by the mystical Musicians, or is she somehow stuck between the two worlds of Michelmont (where the two girls live) and Belzerac?

Belzerac is of course a magical land, but it was actually inspired by a real place…

Belzerac was inspired by a region in southwest France called the Dordogne, in particular the villages of La Roque-Gageac and Beynac-et-Cazenac. I’ve never been, but just from pictures and books, I am completely taken by this picture perfect part of rural France where it seems like time stands still and people are just happy. I often fantasize about canoeing down the Dordogne River (though my hubby reminds me of my non-sporty nature and how it’d be less idyllic in practice!). It’s also not easy to get to from Singapore (many flights and trains), so for now, it lives in my imagination as Belzerac.

Friendship and hope are the main themes of the book, as Belle, later joined by her new friend Julien, tries her level best to find Tess. Rachel elaborates:

The idea that true friendship withstands adversity, and that friends are absolutely instrumental in helping one get through difficult times. The truth is, we cannot go at it alone all the time. Real friends will be there to cheer us on, lift us up when things look uncertain, and to keep us from falling into despair. Conversely, “friends” who only try to bring you down and tell you that you cannot accomplish something are not exactly people you want to keep around.

I’m also inspired by how Rachel overcame her eating disorder and soldiered on in her journey towards wholeness and health:

It wasn’t easy. Those disordered behaviors I engaged in had become second nature to me, and I was so conditioned to a certain way of thinking and living that I did not think there was anything wrong. But several events forced me to take a step back and see that my decisions came at a cost: I stopped menstruating, I had trouble conceiving, I had a miscarriage, I developed binge eating patterns, physical wounds took a very long time to heal, and my inflexible lifestyle that only revolved around weight loss, dieting and exercise was taking up almost all my time and isolating me from family and friends. Eventually, I came to acknowledge that I was unhappy, exhausted and no longer in control of my life. I prayed hard, researched, and asked myself what I wanted if I ever came out of this–and the answer was freedom. With freedom in mind, I mentally trained myself to overcome compulsive and destructive habits and to hone a skill called discernment (see this post).

With lots of prayer and practice, and over time, I was eventually able to recognize unhealthy patterns of thoughts/behaviors, and to act against them by replacing them with healthy, self-loving and life-giving ones. The recovery process is still ongoing, but now with awareness and discernment, and the gift of hindsight, I think I am more equipped for the journey ahead.

Thank you, Rachel, for sharing your difficult journey with us, along with the inspiration behind Tea in Pajamas. Tea in Pajamas is best savoured with a cup of tea (or coffee) and the company of a good friend.

To win for yourself a copy of her book (suitable for ages 6 and up), just do the following by Mon, 7 March, 11.59pm:

1) Like Rachel Tey’s Facebook page

2) Like mamawearpapashirt’s Facebook page

3) Leave a comment below, tell us why you’d like to win.

4) For an additional chance of winning, share this post on Facebook (remember to set it to “public” so I can see it!)

5) For another additional chance of winning, tag 2 friends on this Instagram post!

That’s it! Best of luck. The winner will be announced on Tuesday on my Facebook page. Contest is open to Singapore residents only.

Tea in Pajamas is available in:

tea PJs

Sherlock Hong Adventures {Book Review and Giveaway}

If you’re a fan of mystery books, you’d know that it’s important to have a protagonist that is believable and easy to identify with.

In the Sherlock Hong series, Singaporean author Don Bosco does a great job building the character of young Sherlock himself. He is a young detective, belonging to the International Order of Young Seekers, impulsive, with a nose for adventure and an eye for suspicious details.

According to Don, his character “Sherlock Hong is inspired by Sherlock Holmes, the great detective in those classic mystery stories. And Sherlock Holmes is known for a few things: having great observation skills, being very well informed about all sorts of obscure topics, and being lost in his own world.”

“In that sense, I think our own quality of life improves when we practice these traits too, in a sensible way. Observe very closely the people you encounter, so you can understand them and interact with them better. Appreciate all the tiny details in the world around you, because that gives you more options about what you can do. And take some time to create your own personal sphere of comfort and love, so you can share this with your family and friends.”

Wise words indeed.

Sherlock 1

There are 4 books in this series – The Peranakan Princess, The Scroll of Greatness, The Legend of Lady Yue, and The Immortal Nightingale.

Vera’s favourite of the series of 4 books is The Peranakan Princess. She says it’s not as scary as the rest and it’s interesting because it features a little girl who sings and turns a man into stone!

Vera has always loved books with a touch of magic, since she started reading independently, but this is one of the first mystery books she’s read.

I decided to read through The Peranakan Princess myself and found it actually quite riveting. The story involves a Peranakan Princess and her magical Book of Secrets. The young detective Sherlock finds himself on a mission to thwart an evil plan to kidnap one of her descendants, so as to prevent the powerful magic manual from falling into the wrong hands.

The language is simple and easy to read, almost like Sherlock was writing a letter to us himself. I asked Don why he chose to write the series this way, and here’s what he said:

Prior to this, I had done a lot of writing and editorial work. Mostly informative, academic and lifestyle content. So I thought I was a pretty competent writer. But when it came to writing stories for children — and I mean stories that are exciting and emotionally engaging, that keep the kids turning the pages and eager to discover more, rather than the kind of educational stories for classroom use, where you want to put it away as fast as possible — I was stuck for a long time because what I wrote always came out proper and clever, but not fun and delightful.

After a lot of trial and error, one day I was daydreaming and I started to imagine that Sherlock Hong was talking to me. I could hear his voice very clearly, and sense all his gestures. So I hurried over to the computer and typed it all down. And that was it! After that it was quite effortless. The stories naturally have a wonderful sense of intimacy and enthusiasm. They feel authentic. I know it sounds a bit eccentric, that I’m using my daydreams like this, but it works for now. And that’s why the Sherlock Hong books are in this form!

I think the key to a great mystery book is whether it keeps you turning the pages, and Vera finished a book in one sitting, and also devoured the other books quite quickly.

So…the verdict is: This is one mystery book series that will really hook your young reader.

How would you like to raise a young Sherlock too? Well, I’ve got one set of Sherlock Hong Adventures books to give away to a lucky winner!

To qualify:

1. Like mamawearpapashirt on Facebook (if you haven’t already).

2. Leave a comment on this photo on FB (Answer the question, why did Sherlock need to thwart an evil plan to kidnap the descendant of the Peranakan Princess?), and tag 3 friends.

Good luck!
– This contest is open to Singapore residents only. It ends on Sunday, Nov 22 (11.59PM). A winner will be picked randomly, and the sponsor will contact you regarding the collection of the prize.
– Incomplete entries will be disqualified.
Sherlock 2

Disclaimer: I received a set of Sherlock Hong books for review and was not compensated for this post.

Good reads for 1-3 year olds

books for 1yr old

A friend of mine was asking for book recommendations for 1-3 year olds, so I decided to pull together a list of our all-time baby /toddler book favourites.

1. Where is the green sheep? by Judy Horacek – A curious book about sheep. Sheep that sleeps, that clowns around, that dives, that drives a train. But where is the green sheep? If you were a green sheep, where would you hide?

2. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown – A beautiful rhyming book about observing the things inside a great green room, and saying goodnight to all of them. A quiet book that makes for a good bedtime read.

3. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson – A book about a little mouse with big smarts, and his big hairy friend that helps him get out of hot soup.

4. We’re Going On a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen – A cute (and noisy) story about a family who goes hunting for a bear. They cross a field of tall grass (swishy swashy), wade through a river (splash splosh), go through mud (squelch squerch), and stumble through a dark forest (stumble trip). Finally they get to a cave, come face to face with a bear…and repeat their adventure in reverse (at twice the speed). A book that’s great for acting out.

5. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – This one needs no introduction, it’s a well-loved book about a caterpillar that pops out of an egg, eats too much, and then morphs into a butterfly. Simple storyline? Yes…but it still continues to enthrall kids of all ages.

6. Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers – An endearing book about the friendship between a boy and his penguin. The boy tries all ways and means to get the penguin back where it belongs – the North Pole. But later realises that they actually belong together.

7. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney – The classic story about love between Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. They go on and on comparing how much (how tall, how high, how wide) is their love for the other. Until finally it’s time to sleep.

8. The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland – A funny tale about four furry friends who stumble into a cave – with a very cranky bear inside. This book teaches us not to underestimate the plainest and quietest from among us; they can sometimes come up with the best ideas to solve a bear’s problem.

9. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell – This funny but simple lift-the-flap book is great for discovering animals and their character traits. Toddlers just love to lift the flaps and guess from memory which animal it is! If you wrote to the zoo to ask for a pet, what would they send you?

What are your favourite reads for 1-3 year old children?

PS. There are affiliate links in this post – if you make a purchase, I get a small commission from the sale. It’s at no extra cost to you, and I promise to save the earnings for my kids’ education! 🙂

 

Discover more of Singapore with Lion City Adventures {Book Review and Giveaway}

We’ve been putting our explorer hats on, and learning some pretty cool stuff about Singapore through Lion City Adventures, a book by local author Don Bosco.

Lion city adventures

Did you know that …Geylang Serai got its name because lemongrass (known as “serai” in Malay) used to be grown in the area on a large scale?

Or that Gardens by the Bay is about the size of 140 soccer fields?

Or that Botanic Gardens is home to Singapore’s oldest tree called “Terminalia Subspathulata” (or Jelawai Jaha)?

Lion_1Vera enjoyed solving the little puzzle games littered throughout the book, especially spot the difference and word search puzzles. She also enjoyed reading the little mystery stories and cracking her head to solve the mystery.

I also admired the thoughtful details such as the instant expert pages, that gives you a quick snapshot of the facts of every area or points of attraction covered, as well as suggestions on what to do there.

Lion_2 Lion_3

I interviewed Don to find out more about his thought process and motivations behind the book.

1) What are you hoping to achieve with Lion City Adventures?

I really just want to create a simple but memorable experience for kids: give them a quick tour of Singapore, and introduce both its rich cultural heritage as well as its modern marvels. Get them all excited about this city, so they can feel like they’re living in a very special place.

As parents, we love it when our kids are fascinated by a subject. They get enthusiastic and start to ask all sorts of questions. It’s a lot of fun when we have the time and energy to engage with them. But sometimes we might not have all the information at our fingertips, or we might be too tired.

This book was designed to help parents with this. It doesn’t matter whether you take your kids to the ten locations. The book is a complete package, with an exploration guide for each location, colourful illustrations, child-friendly activities, pages for sketching and journalling, and also a role-playing challenge where readers help to solve a mystery. It’ll educate and entertain them for some time. And after that, you can have lots of interesting conversations about Singapore.

It didn’t feel like work at all, it was more like a cool family project.

2) How much time did it take to research and write the book?

It took us about three months to put the book together. There are 10 very different locations featured in the book, from the Singapore River to Little India, Gardens by the Bay to the Mint Museum of Toys.

We had to visit the locations and try to experience it from a child’s point of view. What would they be interested in? How could we convey the mood of the place? What could they do at each location? I also tested the ideas with my two sons. We picked the final 10 locations to reflect Singapore’s diverse cultural heritage, help parents plan their own outings, and also appeal to young tourists. Working out that balance took up most of the time.

3) Was there a point when you felt like giving up? What kept you going?

Not with this book! Once my two sons got involved, they were so excited and motivated that I felt energised too. How could I even consider quitting? They would be so disappointed! They especially loved working on the mystery segments in the book, which involved the Lion City Adventuring Club. Also, they enjoyed following the entire production process and seeing how the Marshall Cavendish team assembled the illustrations and page designs. It didn’t feel like work at all, it was more like a cool family project.

I hope kids are inspired by modern marvels like Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Discovery Centre. And I hope kids feel the urge to go out and explore Singapore with their family and friends.

4) Are there any secrets behind the book that you’d like to share?

Sure, but please keep this a secret! The truth is that I got a bit emotional towards the end of the writing process. I had created this society for children, called the Lion City Adventuring Club, and it felt so wonderful, so inspiring and so real, that I wished desperately that my sons and I could somehow be members. I think we really need such experiences for our kids, so that they can feel a genuine sense of connection to their living environment. Since then, we’ve been talking to different people about actually organising such outings, and bringing the Lion City Adventuring Club to life. Will keep you updated!

5) That’s cool! Yes do let us know when that happens!

You’ve made the book a bit of a detective series with lots of mysteries for readers to solve along the way. What was the motive behind this?

We’ve tried to be a little more creative and engaging, and that’s why we added this role-playing aspect. There’s a background story about an old exploration society started by three children in Singapore back in 1894, called the Lion City Adventuring Club. In every chapter, the reader finds out a bit more about this club, and takes part in solving a puzzle or mystery. When you get to the end of the book, there’s an official Lion City Adventuring Club certificate waiting for you. In this way, young readers can feel like they’re taking part in something cool!

6) What did you learn from writing and publishing this book?

A lot of really profound lessons! One thing I realised early on was that I wanted to use the mystery segments to show kids that girls and boys were equally capable of solving mysteries, being creative, and leading their peers. It’s important to encourage this attitude.

I also learnt another interesting thing, about the old Singapura legend. As a student, I read about the prince who visited this island hundreds of years ago. The first creature he saw was a lion. This inspired him to name this place “Lion City”, or Singapura.

Zoologists now point out that all this was unlikely, as there couldn’t have been any wild lions in the region. But even today, our country continues to be known by this name. That shows you how powerful stories can be.

7) What do you want young readers to take home from this book?

The realisation that we live in a fascinating place, and there’s so much to appreciate about our local history, geography and culture. I hope kids read about the Singapore River and imagine how it enchanted Sir Stamford Raffles so much that he wanted to create something great here. I hope kids learn about the early settlers and how people came up with ideas to make money. I hope kids are inspired by modern marvels like Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Discovery Centre. And I hope kids feel the urge to go out and explore Singapore with their family and friends.

8) Can you share with us how you got started writing and creating books?

In 2011, I was making weekly trips to our neighbourhood library because my two sons were reading picture books and chapter books at a crazy rate. For every 10 books that I borrowed, they might enjoy maybe three or four. I quickly learnt to be a lot more discerning about children’s books, and I got better at understanding what they liked.

Later on, I tried to explain to them how the international publishing industry worked, and why there weren’t that many interesting children’s books being published in Singapore. Instead of feeling discouraged, they were actually inspired, and wanted to start creating their own books based on local experiences.

I used to write magazine articles, TV shows, educational books, and so on. I contacted a few friends in the industry, and with their help we started Super Cool Books. I honestly thought we would last maybe a
year or two, just long enough for my sons to learn something. But it’s been four years already. Now we joke that Super Cool Books is like our third child, the baby of our family. Just thinking about this makes me smile. 🙂

Thanks for sharing your behind-the-scenes story with us, Don!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

{GIVEAWAY} We have two copies of Lion City Adventures to give away. To win yourself a copy of the book, just hop over to this facebook post, and leave a comment.

Just answer the question: What are your top 3 places in Singapore to visit with children?

Good luck! Contest closes 11.59pm on 19 July, Sun. Open to Singapore residents only.

How to talk about sex with your child

I started the whole where-do-babies-come-from talk with Vera when she was 5+. It wasn’t as hair-raising an experience that I thought it would be, and I think using a book helped. This particular one I used is called Before I was Born.

Before I was born

The book covers the process of God creating the world and man and woman as different beings. It talks about the difference between a boy and a girl. It also covers the various body parts that are unique, mainly breasts, penis and vagina.

Before I was born3

It reads almost like a simple biology textbook as it presents the information in a factual matter-of-factly way. The topic of sex is introduced in the context of marriage, as God’s gift to the newly wedded couple and as a way to make marriages strong.

The pictures are hand-illustrated and pretty “safe”. Vera was initially tickled by the parts on hairy arms and legs, but I could see she went quiet when we moved into the section on sex. She asked, what is sex? To which I took a deep breath and said, it is God’s gift to a married man and woman, when the man’s penis enters a woman’s vagina, and they experience pleasure and love.

I probably rambled all of that in one breath. But thankfully she didn’t ask further at that point.

Before I was born 2

Before I was born1

While we have initiated the conversation, there’s definitely more to talk about.

Sex education begins with us – the parents. We should be the ones to first broach the topic rather than leaving it to the schools. It doesn’t happen in one sitting too. I think the best approach is to layer the information on as the child grows and gets more curious and asks deeper questions.

The information given should be age-appropriate. For instance I wouldn’t talk about abortions or pre-marital sex at this stage. I don’t think she has reached the level of maturity required to handle the tougher side of things.

Right now, I will continue to focus on helping her build the foundations. I highly recommend using books like this one. I will also be sharing other books such as The wonderful way babies are made and The princess and the kiss

Have you broached the topic of sex with your child? How did it go? Do share any tips or fav books with us in the comments below!

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