The New Internationalists by Martin Salisbury

As the Bologna Bookfair approaches now seems a good time to hear from Professor Martin Salisbury, Course Leader, MA Children’s Book Illustration, Cambridge School of Art and enjoy his optimism about the shape of the picture book scene here in the UK.

A gentle breeze of change seems to have been blowing through the UK picturebook publishing landscape over the last couple of years. It has gathered momentum and is now beginning to resemble more of a brisk wind- a very welcome blast of fresh air. We have a magnificent and long-standing tradition in children’s book illustration in the United Kingdom and in particular the art of the picturebook, a tradition which we have every reason to be very proud of. But for a variety of reasons, it has been clear in recent years that we have fallen behind many other countries when it comes to the picturebook as an object of beauty- in terms of illustration, design and production. A visit to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair would invariable induce for this writer at least, a feeling of envy when visiting the stands of the French, Belgian, Czech, South Korean and German publishers. As a member of the international jury for the Ragazzi Awards and the International Illustration Awards in recent years, I have often found myself facing a barrage of questions from fellow jurors (publishers, artists, designers, critics) about the reasons why comparatively few British books were entered for awards, why so few overseas titles were imported and translated into English, why our picture books seem so much ‘less artistic’, ‘edgy’ or creatively ambitious. I would find myself torn between, on the one hand, the impulse to point out the fact that our books have to appeal to a far wider audience and need to sell more copies than is the case for many of the publishers in other languages and, on the other, the temptation to agree that we have been just a little insular.

Taking my MA Children’s Book Illustration students to Bologna every year has been an interesting experience too. I designed the course in 2000 and student numbers have grown at an astonishing rate. We are now at absolute capacity, accepting around forty full-time and twenty-five part-time students each year, from far higher total numbers of applications. They come from all over the world. On graduation, most return to their native countries but all aspire to be published in English. Visiting Bologna gives them a real insight into the range of picture book cultures around the world. And in previous years, a visit to the British halls would sometimes act as ‘wake-up call’ that they may need to rein in their creative ambition if their hopes of being published in English were to be realized. My colleagues and I often chuckle over a recent experience of a graduate being told earnestly by a British publisher that her work was ‘too posh and too French’.

But almost overnight, we seem to be entering a new ‘Golden Age’. It surely started with the award winning visual publishing house, Nobrow. Worshiped by art students for their highly innovative output Nobrow has evolved from a little print studio into a significant player in the publishing scene. Their children’s book imprint, Flying Eye, was launched in 2013 and has been responsible for a stream of deliciously produced books, culminating in the richly deserved Kate Greenaway Medal 2015 for William Grill’s Shackleton’s Journey. Now we are seeing numerous imprints springing up with newfound confidence in the potential for books that demonstrate real concern for quality design and production. Of course much credit must also go to Tate Publishing, V&A Publishing and now Thames and Hudson- all of whom have moved into children’s publishing in recent years. At last we are seeing the work of artists such Beatrice Alemagna and Isabelle Arsenault in our bookshops. And a special mention is needed too for Julia Marshall at Gecko Press in New Zealand, who has chipped away by introducing international picture books into the English language.

So for the illustration student, these are exciting times. But the illustration student must also take some of the credit for these changes. As more and more of our students arrive form overseas, there is more and more cultural and stylistic diversity on show at graduation exhibitions and in portfolios at Bologna. Our own MA students and graduates have been consistently prominent in the awards at Bologna, the Waterstones Prize, the Macmillan Prize for Children’s Picture book Illustration (our students have taken the top prize for the last five years), the V&A Illustration Awards, New York Times Top Ten Picture books, and in the shortlists for the Greenaway Medal among others. What is also noticeable though is the range of countries that they hail from. In the above awards and shortlists the individuals’ nationalities include Iceland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Norway, Romania, Spain, Taiwan as well as the UK. They are all bringing a rich diversity of visual diet to our culture of picture book-making and helping to drive standards up.

The fertilization process is not just one-way however. With our students attending Bologna and, in the last few years, having the opportunity to present their work at our Cambridge School of Art stand, it has been interesting to see how many of them have gained their first publishing contracts from overseas publishers. Of course this can sometimes mean that print runs and advances are relatively low. But getting into print is a huge advantage in terms of having something tangible to show other potential future publishers. The work of a significant proportion of our graduates has made its debut in languages other than English, or in English but in other lands like New Zealand and the USA.

The following selection of just six of our recently published graduates at Masters and PhD level is relatively arbitrary but contains a range of nationalities and may give some insight into the ‘new internationalism’ that appears to be gaining a toe-hold.

Simona Ciraolo completed her part-time studies on the MA course in 2014 and after interest from several publishers at her graduation show, opted to sign with Nobrow/ Flying Eye, having long been an admirer of their work. Simona is originally from the island of Sardinia. She studied animation at the Film School in Turin and worked as an animator here in the UK for some years before joining the course. The training in animation has stood her in good stead, underpinning her acute, sensitive character observation with secure draughtsmanship. She is a natural storyteller and her first two picturebooks, ‘Hug Me’ Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 15.17.14and ‘Whatever Happened to my Sister’ were both developed as projects during the final stages of the Masters course. Stylistically, there is a hint of mid-Twentieth Century retro but the work rises above trend or mannerism through its depth of sincerity and complete absence of sentimentality. Both books are rendered with simple old-fashioned marker pens. ‘Hug Me’ tells of a lonely cactus who yearns for physical contact. ‘Whatever Happened to my Sister’ is a touching story of the a little girl’s bemusement and sadness as her big sister grows away from her.

Carolina Rabei hails from Romania. As a student, Carolina particularly took to screen-printing in our excellent printmaking workshops. This ancient process originated in China and was used commercially over the years for large-scale poster printing and for printing onto T-shirts and e.g. metal packaging. Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 15.18.57For artists, it is a medium that forces one to learn a lot about the layering of colour. Prior to her first visit to Bologna, Carolina printed a batch of small scale, double sided, folding ‘concertina books’ depicting the Little Red Riding Hood story. Printed in two colours, these delightful objets were used as self-promotional handouts to lucky publishers. One such recipient was Faber children’s Books who were looking for material for their new picture book venture, more specifically to work on a picture book based around Walter de la Mare’s poem, ‘Snow’. Carolina’s work had just the right feel. The second in the series, ‘The Ride-by-Nights’, has just been published. Carolina’s artwork is now generated digitally, for reasons of practicality and speed, but is greatly informed by her experience of screen-printing.

Maisie Shearing hails from marginally less exotic Hull, via an undergraduate degree in Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art. Her work is edgy, witty and occasionally dark. Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 15.19.58These and other characteristics won her the $30,000 First Prize in the 2015 Bologna International Award for Illustration, sponsored by the Spanish publishers, Fundación SM. The prize also came with a contract to develop for publication the book project from which the winning illustrations had come. This was a graphic novel format book, based on Maisie’s mother’s recollections of schooldays, once again originally developed during the final stages of the Masters course, which she completed in January 2015.

Becky Palmer is currently working on a project with one of the UK’s leading publishers but her debut came in the form of a stunning graphic novel for the French publisher, Sarbacanne. Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 15.20.46She did not study Art & Design at undergraduate level but had always drawn compulsively. Currently researching the boundaries between the picturebook and the graphic novel in the form of a practice-led PhD, Becky was an early winner of the Sebastian Walker Memorial Award- a prize sponsored by Walker Books specifically for an outstanding Cambridge School of Art MA graduate. She is in increasing demand as an illustrator, author and teacher.

Yu-Wen Huang – The eye of the émigré artist can often be particularly acute when exploring and describing another culture (think Miroslav Šašek’s ‘This is …’ books for example). Yu-Wen Chuang’s personal sketchbooks teem with anecdotal observational drawings of the everyday life EnglandScreen Shot 2016-02-28 at 15.21.59 and her native Taiwan. One of her final student projects on the MA course was in the form of a visual tour of London that combined observation, pattern and narrative in a rich mélange of painterly colour.



Katherina Manolessou

Originally from Greece and from an academic background in Chemistry, Katherina studied illustration at the University of Kingston and the Royal College of Art before successfully undertaking a practice-led PhD at Cambridge School of Art. Her research centred on the role of animal character design in children’s picturebooks. This was a fitting topic for an artist who has always populated her work with an array of creatures, when working primarily in the arena of editorial illustration. Katherina’s first picturebook, Zoom Zoom Zoom, was developed as part of her PhD research and subsequently published by MacMillan in 2014 and was one of a small number of books to be selected for exhibition at Bologna that year. The visual characteristics of Katherina’s work are rooted in her work as a printmaker. Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 15.26.00The bold, flat, screen-printed colours would perhaps have been deemed ‘too European’ for the UK market until recently.


Follow the artists on twitter:

@MaisieParadise, @Kmanolessou, @_BeckyPalmer, @CarolinaRabei

A Celebration of the work of David Roberts


“A book can never be too young for you, a book can be too old for you but it can never be too young for you … “ David Roberts.

To celebrate the publication of A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting by Michelle Robinson and David Roberts I met David for coffee and to talk about his career in publishing, his books and the joys of illustration.  Here is some of what we spoke about …

David went to art school in Manchester where he studied Fashion Design. And whilst he was on the course two visiting lecturers introduced him to his future – a milliner to a passion for hat making and a fashion illustrator opened his eyes to the possibility of earning a living as an illustrator. He found that his tendency to draw characters that look like him made his choice of fashion illustration as a specialism a little tricky “They weren’t the most attractive lets say … so I didn’t really get much work”  he tells me.

David went to Hong Kong where he worked as a milliner and while he was there he started to work for local newspapers and magazines doing art for their horoscopes, fashion pieces and articles which started him on his career as an illustrator. One of the pieces he did, about the people in the fashion industry which he based on a hybrid Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous and Ivana Trump, he had made into a postcard through which he met his agent Christine Isteed of Artists Partners with whom he has been every since.
It was Christine who guided him to being a children’s book illustrator.   She pointed out to him that he draws characters with a story and she took him on telling him that she would find him work in children’s publishing.

It was exactly what David wanted to do and was the start of his amazing career. “For me at that time Christine was the one that gave me that boost. I wanted to do children’s book illustration but I never believed I was able to do that. So when she said ‘Go away, come back to me when you have reworked your portfolio, take a few nursery rhymes and illustrate them…’ that was the start for me.”   David’s first book was with Wayland called ‘Frankie Steins Robot’ by Roy Apps and he has since gone from strength to strength and work by him must be present on almost every child’s bookshelf with a range of titles covering everything from pre-school to YA.

David does not see himself as a writer, rather as someone who is an illustrator of other peoples books. This is despite his wonderful Bertie series of books which cover the escapades of a little boy called Bertie who has some pretty revolting personal habits that appeal hugely to a young readers. David created the character and wrote the first two books and the writing is now done by Alan Macdonald while David continues to illustrator both the picture books and fiction titles that are published around the character.


Dirty Bertie published by Little Tiger
Dirty Bertie published by Little Tiger Press

“I soon realized after doing those books that writing is not for me” David tells me “what gives me the real thrill is someone else’s imagination, and what they come up with can then take me down a road that I never would have been able to think of myself. I need someone to open that door for me.”




David acknowledges that the challenge of illustrating dinosaurs for Julia Donaldson’s Tyrannosaurus Drip meant that he was pushed out of his comfort zone – and had to come up with characters for animals that don’t wear clothes as clothes mean to so much to him when creating character.

Tyrannosaurus Drip published by Macmillan
Tyrannosaurus Drip published by Macmillan

He says he enjoys illustrating other peoples books so much more that trying to come up with his own texts and this is also perhaps why David’s work, while being so distinctive, meshes so well with different writers from Chris Priestley to Sally Gardner, Julia Donaldson to Michelle Robinson. There is great mutual respect between the two creative halves and never a feeling that one is trying to impose its will on the other..

David is surprised that his work is often talked of as being gothic as he is not a fan of anything even remotely scary. He says he couldn’t even watch Sleep Hollow with Johnny Depp which is hardly hardcore horror! But he acknowledges that he likes to illustrate darkness “creepy and sinister and the oddities of things, the shadows. What I loved so much about Chris Priestley’s stories is that they allowed me to remove the characters because he didn’t want things revealed.   I could literally draw a room with a shadow and that was enough.” And this was a new way of thinking for David who found himself freed of having to create a character and could focus on creating an atmosphere. Which he does brilliantly.

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror published by Bloomsbury
Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror published by Bloomsbury
Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth published by Bloomsbury
Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth published by Bloomsbury
Tales of Terror from the Black Ship published by Bloomsbury
Tales of Terror from the Black Ship published by Bloomsbury








It isn’t too much of a surprise to find out that one of the reasons that David wanted to be an illustrator is because of his love of Edward Gorey’s books. He became captivated by Gorey’s work while a student because “there is something about the way that it is so static. Its just these captured moments that really really appealed to me in the way that I also really loved Victorian photographs where a scene has been set and you are posed. I learnt a lot from looking at Edward Gorey and Gustave Dore and Charles Keeping. I learnt about tone and light and depth and how to leave the white space and how to cross hatch from looking at their work.”


David is the master of leaving the space. He does not over explain or over illustrate and leaves the reader lots of room to use their imagination and fill in the gaps. David is also a wonderfully humourous illustrator and much of this is conveyed through the charm of peoples faces, and ‘wide eyed’ innocence. David admits that he loves to draw people, to think of who each character is, what they would wear and how they would move through the world. He thinks this is at odds with his solitary life as an illustrator who doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with people and it is the humanity he invests in his characters that I think make them so compelling to the reader.

Image taken from The Troll written by Julia Donaldson published by Macmillan

David’s reputation is building around the world and while he is published in many countries and is working directly with American publishers he doesn’t feel he has to adapt his style to suit his projects abroad. Working directly now with Abrams on the books Rosie Revere Engineer and Iggy Peck Architect by Andrea Beaty with a third one on the way.

Jacket image book published by Abrams
Jacket image of book published by Abrams
Jacket image of book published by Abrams
Jacket image of book published by Abrams









He notes that his books published in the American market are often noted for their ‘Britishness’ and he knows that in the end it would be a mistake to try and contrive something for a market “always just be yourself, do it how you see it and then let other people take from that.”

David is amused by conversations in which people assume that his ability to create children’s books is because he “has the mind of a child”.  He says “I don’t really think about the child when illustrating a book, I only ever respond to the text.   I never ever think what would the child want to see.”   Like other original and successful creators of children’s books his ambition is to create the best and not to double guess what the audience might want.

Yet at the same time David is conscious of the orthodoxy of a classical training.   “I always felt that there was this secret method which I didn’t know about because I hadn’t trained that way. That you had to be so pure about things and if I was doing watercolour I would feel I couldn’t possibly pick up a coloured pencil and add that to it because this is supposed to be watercolour. And then I found a copy of John Burningham’s Mr Gumpy’s Outing and something flicked in my mind. I just looked at it and saw that it was a case of whatever is on the desk he picked up and drew with it so it could be a crayon, or pen and ink or watercolour. It was so free and it instantly made me think whatever I want to make the mark with I should make the mark with. It made me a little less frightened.”

David feels that there is no right and wrong way of doing something and this confidence has meant that he has developed a wonderful distinct style that is always recognizably him. Despite the difference in the audiences from his picture books to his black and white work in YA novels the art is always clearly his. He loves the fact that he can move between black and white and colour work and that the illustrations for each take a different energy from him. The variety he feels keeps him fresh, and interested. He suggest that his most unusual work and the one that will surprise his fans the most is Tinder by Sally Gardner which came about because Sally asked him to work in a different style. He found the opportunity such a freedom and it was he says, rather like having time to draw for himself and experiment.

Jacket image of book published by Orion
Jacket image of book published by Orion

David does all his work manually and does not use a computer. An artist with immense drawing skills David is also someone who creates a colour scheme for each of his books which is special and personal to each text. For A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting 

Published by Bloomsbury
Published by Bloomsbury

the colour scheme was his first approach and also his first way into the text and didn’t involve any changes of heart or direction from him as the book developed. He says “I had this idea of orange, and yellows and orches and pale blues – these were the colours that I though the bears would look good against. With this book it was straight away right. “

Publishing in February David loved illustrating Michelle’s text. He says it was an opportunity for him to combine his black and white cross hatched line with watercolour and a perfect opportunity to bring those two creative worlds together.


Images from A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting published by Bloomsbury



“I had so much fun with it. The text is so new and so open, it felt like I could take it in so many different ways and it was so refreshing to think ‘how shall I do this’

David also enjoyed the process of working with Bloomsbury on the book as he felt no one was trying to ‘guide his hand’ on the book and that in being left to ‘have a go’ and then to adapt anything he might have got wrong allowed him to get it right.

For a child that is a little bit unsure about reading David realizes that Illustration is a way of making the reading experience easier. He remembers not being a confident reader and how much art helped him build his confidence. That pictures can offer clues to the words as well as a small break in the reading is important to how David structures his illustrations and in the Bolds by Julian Clary David aimed to have an illustration on every page to help young readers with both pace and clues.

The family in the Bolds is a family that David feels the reader wants to be part of and that they are always laughing and finding laughter in their experiences. “Its nice to illustrator laughter” David tells me and “when I am drawing I pull the expression on my face of the expression I am drawing. I found that when I was drawing the characters in the Bolds I have this crazy grin on my face the whole time.”

The Bolds written by Julian Clary published by Andersen Press
The Bolds written by Julian Clary published by Andersen Press

The Bolds written by Julian Clary published by Andersen Press











David doesn’t often get a day off but if he did on his wish list would be a visit to see a Hockney exhibition, an artist that he adores. He says that Hockney’s work from the 1970’s heavily influence Iggy Peck Architect and that he shamlessly stole a garden sprinkler from a Hockney painting for the book. It is clear that David’s influences are wide and his appreciation of the detail in other peoples art is something that is reflected in the painstaking care he puts in to his own work.

Image from Iggy Peck Architect published by Abrams

He also really likes exhibitions like the Viking exhibition and the Pompeii exhibition as he loves real stories about real people and he would love to do some non-fiction, biography even. He would be interested in people whose lives are interesting, whether or not he agrees with their politics. Margaret Thatcher for example would give him plenty to get his teeth in to … miners strikes and all.

For the coming months however he is unlikely to have time to start the Iron Lady’s life. He has several books in the pipeline, including his first book for Walker Books which he is delighted about as it was the first children’s publisher he was every really aware of. This after a career that spans, if you include all the educational titles, book covers and other projects, over 150 books. We have a lot more to look forward to from David in the future.

A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting is available now in hardback. Visit and follow them on twitter @kidsbloomsbury and on instagram @bloomsburypublishing.

Follow Macmillan Children’s Books on @MacmillanKidsUK

Follow Abrams on @abramskids

Follow Andersen Press on @AndersenPress

Follow Orion Books on @orionbooks

Follow Little Tiger Press on @littletigerUK



Historical fiction – a window and a mirror

I am writing a talk I am going to be giving at the AFCC in May this year about historical fiction and the way in which reading about the past can help us understand the present.  Ideas and opinions I had before I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) have been challenged and expanded by talking to authors, reading articles, re-reading books.  It is a refreshing experience to think ones way through things and come out with a different opinion.

The one thing however which remains constant for me is my belief that reading is and has to be fun.  Without enjoyment and escapism and adventure reading becomes a chore, or a lesson and like medicine can be a bit tricky to swallow.

In the meantime what better excuse do I need for rereading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Witch Child, War Horse, Sawbones and so many other wonderful narrative driven stories.  Stories that tell us about our past, help us understand ourselves and our present day, and offer us an opportunity to refine our beliefs and opinions which will shape our future.

Once Upon a Time in Singapore: Local Spin-offs to Foreign Fairy Tales by Rhoda Myra Garces-Bacsal and Sarinajit Kaur

…fairy tales come in many versions and are in turn interpreted in varied ways that speak to specific social concerns, struggles, and dreams.

Bacchilega, 2013, p. 3


Modern fairy tale adaptations for a digitally-savvy generation are not uncommon, as well-loved tales of grand balls and royalty, glass slippers and happily-ever-afters are re-imagined to provide more contextualized meanings and give space to varying realities beyond the original Eurocentric stories. This is a testament to the timelessness of fairy tales that lend itself to hybridization and transformation allowing readers to not only be passive consumers to the enchantment it provides, but active agents of societal change. The localized permutations may serve as subtle acts of subversion or a more innocuous turning over of beloved characters on their heads, infusing them with culturally-relevant sensibilities with the stories transfigured to include socially-approved norms and moral values. Singapore, a country which has just celebrated its 50th year of Independence in 2015, has its own spin-offs to foreign fairy tales as evident in award-winning Singaporean author Cyril Wong’s Strange Tales: Let Me Tell You Something About that Night in 2009. These are fairy tales for adults told with moribund twists, surreal trans-figurations of characters (male elf turned woman), dark places that defy (or even scoff at) happy endings – all the while challenging gendered expectations of heteronormativity, womanity, and masculinity. Singlish (Colloquial Singaporean English) versions of fairy tales have likewise been written by local designer Casey Chen in 2013: The Three Little Pigs Lah and The Red Riding Hood Lah, providing a delightful parody of well- known fairy tales suffused with familiar colloquialisms such as leh, lah, lor, hor, die die. However, the author himself admitted that while based on a child’s fairy tale, he claims that it is “not very suitable for children” with its use of Singlish and graphic language that is frowned upon by some ultra modern and conservative parents (Ang, 2013).

In 2014, modern retellings of foreign fairy tales specifically aimed for a childrens audience have been tackled by a few of Singapore’s luminaries in various fields (theatre, drama, food) in three Singaporean permutations of well-known foreign fairy tales. The sale of the books which carry a social enterprise mode will have part of the sales proceeds go to the Society for the Promotion of ADHD Research and Knowledge (SPARK). All three books make use of relocation (Bacchilega, 2013) as their primary adaptive strategy by situating the stories in places such as an HDB (Housing Development Board) flat in Ang Mo Kio in Hansel and Girl Girl, Upper Thomson in Goh Bee Lock and the Three Boars, and Katong Community Centre and HDB flat in Pek Kio in Little Red in the Hood.


Hansel and Girl Girl is written by Adrian Pang, a well known TV celebrity and the artistic director of Pangdemonium, a Theatre Company; and illustrated by Cultural Medallion recipient Serbian-Singaporean artist, Milenko Prvacki, a Senior Fellow at Lasalle College of the Arts.

Image used with the permission of Epigram Books, Singapore
Image used with the permission of Epigram Books, Singapore

While there are certain elements that are retained (evil and rejecting stepmother, passive and largely ineffectual father, a house of candy owned by a witch-like woman, brother-sister who had each other’s backs), there are a considerable number of modifications. Instead of a gingerbread house (which is not an item in Singaporean culture), the reader sees The Sweety Sweet Shoppe managed by a scary Auntie (a term used to describe older females in Singapore) with a beehive for hair and wearing a sarong (a kind of wrap around skirt worn mainly by the Malays). In this version, it is Girl Girl who is locked up as the Auntie plans to fatten her up as an entry to the Plump Girl Contest (a satirical reference to the element of competition in Singaporean society) in the hopes of winning a cash prize of SGD $100,000, a car and a condo (affectionately known as the 3Cs that mark financial success in Singapore). Hansel, then, needed to come up with a strategy to free his sister, tapping into the locals’ love of freebies and giveaways (an allegory to typical local penchants), allowing the siblings to escape unnoticed and take the MRT ride back home (the Mass Rapid Transit rail system of Singapore). Similar to most Asian folktales, the didactic elements are as compact as the nonya kueh chang (glutinous rice dumpling – that the siblings were asked to purchase by their stepmother), with the story ending with an injunction “A little candy is nice, but too much candy is too much! I will never, ever, be greedy again!”


Image used with permission of Epigram Books, Singapore
Image used with permission of Epigram Books, Singapore

In Goh Bee Lock and the Three Boars, there is still a discernible moral evident from the first page of the story: “She had to study hard and could only play educational computer games, but only after she had finished her homework.” There is also reference to her mummy’s shoe collection and her daddy’s golf sets – constant allegories that provide an insight into generalized local behaviours of the pursuit of academic success, love for shopping and golf as favourite adult pastimes. While there remains a consistent ‘moral’ vein running through the story, this was ingeniously underplayed by the infusion of a wide range of culinary elements. This may be attributed to the fact that the author, J F Seetoh is known as Singapore’s foremost food guru and champion for hawker food. Naughty Goh Bee Lock, despite the parents’ well-meaning advice, snuck out to the nearby Pierce Reservoir where she discovered a small house in the middle of the forest. Instead of three bears (which are not naturally existent in Singapore), this is home to a family of three boars, also quite common in what-passes-for-Singapore’s-jungles. Here, the author allows readers with ample contextual knowledge to make reference to a recent national concern of over population of wild boars as well. Goh Bee Lock is no simpering, golden-haired girl either as her mere presence caused the three boars to faint on the spot, giving her the brilliant opportunity to transform this unconscious family of boars into a delectable meal of “wild boar satay with a dip made from sambal and crushed peanuts,” and Singapore’s famous “bak kut teh” with garlic and pepper cooked over low fire, and the delectable kong bak ba (steamed buns filled with wild boar meat). There are commendable attempts at subtlety in the interplay between text and art, with visual elements added by artist Gavin Goo that are not articulated in the text. The overall design and layout provide a more dynamic feel which may also be attributed to Goo’s being an art director. The presence of the big bad wolf in the end added a layer of intertextuality, reminding readers of other fairy tales with the wolf as villain. The story ends with Goh Bee Lock promising to never be naughty again and the father holding up a plastic takeaway container of her favourite braised pig’s trotters.



Image used with the permission of Epigram Books, Singapore
Image used with the permission of Epigram Books, Singapore

Little Red in the Hood raises the bar in these three stories with the presence of a loud, muscled, kickboxing Grandmother named Rambo outfitted in white singlet and sweat pants; and a cute granddaughter named Little Red who likes drawing bright red wolves and making fluffy red bags (an apt reference to red as a colour of auspiciousness in Singapore culture). The story makes reference to the typical local lifestyle of most young parents and common childcare arrangements – “Little Red’s parents were property agents. They worked all day, leaving Little Red in the care of her grandmother” – providing an apt insight into Singaporean life and practices. Unlike the first two adaptations which aimed to close the stories neatly with a clearly- defined lesson, there are no such attempts here with leading film and theatre director Glen Goei turned children’s book author, eschewing such moralistic expectations and simply having unapologetic fun in twisting the narrative. Instead of Grandmother falling ill, it is Little Red who gets sick with a high fever. Rather than a basket filled with home-made goodies, Rambo “made a frantic trip to NTUC Fair Price” (a popular local grocery store frequented by many in Singapore) to buy ingredients to make chicken soup. The sinister undertones (that will make for a thrilling read-aloud) are retained as Rambo slowly finds her way to Little Red’s metal gate (a typical feature of HDB flats) “on the seventh floor of the oldest block in the estate. It was run-down and shabby, and home to an odd mix of people.” Instead of finding Little Red, Rambo encounters a tall woman with a red hooded sweater and a long skirt admiring her loud and acerbic voice: “My, what a sharp tongue you have” to which Rambo replied “All the better for me to scold people with.” This ‘scolding’ by Aunties and old folks are fairly common in Singapore where filial piety and respect for elders are valued highly: with the Auntie here representing the more experienced and wise elder whose advice/scolding is actually revered. It turns out Rambo is in the wrong flat and Little Red chided her apparently-poor-sighted Grandmother for screaming at Auntie Devi: “And why are you shouting like that? So garang to her for what?” The infusion of local colloquialisms (garang meaning fierce) and sound effects that tap into local people’s sensibilities (Hiiyaa! and Pak! as Rambo attacks Auntie Devi) render even greater authenticity and further sealed the Singaporean ownership to this tale. The story ends with no moral injunctions but with Little Red accompanying Rambo to an optometrist to buy prescription glasses. The dynamism of the story is heightened with Eisner-nominated-artist Andrew Tan’s (also known as Drewscape) rendering the illustrations with a comic book feel to it with storyboard panels and localised sound effects. Through subtle permutations and hybridization from the original fairy tales, the content which is infused with a myriad of local references and allusions, provides a cultural insight into the peculiarities and essence of Singaporean lives. The Singaporean authors successfully provide a sneak peek punctuated with items, behaviours and places close to the Singaporean heart. This is authenticated further with each book bringing in an angled lens specific to the respective author’s area of expertise coming quite clearly through each depiction. While these three stories would have benefited from a Glossary of Terms for those who are unfamiliar with local delicacies and unique linguistic expressions, this may serve as a post-reading activity that teachers can consider asking their young students to do in the classroom.

Jack Zipes (2012, p. 17) noted: “All tales want to be relevant, in the same way that we seek to make ourselves relevant through storytelling. Tales do not have agency. They are not alive, but they breathe and are vigorous, and as they are passed on to us through traditions of storytelling, they almost assume a life of their own.” In these three Singaporean fairy tales, readers get to see beloved tales transformed and given new life with a distinct “gula melaka flavour puddled under the tongue.”


About the authors:

Rhoda Myra Garces-Bacsal is an Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.  She is the Programme Leader of the Masters Program in High Ability Studies and Gifted Education. She serves as the Chairperson of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content held annually in Singapore. As a passionate reading advocate, she has also edited three books on the rediscovery of children’s literature in Asia. She has three book clubs in Singapore with children and adults, and shares her passion for reading and book hunting in her website

Ms Sarinajit Kaur, MEd (Special Education) joined the Early Childhood and Special Education Academic Group as a Teaching Fellow since 2011. She currently teaches and coordinates a myriad of courses across various cohorts in initial teacher preparation as well as in service courses. She serves as in service coordinator for courses which equip mainstream teachers in inclusive practices and in supporting diverse learners. She is also engaged actively in supporting trainee teachers and allied educators during their school experience and practicum periods. Her interests include teacher training, mentoring and on how these impact positively on the inclusive mainstream educational landscape.

Ang, B. (2013). ‘My Singlish is not very good.’ The New Paper; December 10,
2013. Retrieved from online publication: good?page=0%2C0

Bacchilega, C. (2013). Fairy tales transformed? Twenty-first century adaptations and the politics of wonder.Detroit, US: Wayne State University Press.

Zipes, J. (2012). The irresistible fairy tale: The cultural and social history of a genre. Oxford, UK: Princeton University Press.