If you have kids who love exploring Singapore and further afield via trains, planes and automobiles, then we’ve got a treat of a new children’s rhyming picture book for you. Brit-born writer, Matthew Cooper, has penned ‘Lost in Singapore‘ which is not only jam-packed with local flavour, but is full of all things ‘transport’ too. We caught up with Matt to chat to him about how Singapore Airlines were involved in sponsoring his book, what life is like juggling life as a writer with that as a stay-at-home dad, and to give us the lowdown on the lovely tale of Ben and his parakeet, Sid.
Lost in Singapore
When his pet parrot, Sid, takes to the skies, Ben Wong chases after him in a fun-packed adventure that takes him the length and breadth of Singapore in hot pursuit of his feathered friend. Ben hops on trains, pops to the airport, and even finds himself cycling in Pulau Ubin, all with his eyes to the sky on the lookout for Sid.
Readers – young and old alike – will love spotting the familiar landmarks throughout the rhyming story, and by the end of the tale, the whole fam will be wanting to jump on a bus and take a little trip around Singapore town…
Matt, tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?
Well, there’s me, my wife, who’s a principal at an international school here in Singapore, and my two kids, Noah (10) and Neve (7). We previously lived in Hong Kong for 15 years, which is where I became a stay-at-home dad, and is also where I self-published my first picture books.
I actually began writing picture books when my eldest was small, and I couldn’t find any books that were relevant to what my son was into at the time (transport and animals). There was also a big gap in the market for children’s stories set in Hong Kong, so I decided to write my own. ‘Lost in Hong Kong’ was my first published book and was penned during Noah’s nap times!
I’ve since written books about the Hainan Gibbon (the world’s most endangered primate that virtually no one has heard of), and also stories that are relevant for children living in both Hong Kong and Singapore. My stories are all very much inspired by my own children, and I write with the aim of sparking a desire in all young readers to want to learn about the world around them.
I haven’t always been a writer though. I also tried my hand at life as a marine biologist (a subject I am still passionate about), as an IT help desk manager (a subject I know almost nothing about!) and even as a refuse collector. Being a writer though is the first job I have really loved. It doesn’t make much money, but I wouldn’t be happy in a job that was all about the income. My wife would like it to start paying a bit more mind…
‘Lost in Singapore’ is hot off the press! What inspired the storyline?
My eldest, in particular, really loves transport and I felt that this was definitely a topic that appeals to a lot of kids. I also really like parrots AND Singapore, so I thought it would be fun to combine all three subjects into one book.
I wanted the story to be able to travel around Singapore and to visit lots of places. Sid the parrot fit the bill as a character who would spark a lot of scope to journey all over the island, and Ben is a regular kid that children can relate to. Using Sid in the book also gave me the chance to include some animal endangerment awareness into the tale: there’s a non fiction section at the back that’s been written to boost awareness of just how rare some of the wildlife in the region is.
How did you come to work with illustrator Candice Phang?
I actually found Candice on the internet! I was looking at lots of different illustrators and I felt an immediate connection with her style of work. I knew that her more whimsical style of creation would really fit with ‘Lost in Singapore’, and I love how they turned out.
How did Singapore Airlines become involved in the project?
Although I self published my books in Hong Kong, when I came to Singapore I was really keen to find a sponsor who would help me to lessen the burden of funding the book. Singapore Airlines were the perfect fit not least because they are so iconic to Singapore, but planes are almost always most kids’ favourite form of transport. SIA were incredibly supportive throughout the process.
It was a real pleasure to deal with them right from the start. I had been worried that they would want to be heavily involved with storyline direction, etc, but they really didn’t interfere at all. Turns out they’re a company full of genuinely nice, imaginative and creative people who were happy to give me free reign, even with my whackier directions.
I do love how the airport scene in the book has turned out, and even that was very much left to myself and the illustrator, Candice Phang. All SIA asked was that we include their airplane and a member of their cabin crew, both of which fit perfectly with the story anyway.
The book is available to buy online at SIA’s KrisShop, and also at WH Smith stores in the airport itself (it makes the perfect souvenir for tourists or momento for families leaving Singapore). It makes the perfect emergency purchase for bored kids, after all!
We love that this is a rhyming picture book! How hard was it to get that right?
Some of the words I ended up using are maybe a bit of a stretch for young kids, and you definitely need to be more creative when writing in rhyme. I am a big fan of boosting kids’ vocabulary knowledge though, so some of the more flavourful language is great for a quick ‘wordy lesson’. The book is quite long, but I wanted to include as many places and details as possible. I wanted to include humour throughout the story too: some of that is clearly aimed at the kids, but there’s also a level of humour that adults will pick up on. I really believe that a story needs to be as engaging for the grown ups reading the book as they are for the little ones listening.
Do you run your stories by your kids?
Gosh, no. I am too scared! The first time they see the stories is when they are in print. My daughter is certainly proud about what I do, and loves that she is a character in one of my earlier books (Black Rain Day). My 10-year-old son is a bit embarrassed by it all, especially if I come into the school to do a reading. I actually get my advice from outside the family. My wife would be too nice, and my kids possibly too mean!
As an aside, I do love bringing my stories into schools though. The kids are always engaged and honest, and I get some really great feedback from the young critics in the audience!
And finally, what do you love about Singapore?
It’s great for kids! It’s easy to move here in terms of settling in, and when we have visitors there’s plenty to do for both adults and children. And although Singapore is famed for being expensive, there’s also lots of free stuff to do too. I recently took my daddy daycare skills up a notch by bringing six kids to the Singapore Botanic Gardens! It was way easier than it sounds, because the weather was good, the kids were busy and the fun factor was huge.
To get your hands on this wonderful book (we can say that having read and loved it ourselves), pop over to KrisShop and order your copy now, or head into book shops all over Singapore and knab one from the shelves. It’s literally hot off the press!
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