Puss in the Woods

Originally published in The Star in 2009

I LOVE cats, but even if you’re not partial to flesh-blood-and-fur felines, you may find it hard to resist the charms of Dayan.

He is the creation of Japanese author/illustrator Akiko Ikeda and is the main character in four books translated and published by Dark Horse (best known as a publisher of comics). If you look at Ikeda’s website (www.wachifield.com) it seems that there are more books, including picture books and novels, featuring the cat and his friends. However, they’re in Japanese. The four titles thus far available in English are a little larger than Ladybird books, with the same hard covers, and fully-illustrated with the most charming and interesting watercolours.

Dayan has grey and red-gold stripes, a white stomach and four white feet. He has huge slanted amber eyes – and in fact, Ikeda’s characters are all notable for their large lustrous eyes.

Dayan lives in Wachifield, an imaginary world dominated by woodland and streams, and populated by the usual forest creatures like rabbits, frogs, foxes, otters and squirrels. There is an alligator though – his rather incongruous presence isn’t explained, and that’s one of the things I like about the way Ikeda writes. She doesn’t overtell the story – there’s no exposition at all, and characters and events appear in the books without introduction, but as if Ikeda is telling stories of creatures the reader already knows well. If you want every detail provided for you, then you may not like Ikeda’s style, but I find it very fresh and light. The reader is free to be a co-creator with Ikeda – he may suppose and imagine whatever he wishes when contemplating the world of Wachifield.

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Shanghai Detective

qiu-xialongCould it really be nine years since I interviewed Qiu Xiaolong, the author of the Chief Inspector Chen series? He was an easy man to talk to, warm and forthcoming, and I remember our conversation clearly, including details that never made it into my article – for example, how German publishers often hire actors to perform (i.e. read) at book launches, and that the actor who usually reads Qiu’s work is actually known for his role as a detective on German television.

Back in 2007, I was given the first Chen mystery to read as prep for the interview. I enjoyed the book, but never got round to reading the other titles in the series (there are nine in total). This year I acquired e-copies of books two to six. I have now read two to five, and will be starting on six shortly.Read More »

Asian Stories for Asian Children

SABA-logo_132_173_90The Scholastic Asian Book Award (SABA) is a joint initiative between the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) and Scholastic Asia that aims to promote Asian experiences and expression in creative and innovative forms.

This award recognises writers of Asian origin whose manuscripts have the potential to share uniquely Asian experiences of life, spirit, and thinking with the rest of the world.

The SABA is held every two years and the closing date for submissions for the next cycle (SABA 2018) is on 22nd December, 2017. (Download the rules & regulaions and entry form.)

The winner of the prize wins SGD10,000. In addition, his/her manuscript, along with four other shortlisted entries, will be considered for publication by Scholastic Malaysia.

This year saw the publication of books by the winner of SABA 2014, Sophia Lee, and two of the shortlisted authors from that award cycle, Catherine Torres and Xie Shi Min.

Their books are now available in selected bookstores in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. Read More »

SABA 2016 Winners

The winners of the Scholastic Asian Book Award 2016 were announced at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content’s opening ceremony last night.

Saba2016 1
Aditi Krishnakumar


Aditi Krishnakumar Codex: The Lost Treasure of the Indus

First Runner-Up

Tina Cho Chasing Freedom

Second Runner-Up

Stephanie Ho Island Girl


Golda Mowe The Budding Traveller

Varsha Seshan Dragonflies, Jijsaws and a Rainbow

Book Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

paper menagerieFirst published in The Star on 27th March, 2016

Review by DAPHNE LEE


Author: Ken Liu

Publisher: Saga Press, 464 pages

THE Grace of Kings was my introduction to Ken Liu. It’s the author’s first novel, published in 2015, and the first in a planned “silkpunk” (a variation of steampunk) fantasy series called The Dandelion Dynasty. Kings is a spectacular piece of entertainment – ambitious, original and memorable, the world-building impressive, the characters convincing and sympathetic, and the fantasy elements fresh and surprising.

The problem with discovering an author at the first-novel stage of their career is you usually are in an agony of anticipation, waiting for the next book to come out. Fortunately, in Liu’s case, there is a prodigious body of prior work in the shape of short stories, novellas and novelettes. On top of that Liu is the translator of Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem trilogy (the final book is out this September), the first volume of which was the first translated novel to win the Hugo Award (2015).

And then there’s this collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Comprising 15 stories of varying lengths, styles and genres (within the speculative fiction spectrum), it aims to showcase Liu’s development and achievements as a writer of short fiction, but must have been a b**** to compile considering the fact that he has published over 100 stories since 2002.

The inclusion of the titular tale would have, of course, been a no-brainer. In 2012 it won all three of the most prestigious of sci-fi/fantasy prizes: the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards), and it is easily one of my favourites in this compilation.

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