The Adventures of Squirky the Alien

A Children's Book Series on Adoption


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Squirky Wraps Up

Here’s what we’ve been up to these past few weeks, in a somewhat chronological order:

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“Tested” the final Squirky book with a storytelling and craft session at the Bukit Timah Community Club’s Reading Club with around 30 children. Squirky stuff toy almost got stolen, one girl cried upon realising there would be no more Squirky books, and one boy said the leaf skirt craft activity was dumb because “I am not a girl”. Realised while helping the nth toddler to string leaves that I am really not a craft person, but hey, some kids pulled off the Gardener skirt pretty darn well.

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A few days later, Squirky got a half page story in The Straits Times for winning the Crystal Kite Award (read full story here). The photojournalist, Marcus Tan, was absolutely meticulous about styling Squirky, and so even though I really don’t like being photographed, I like this image very much because Squirky was given due limelight.

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It was fun to be more involved in the Asian Festival of Children’s Content this year, moderating sessions with all these intelligent and experienced editors and writers really made me appreciate these steely women (they all happened to be female) negotiating the challenges of book publishing. The highlight was co-presenting a talk on “Being Honest About Difficult Issues Through Stories” with Professor Ruth Wong (we’d been discussing it since late last year). I was really excited to present all of Buddy’s favourite adoption books as case studies for my part of the presentation. Confession: I actually choked up a little during my part of the presentation, mostly because it really hit me how potentially significant children’s books can be. During the Q&A, I was actually taken by surprise when so many educators were asking about how to introduce a topic like adoption in the classroom. I think that’s a great sign!

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We also launched Squirky Book #6 during AFCC with a little art jam. There’s David doing his thing while also snuggling with Squirky. His “art jamming” always delights the children, and what’s more important, he is always so generous with his art and that big-heartedness always gets kids to open up (whether through the things they say or through their own art).

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A few days after AFCC, I went up to Kuala Lumpur to do a “Squirky Party” at the MPH Bookstore in 1 Utama shopping centre. For some strange reason, this event attracted older kids, but they were totally sporting and loads of fun.

PHEW!

This is not the end end though! Squirky will still be popping up here and there throughout the year, though with far less frequency now that the book series is over.  I felt it was necessary to launch the last book with some oomph, and in some strange way, it did, in ways I would not have expected.


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Squirky #4 wins 2nd Prize at Samsung KidsTime Authors’ Award

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The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #4: Who is My Mama? was one of the Second Prize Winners at Samsung KidsTime Authors’ Award 2016!

This came as such a lovely surprise as well, especially since I wasn’t sure the books qualified for this competition since they do not have explicitly Asian settings.

It was especially heartwarming to receive a note from one of the judges, Adeline Foo, who took the time to drop us a line.

“Your heartfelt stories together with the quirkiness of the artistic renditions have really touched the judges’ hearts. And kids’ hearts too, especially those who are looking for answers…”  

I haven’t quite processed this unexpected, if somewhat sudden, show of appreciation for Squirky. But once I do, there’s a big reflection post coming up.


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Squirky Book #3 Wins Crystal Kite Award!

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[This post is adapted from my frenzied FB update after we heard the news.]

“The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #3: Who is the Red Commander?” has won this year’s Crystal Kite Award (Middle East/India/Asia division)!

The annual Crystal Kite Award is given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to recognise great books from 15 SCBWI regional divisions around the world. These books are chosen by other children’s book writers and illustrators.

“Who is the Red Commander?” is essentially about a flawed, fearful grown-up who gets told by two kids to face his personal monsters and get with the programme. It is the Squirky book closest to my heart as it parallels my journey in trying to get this book series out – an insecure, publicity-shy writer with zero experience writing children’s picture books trying to come up with not one, but SIX picture books on an uber-niche, kind-of-taboo-in-Asia topic like adoption. Can you imagine the amount of whining I put my husband through these past few years?

But like the Red Commander, I’ve realised that there are just some things I can’t sort out on my own. There would be no Squirky series without David’s evocative illustrations and MPH Group Publishing. The stories would have been a lot more convoluted without beta reader feedback from trusted writer friends. Practically no one would know about Squirky’s existence without the relentless shout-outs from  supportive buddies who are parent and book bloggers.

And to every one of you who bought these books for your kids or friends’/relatives’ kids even if you’re not from the adoption community: thank you for being open, for recognising that an adoption search story is still a story that any child can enjoy and relate to.

Ack, didn’t mean for this to sound like some sort of cheesy acceptance speech! But I felt I had to get this out just so you know that any reward star the blue alien underdog Squirky gets is really because of ALL your help. I am so grateful.


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Five things to know about Squirky #5

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1. The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #5: How Do You Get To The Garden Galaxy? has been taking a while to come out because:
– I was busy with other projects last year and didn’t have the headspace to sort out the manuscript. When I finally did get that headspace, I decided to do a major overhaul.
– The main reason why I decided on some massive rewriting: My son acting out when I read Squirky to other children. It made me question whether I’d unintentionally disrespected his space. However, I do want to finish this book series, and he wants to know what happens in the end too. So we’ve worked out an arrangement where he totally knows the books belong to him (because his name is on the front dedication page) but if other children also want to read the book, then he doesn’t want to be around. These discussions pretty much drove how I wrote the rest of the story (and perhaps why Matthew Salesses’ interview struck a chord with me).

2. It is going to be very, very dramatic.

3. New characters from a new planet introduced – meet The Gardeners! (see image above, inspired partly by Guardians of the Galaxy and Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood)

4. Squirky gets kind of rebellious.

5. After the main story,  as a resource, Glee actress Jenna Ushkowitz  writes about what adoption means to her, while Rachel Roberts (who previously shared on this blog here) presents more illuminating insights as a birth mother. Many thanks to Kindred Adoption (an adoption organisation co-founded by Jenna) for allowing us to share these stories.

If all goes well, this book should be out in a month or two. I can’t wait!

Update: Here’s the book cover! :)) 

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Sharing Squirky

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The other day, C. had a playdate with a couple of friends, and a parent asked if I could do a quick storytelling session with the kids. I didn’t think it was going to be an issue as it was in a nice cosy place with people he was familiar with. However, when the time came, C. proceeded to have a huge meltdown and I had to stop the reading halfway to scoop him up as he writhed around the floor.

The few days after, C. would line up the Squirky books against the wall within viewing distance from his bed to ensure that I would not take the books and tell the story to anyone else. Even now that he is ok about keeping the books in the bookshelf, he’ll still give a mini-lecture about how when I tell the story to other people, he is “not able to see the book” (?)

Like C., I haven’t been that great in sharing him with others. There’s been a fear of not being able to see what’s next, and of being too vulnerable, which is ironic since the story is all about facing such things. I’m working on this. There’s still much to learn.

As a start, I’ve been bringing Squirky (stuff toy) along with me whenever I go out, taking pictures of him with people, and getting him out in the open. In the photo above, I brought him to the library and the minute I took him out, these two boys (sitting behind) came up to me to ask who he was. They helped me “art-direct” Squirky for this shot.

I hope C. will eventually be comfortable with accompanying me for Squirky storytelling sessions (and he should, because he’s such a drama king). I hope that one day, he’ll realise that this story he sees as his alone is also a story that can belong to many other children.


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Review & Reflections – The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairytale by Grace Lin

redthreadWe’ve been talking to C about adoption these past few months. I’d initially imagined this long, serious sit-down session where we’d tell him the “big” stuff, but given his current attention span, it has been more like “little reveals” along the way.

At first, I thought he’d hadn’t even got it, because a few months ago, while reading him Squirky books, I reiterated to him that Squirky was adopted, just like he was adopted.

“A doctor? I don’t want to be a doctor. I want to be a fireman,” he said.

The next time we brought it up, we talked about how there were many people we knew who were adopted, like Yeye (grandpa), Squirky, Kungfu Panda (who makes him giggle) and Superman (favourite superhero).

“But are YOU adoctored (how he prounounces adopted)?” he asked my husband. And when my husband shook his head, C dismissed the whole thing. “Then I don’t want to be adoctored.”

But it was in reading The Red Thread that made me realise he’s probably getting this much more than we’d ever realised.

Here’s the synopsis of the book taken from Amazon:
A king and queen should be full of joy and contentment, but they both feel a strange pain that worsens every day. Then a peddler’s magic spectacles reveal a red thread pulling at each of their hearts. The king and queen know they must follow the thread.

To be frank, I didn’t think he’d take well to the book because he typically picks out books on trucks and monsters. I borrowed it because it said “ADOPTION fairytale” and I’ll take whatever adoption literature I can get from the public library. He stayed completely silent the first time I read it.

At the end, he asked, “Why is the baby holding red thread?”

I explained to him that the baby girl was meant to be adopted by the King and Queen and be their daughter.

And then he said rather emphatically, “Hey, I’m not a princess! I’m a boy!”

I was pretty stunned how he’d immediately been able to identify himself within that story. And this was confirmed later that night, when he asked if he could wear my hair rubber-band on his wrist “just like the red thread”. He also requested that I buy a ball of red thread to “do craft” based on this book.

I had a few issues with the book in terms of representation, especially how “China” is presented as a dirty village where people are dressed in rags. But there’s something about Lin’s storytelling here which kids connect with instantly, as seen by the Amazon reviews.

Overall, I’m glad that this book has opened up more opportunities to discuss adoption with C, and hopefully more in his own terms.


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A Massive Catch-Up

The past few months have been busy for Squirky, and as a way to remember all the fun things we did, I’ll be recapping them in this post (so I don’t forget).

1. Did a storytelling-cum-craft session at Literacy Plus to over 30 children. They especially loved drawing Squirky and it was lovely to see how some of them “adopted” Squirky as a personal friend 🙂

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2. Launched The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #2: Where is Planet Q? at MPH Parkway Parade and Buddy had a ball hanging out with his favourite buddy Zeph.

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3. Did another storytelling-cum-craft session at Sengkang Public Library for around 50 children. This time, we had some help from the kind people at timidworkshop with the craft activity (making a photo frame using ice-cream sticks and MT tapes to frame Squirky portraits).

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4. Did an adoption awareness event in collaboration with OrphanCare at MPH Nu Sentral in KL. It was really nice to connect with the adoption community in Malaysia!

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We’ve also just sent Book 3 out for printing! A teaser on this to follow 🙂