#SpringFlingWritingContest 2022

I love participating in writing competitions. Connecting with other writers and kidlit enthusiasts, stepping out of your comfort zone, and writing under tight guidelines of limited word counts and image prompts is a great way to stretch yourself and your craft.

This year’s challenge was to find a gif and write a spring-inspired story for kids aged 12 and under in less than 150 words.

Having lived in Asia for 17 years, I miss the changing seasons dearly. Spring was my favourite season of all growing up in the UK. Lambs in the fields, blossom on the trees and the sense of life warming up around you, preparing for Summer. But dreaming only of home means not looking up and around you where you are right now. Spring is here too!

Sure, its hot all year and humid all year but with the monsoons comes defined changes in the natural environment. Following the heavy winter rains, the days brighten, birds build nests and trees even blossom!

My favourite tree in Singapore (apart from the fragrant Frangiapanis, the tall Tembusas and the iconic rain trees – can you tell I like trees :)) is the Trumpet Tree or Pink Poui. It is often seen flowering in April, induced by the warming, drier weather. Scientifically named Tabebuia rosea, it is a perennial tree that grows to about 18 to 35 m tall. The word “rosea” refers to the rose-coloured petals of the flower (although the flower is not a rose but in fact, a Begonia). The flowers are trumpet-shaped and grow to about 5 to 8 cm. After several days of blooming they wilt and fall to the floor carpeting Singapore in a blanket of pink.

Spring is Singapore’s very own cherry blossom season!

My story was written in honour of Singapore’s forgotten spring. I hope you enjoy my entry!

A SINGAPORE SPRING (140 words)

It’s hot here. 

So hot the sweat trickles, 

Carving a creek down my neck. 

Tumbling,

All the way to my feet.

It’s wet too. 

So wet you never feel dry.

I thought I knew rain until I came here. 

Fierce and thunderous.

Day after day, 

Roaring in my ears.

But today –

Today all I can hear is an orchestra, 

Of whining cicadas 

Stirring the soupy air. 

Warming up for what’s to come.

My toes squelch, 

Squashing a still, stagnant pool 

of mud 

and grass 

that’s not really grass. 

Thick-bladed weeds 

pretending to be grass.

Pretending they belong – 

Like me.

I wished we’d never come here.

Where the air is still and sticky

Where monsoons and sunshafts meet

Until I look up and see. 

A flourish of trumpets blaring.

Blooming pink and perfect

Calling to me

Spring is here 

too!

What are my kids and I reading this March, 2022?

If you come to Earth, by Sophie Blackall is a stunning and incredibly inspiring book!

I read it to Caitlin, my six-year-old daughter, often and recently took it in for a storytelling and craft session to the preschool kids at the Children’s Cancer Foundation in Singapore. We enjoyed the book, crafting, discussing, and studying the pictures so much that we over ran by 20 minutes!!!!!

Sophie Blackall’s art is stunning. She uses a beautiful soft stroke, adds tons of detail and her colour pallet is gentle, comforting, and warm. Some of her work reminds me of classic botanical illustrators of the early 19thcentury, which I LOVE.

The main character of the storybook is a curious and imaginative child who writes a letter to an alien from another planet inviting them to come and stay. In the letter the child shares all the important things the think someone from another planet may need to know about Planet Earth from the different homes people live in, to the different jobs people do and the different environments there are on our beautiful planet. 

The book is provocative, moving, and thoughtful. It poses questions about different races, different families and how together we all share one world, and it needs our protection. It showcases the beauty of the natural world and the creativity of the human mind. 

This is a gift book as well as a story book – it is one to keep and be cherished. Ideal for ages 3-8 it should be on every shelf in every home and every library. It is one of my favorite children’s books EVER! Highly, highly, highly recommend!

What are my kids and I reading this February, 2022?

Sienna, The Cowgirl Fairy: Cowboy Trouble by Alayne Kay Christian with art by Blake Marsee.

Sienna is not your ordinary cowgirl. She is a cowgirl fairy! The juxtaposition is enough to tickle any girl or boy reading these early chapter books and from the title and premise of the story you instantly know it’s going to be a fun read!

The characterization of Sienna is spot on. Not only in the way she dresses and speaks but also the language she uses and her general demeanor. It’s a masterpiece of character writing! Sienna’s character is feisty, strong, forthright and full of fun too. 

 The story begins when Aunt Rose asks Sienna to be a flower girl at her wedding, and Sienna is determined not to wear a frilly dress and use good manners. Aunt Rose’s request sets off a series of fun and fantastical events, including a stint in Cowgirl Charm School!  The problem is set up immediately at the start of the story making it clear to young readers and easy to follow.

Alayne uses great poetic devices throughout her writing making it a great teaching tool for kids in the art of writing too. ‘As excited as a nightingale in spring’ and ‘they are so mean they’d eat from the same dish as a rattlesnake’, are just a couple of examples of the impeccable writing throughout the story.

Alayne sets up a great anti-heroine in the form of cowboy bully, Billy Bob too. He is instantly dislikable and puts the reader firmly on Sienna’s side, routing for her to succeed and prove Billy Bob wrong. Sienna’s determination to be proved as capable as the cowboys creates an empowering and strong female role model for young girls. I I particularly loved the story though when there was a turn around and character reversal and Billy Bob becomes the tutor of Sienna in ladylike manners. It’s fun and a great lesson in humility and graciousness too!

More importantly though Sienna’s real lesson in the story and ultimately the readers, comes when she learns teamwork. By listening to her new friends tips and encouragement Sienna is finally able to master her cowgirl charm lessons. In the end Sienna learns that determination is a transferable skill. If you can use it to win a cowboy competition you can use it to succeed at charm school too. There are more take-aways to be had too. When Sienna develops a friendship with Cassie she hides her fairy wings. It is only when she accepts who she really is and takes pride in her identity does she find true success.

I love the addition of the non-fiction sections about horsemanship and penning. Kids love facts, especially animal facts, and these were great additions to the book. For a non-American or a child without a background knowledge of horses, the glossary at the end was a fab addition too and great teaching tool too.

The book was full of fun illustrations that broke up the chapters perfectly for young readers as well. They are pitched perfectly for the aged 6-8 bracket!  Highly recommend!

What are my kids and I reading this January, 2022?

Beautiful Shades of Brown, written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Felicia Marshall, is the story of a talented young African American artist, Laura Wheeler Waring. Growing up in the late 19th century, Laura found that people who looked like her were almost non existent in the world of art, both behind the canvass and within them too. Inspired by famous Parisian artists who would paint people they knew from their everyday environment, Laura wanted to do the same, and in doing so rebalance the bias and address under representation in art. At a time when publishing houses are trying to right the wrongs of the past and give every child the opportunity to see themselves represented in picture books, Beautiful Shades of Brown couldn’t be more timely and exquistily written! 

I absolutely loved this book. It was joyful, inspiring and brilliantly researched! Churnin, writes as if from the voice of Laura herself, testing out different shades of brown and likening her mixing of tones to that of a rainbow – just gorgeous! This book is simply written and told in words that can be accessed by all ages. She lightly intersperses facts and lyrical moments throughout the simple narrative and weaves together a beautiful uplifting tale.

I love to paint and especially love oil paintings. It was such a delight to find them on show throughout this book. Marshall paints exquisitely, with lifelike detail, a lot of heart and depth. I could have plucked many of the spreads from the book and put them up on my wall at home!

I knew nothing about the main character of the story, Laura Wheeler, prior to reading this book and was captivated throughout. I instantly went online to search for her paintings after reading this book and can now say with great conviction that I am a huge fan of her work – so thank you Nancy Churnin for bringing her to my attention. I hope this book has the same effect on you too!

This is a great book for any child who loves to paint, is interested in history, social equality, inspiring female characters and art. The author note and informative backmatter is a wonderful addition to the paired down story for those older readers seeking more detail and I loved seeing some of the real paintings done by Laura at the end of the book too.

A hugely enjoyable, interesting and inspiring picture book! Highly recommend!!!