Book Nook

Making free picture books for children

Author Josef Lee with three of his picture books. The stories are available online for free from the House Of Mini Picture Books website and can be printed and made into mini books (below).
Author Josef Lee with three of his picture books. The stories are available online for free from the House Of Mini Picture Books website and can be printed and made into mini books.ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN
Author Josef Lee with three of his picture books. The stories are available online for free from the House Of Mini Picture Books website and can be printed and made into mini books (below).
Author Josef Lee with three of his picture books. The stories are available online for free from the House Of Mini Picture Books website and can be printed and made into mini books (above).ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

Singapore authors and artists have come together to share their works for children for free. The House Of Mini Picture Books website (www.minipicbooks.com) hosts 20 original stories recommended for kids aged four to 12.

This online resource was initiated by Josef Lee, who wrote and illustrated 10 of the stories. It also features works by the likes of Patrick Yee, illustrator of A Boy Named Harry: The Childhood Of Lee Kuan Yew; and author-illustrator Quek Hong Shin, whose books include The Marvellous Sugee Cake.

Lee, 41, says the idea came about during the circuit breaker last year.

"I thought it would be great if there were a free online resource to allow kids access to books, so they can continue reading even if the libraries and bookshops are closed," he tells The Straits Times.

"But I didn't want the idea to be restricted to just e-books, because that will mean more screen time for our kid readers, and also because e-books can never replace the touch and feel of physical books."

He says the House Of Mini Picture Books is a marriage of e-books and physical books. Parents and kids can read the books online or download, print and make them into picture books.

The online resource is the result of a proposal submitted to the National Arts Council's Digital Presentation Grant for the Arts, which called for entries from artists to present their works in digital form.

Lee is thankful for the contributions from his author and artist friends. "Everyone had fun working on something that they like, or trying out ideas they normally do not have the chance to work on," he says.

A full-time creative director at a design and animation studio, Lee started sharing his picture stories on his blog in 2008.

One of them - Wake Me Up At Happyland - went viral, and a website in Taiwan approached him to try publishing it via crowdfunding. His first children's book was launched this way in 2017.

The crowdfunding campaign attracted other publishers, and his subsequent books were translated into Chinese and Korean and sold in Taiwan, China and South Korea. To date, he has 10 published children's titles. Wake Me Up At Happyland was also turned into a novel for adults later.

Lee finds picture books an ideal way to educate kids on social and global issues.

Among the stories he contributed to the House Of Mini Picture Books, his favourite is When A Wolf In Sheep's Skin Meets A Sheep In Wolf's Skin.

"It seems to be a simple story about friendship, but the underlying themes are discrimination and racism, which are recurring themes in quite a few of my stories.

"And most importantly, I've always wanted to tell a story that involves a big, bad wolf in my own style," says Lee, who is married with no children.

Besides parents, he hopes that teachers will access the website to share the stories in class. He is unable to meet students now, given Covid-19 restrictions.

"I'm definitely missing storytelling sessions with students in schools. That is the most fulfilling part for any children's book author. It always cheers me up to see kids enjoying the stories."

He plans to launch the sequel to his title, Bear With Me, this year. It was postponed from last year as he could not do school tours.

He hopes the 20 stories in the House Of Mini Picture Books will be well received.

"This online resource will always be free," he says. "If there's a demand for more stories, I will look into inviting more writers and artists to contribute new ones."

WHAT TO READ WITH YOUR CHILD

Josef Lee shares three titles which he loves because of "their wonderful art, unexpected endings, and the many layers of meaning and interpretations in each story".

THE ORANGE HORSE

By Liu Hsu-Kung

Reycraft Books/Hardcover/$28.34/Available at Books Kinokuniya

"An orange horse is desperate to find his long-lost brother, but the only clue he has is half of an old photo."

THE WOLF, THE DUCK AND THE MOUSE

By Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Walker Books/Paperback/$15.94/Available at Books Kinokuniya

"This is about a duck and a mouse which get swallowed by a wolf and decide to live in his belly."

THE ENEMY: A BOOK ABOUT PEACE

By Davide Cali and Serge Bloch

Schwartz & Wade Books/Hardcover/$29.99/Available at Amazon

"Two lonely soldiers face each other across a barren battlefield and eventually discover that the enemy is not a faceless beast, but a real person with family, friends and dreams."

•This is part of a series where experts give tips on how to get kids to love reading.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2021, with the headline 'Making free picture books for children'. Subscribe