Doing the Write Thing: Maureen Yeo
Maureen Yeo's debut children's book, The Great Singapore Poo Sale and Other Beastly Business, was inspired when, as a teacher, she realised her students had no idea that Singapore had a lot of indigenous wildlife, let alone endangered species among them.
In The Great Singapore Poo Sale, the animals' habitats are under threat from urbanisation and must take matters in their own paws. Now, in her new book, Make Animals Great Again and Other Creature Comforts, the animals are back, and they need to look for the next generation of leaders. Needless to say, they're having some trouble settling on the right ones. It's the right set-up for another zany adventure with the wild animals of Singapore.
What inspired you to write this book?
For this new book, I was inspired by all the buzz about 4G leadership recently. When I was a teacher, we were given National Education packages from MOE for Total Defence Day and National Day, and so I thought something which builds on that would be helpful. My students knew little about our political process, so I wanted to write something that would start youths thinking about how to elect a leader and how to be a leader.
Why did you choose Singapore’s wildlife to be the characters in your books?
Because I love animals!
What kind of influence do you wish your books will have on young readers?
I hope the books make them laugh but also teach them to take care of others and take care of the environment.
You made a few references to current affairs in your book, was it difficult spinning these heavy topics into a funny and lighthearted story?
Yes, because there are some political issues that I didn't want to soft-pedal. This is a book for adults as much as it is for children. I hope young readers will respond to the timeless theme of what it means to be a good leader, but that it will also cause soul searching for older readers who could try to better Singapore society by addressing its inequalities and imperfections.
We simplified the language but didn't pull any punches about some complex and difficult ideas. The book ends quite naively, compared to the real world where there are no easy answers. But I hope this at least helps to begin a dialogue with youths about what is going on in institutions like our schools and government.
How do you hope your books will connect children and their parents?
Being a leader and being a follower are concepts children are introduced to very early on, so intuitively they have some idea about how to go about leading and what kind of leadership they respond to.
But from working with the peer-elected prefectorial board in one of my schools, to the trend towards nationalism we see happening globally, I've realised it's pretty unwise to have people just acting on intuition without having critically thought through and arrived at some personal convictions about the morals underpinning a leader or organization in power.
Many parents go from zero to one hundred, not discussing current affairs before a child is 10, then suddenly urging the child to start reading newspapers at Primary 5 to help prepare for the PSLE. I hope this book opens an entertaining way for parents to talk with their children about these things so that we move towards being a more mature society.