Doing the Write Thing: Jolene Tan
Jolene Tan is a Singaporean author and activist who was first known for her debut novel, A Certain Exposure (2014). Six years after its release, Jolene is back with her first picture book, Saturday's Surprisingly Super-Duper Lesson, a story that narrates a seemingly normal Saturday morning for Aish, until her doodles start coming to life. We had a small chat with Jolene about her first foray into children's book, her inspiration behind Saturday's Surprisingly Super-Duper Lesson, and her hopes for it.
Let’s have a little fun like the kids in your story. In 20 words or less: tell us what the story is about?
A pangolin terrifies a tuition teacher and escapes to freedom!
But really, what’s your story about? It’s Saturday and nobody wants to be in a classroom. Luckily Aish’s pencil has a special magic. If she can figure out how to use it, the children can take over the boring class—and turn the morning into something amazing instead. (There really is a pangolin, but I promise it’s not scary.)
What inspired you to write this story?
Lots of children are continually being scheduled and organised and shuttled here and there by adults—a sort of conveyor belt life. I wanted to write a story where they reclaim time for themselves. They get to call the shots and try out their own ideas, and they make something fabulous as a result.
The character Aish likes to doodle when she’s bored and that’s where her creativity stems from. Were you like Aish when you were growing up?
When I was younger I had a fixed idea of myself as bad at drawing, but four years ago, I took up painting, pretty much on a whim. I’m still only a beginner, but I’ve realised that there’s a lot we can teach ourselves if we’re guided by genuine interest. You can learn to see things that weren’t there for you before. ‘Talent’ is only one part of the story: hard graft and practice, and close study, are how art gets made.
What’s one super-duper lesson you learnt when you were young that you’ve continued to use till today?
Pay attention to your own sense of what’s exciting or appealing. Hobbies are real and meaningful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Why do you think it is important to nurture creativity in children?
Children are naturally full of ideas and insight and curious attention, waiting to burst out and amaze us; and why wouldn’t we want that? Creativity and excellence aren’t things adults need to direct and build in children. They’ll always be drawn to it in the world around them. If we as adults give children our curious attention, our lives will be richer for it.
Get Saturday's Surprisingly Super-Duper Lesson here.