Doing the Write Thing: Evelyn Sue Wong
Evelyn Sue Wong loves bringing stories to life. Her stories about the diversity of languages and cultures in Singapore's society have been performed in various multilingual storytelling workshops and schools. Not only is she actively involved in the Asian Festival of Children's Content since 2010, Evelyn is also currently a member of the Singapore Book Council Advisory Network, which means she's more than familiar with Singapore's literary scene.
Her newest book, Just a Little Mynah is the first book in a series of multilingual children's books. Read on as Evelyn gives readers a peek into the colourful world of her newest book.
What is Just a Little Mynah about?
Little Mynah wishes she was not so ordinary. But when the magnificent Heron is in trouble she flies into action and discovers that even ordinary little birds can do extraordinary things. The heart of this story is about friendship, courage and self-esteem, with an underlying theme of environmental conservation.
There are simple everyday words in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil in the dialogue.
This first book introduces Little Mynah before she starts on her adventures with children in the neighbourhood.
What was the inspiration behind this book?
I was first inspired to write a story about a mynah who can speak English and Mandarin in 2013 when there was a call for more bilingual picture books with local content. I had been surprised by a mynah perched in a shop in Pulau Ubin who chirped "Hello! Nǐ hǎo!"
At the time, many children, like my daughter and son when they were young, were reading English for fun, and Mandarin to learn the language. So I wrote a story in English, with the dialogue in English and Mandarin.
The Naughty Mynah was selected for publication, sponsored by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism in a collaboration with the then National Book Development Council of Singapore (now the Singapore Book Council). It was adapted by The Learning Connections Story Box Theatre, and I was encouraged by the enthusiastic response of over 1,200 preschoolers, their teachers, and even the actors.
I decided to create a new character, a multilingual little mynah who has picked up English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil just by listening to friends around her and not being shy to speak since she was very young. I wrote stories with Little Mynah that were performed in storytelling workshops at festivals and schools.
What kind of research did you undertake for this series?
I learned more about mynahs. The Javan mynah is the most common resident bird in Singapore today. Some species, like the Hill Mynah, can learn to speak or mimic any language if they hear the words spoken often enough, especially when they are very young.
My field research included watching and chatting with mynahs and children. Both are often misunderstood as noisy and a nuisance.
On the everyday words in the multilingual dialogue, native speakers and language teachers have shared the nuances in translation. For example: “Apa khabar (how are you?) is a friendlier greeting in Malay than just ‘Hello’. Translation from English to Tamil often depends on the context, and the Tamil word for ‘pull’, ‘izhunga’, is pronounced ‘ilunga’.
Apart from introducing children to the diversity of languages found in Singapore's society, the book also has an underlying theme of environmental conservation. Why do you think it's important to expose readers to this issue at a young age?
I grew up in Canada where respect for the environment is, literally, in our nature. And I worked for many years advocating decent work, diversity and sustainable development. After decades of advocates pushing business to be socially responsible with a triple bottom line - people, planet, and not just profits - children and youth are our hope for real and sustainable change.
Preschoolers see and listen with an open-mind, and believe they can make a difference. Adults can seriously learn from children’s worlds.
What can parents and children alike look forward to in this book?
Parents and children can look forward to a fun read-aloud together with colourful characters that fly out of the pages.
It’s not a language learning book but there is a glossary at the end for quick reference, and a QR code link to an audio recording of the everyday words spoken by Little Mynah and her friends. Children will be surprised that the recording was done by a 9 year-old who can actually speak all four languages.
The QR code at the end of the book also links children to activities that they can do on their own or with family and friends, like word-matching games and looking out in our parks for the 10 local birds in the story, away from computer screens and handphones.
What are your hopes for the series?
I hope children will enjoy the adventures of a curious little mynah who is always ready to help out, and make new friends. And I hope they’ll be encouraged to think about the diversity of languages, cultures and nature in their everyday lives and the fun and value of being able to speak more than one language.
With the viral start to 2020, stories are more important than ever. I hope parents and children will welcome Little Mynah as a friend in their neighbourhood!
Get Just a Little Mynah here.