SINGAPORE - Veteran educator Khoo Kim Choo, 74, recently launched her fourth children's book The Reading Tree.
It was inspired by a project of the same name at the Preschool for Multiple Intelligences, which she founded in 2006.
Under the project, a mural of a tree was used to encourage the school's kids to read. For every book read, the child's name, book title and date would be written on a paper leaf, which would be pasted on one of the branches of the tree. Over time, the tree "grew" as more "leaves" were added.
A tree also plays a key role in Dr Khoo's latest book, which is about the friendship between a boy and a talking tree.
The boy loves to read and the tree loves being read to. The boy starts leaving behind every book he had read on the tree, which eventually becomes a majestic tree of books.
The story is illustrated by Tran Dac Trung, a Vietnamese freelance artist living in Singapore. Dr Khoo's two grandsons, who are 12 and 15, gave feedback on an earlier longer version of her book.
She says she first got into writing to encourage more Singaporeans to write for children, about things Singaporean.
"In the '80s and '90s, I found that almost all children's books were imported from the US, UK and Australia. I had difficulty tracking down local writers," she recalls.
"I felt that I needed to start the ball rolling by writing children's books myself."
But it has been more than 20 years since she launched her last book, Whose Cat Is That? (1997).
She quips that she was not a grandmother yet when she wrote her first three books, which were made up of rhymes set in the Singaporean context.
"Because I did not see myself as a children's author, I did not write for over two decades. I was too involved in the early childhood field, in various capacities, both within and beyond Singapore."
Dr Khoo, who has been in the sector for 37 years, was the first chief executive officer of the NTUC Childcare Group (now NTUC First Campus).
To instill a reading habit in children, she suggests that parents set up a daily routine - for instance, time for books, play and sleep. Follow it consistently so the kids know what to expect.
Dr Khoo is heartened that there are more local authors now. "Not every book will be a good or successful book. But the more we write, the better we get.
"And I expect over time, there will be more really good books that could go international from Singapore."
The Reading Tree ($14.90 before GST) is available at major bookstores.
Republished earlier this year, Going Downtown, House By The Woods and Whose Cat Is That ($11.22 before GST each) are available at the Word Image website.
What to read with your child
Dr Khoo Kim Choo shares two of her favourite children's books.
Written and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail
Bloomsbury Publishing/Paperback/$16.14/Available at Books Kinokuniya
"Whenever Leila's mother asks her what she's doing, her answer is always: "Nothing!" But in her imagination, she is engaged in one daring adventure after another - wrestling with an octopus, performing in a circus and terrorising people as a fearsome giant.
"When she meets Grandpa, she becomes a bird flying off at great speed - only to be followed by Grandpa who 'flies' after her.
"This book is beautifully illustrated and written. In the world of imagination, everything is possible. Adults generally do not enter the child's make-belief world. When we do, we are able to reach a deeper level of bonding with our child."
Guess How Much I Love You
By Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram
Walker Books/Board book/$15.94/Available at major bookstores
"This is a lovely story of how a young hare expresses his love for his father in different ways and how his father would reply that his love for him is always more.
"I am glad that the love is between a son and his father - usually we tend to see this more between mother and child. This story is also very timely as we see more fathers being actively involved with their children."
This is part of a series where experts give tips on how to get kids to love reading.