SINGAPORE - Are boys not reading as much as girls? Data from the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment study shows that boys read fewer books, but first-time author Darren Lim, 34, begs to differ.
"Kids these days - not just boys - have so many more options for fun, it's no surprise that books aren't always the top choice," he says.
He recalls going to bookstores and libraries frequently with his mum and dad when he was young.
"I always got to pick out what I wanted to read," he says, adding that if parents want their kids to be avid readers, they should let them do that too.
"When children read books about subjects that interest them, it keeps them going."
Lim, who is single, confesses that he does not read for pleasure these days as much as he used to. "Life happens. And writing Spycat books does take up a lot of my free time."
Lim published Ace Agent Spycat And The Flying Sidekick, the first book in his Spycat series, in July this year.
Recommended for kids from age eight, the action-packed adventure series recounts the escapades of Spycat, a Singaporean agent with a crime-fighting organisation.
Asked if it was targeted at boys, the James Bond movie fan says: "One would think that my readers are mostly boys, and I assumed that myself too at first. But to my delight, I've observed that my audience is more of an even split between boys and girls.
"I think featuring anthropomorphic animals and having a funny yet thrilling story helped to widen the book's appeal."
The book is based on an animated short film, Spycat And The Paper Chase (2011), his final year project when he was an animation student at the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University.
It has been screened at animation and children's film festivals worldwide and its accolades include a Gryphon Award for Best Short Film from the 2012 Giffoni Film Festival in Italy.
"This award was an unexpected win, especially since the Spycat film was up against works from established professional studios and the like," says Lim, who is writing at least two more titles in the series.
"It is voted by hundreds of children who attend the festival, which I find especially meaningful. Who better to say what children like, than children themselves?"
What to read with your child
Darren Lim shares his favourite titles.
The Incredible Adventures Of Professor Branestawm by Norman Hunter
Vintage Childrens Books/Paperback/255 pages/$12.95/Available at bit.ly/IAPB_NH
"The language in this book can be a bit old-timey as it was written in 1933, but the stories still hold up.
"Just like Spycat's new partner Rockcat, Professor Branestawm is an inventor who can't help making inventions that cause all kinds of trouble."
The Witches by Roald Dahl
Puffin/Paperback/368 pages/$13.38/Available at bit.ly/Witches_RD
"This classic probably needs no introduction. But for today's tweens who may be more familiar with the books of David Walliams, I highly recommend this. It's scary, thrilling and funny.
"Parents, keep your kids away from the 1990 movie adaptation till they're a little bit older - Anjelica Huston's Grand High Witch traumatises me to this very day."
Tintin In Tibet by Herge
Egmont UK Ltd/Paperback/64 pages/$14.89/Available at bit.ly/TintinTibet_H
"This is my favourite title in the comic book series The Adventures of Tintin, and the themes of friendship and determination will speak to tween readers.
"In it, young reporter Tintin believes his friend Chang has survived a plane crash in the Himalayas and goes in search of him. Tintin's sidekick, Captain Haddock, serves as a funny, foul-mouthed foil to the idealistic Tintin."
• Ace Agent Spycat And The Flying Sidekick ($13.80) is available at bit.ly/AceASCat_Lim
• This is part of a series where experts give tips on how to get kids to love reading.