The Adventures of Squirky the Alien

A Children's Book Series on Adoption

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Squirky Book #3 Wins Crystal Kite Award!


[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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Squirky 5 Events

Just dropping a note to let you guys know about upcoming bookstore events for The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #5: How Do You Get to the Garden Galaxy?

There’ll be storytelling, craft and a special Squirky art lesson during these sessions! Feel free to drop by if you’re in Singapore 🙂


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Before and After: Our Very Own (A Sort-of Book Review)


Five years ago, I was at the Select Bookstore in Tanglin Shopping Centre (which no longer exists) when I came across this book: “Our Very Own: Stories Celebrating Adoptive Families” published by Touch Family Services.

This was at a time when my husband and I were curious about adoption but hadn’t really done anything yet.

The most memorable bit of that book was the account of how Rod Monterio and his wife, Joyce, adopted a one-year-old boy from the foster care system. Rod was one of my favourite DJs growing up, and just knowing that someone I was familiar with had adopted made it feel a little more accessible. The overall tone of the book was also surprising (note this was the first form of adoption literature I’d read): adoption was celebrated and appreciated, and I liked how people from a variety of backgrounds were featured in the book.

Earlier this year, the 2nd collection was launched – “Our Very Own 2: Stories Celebrating Adoptive Families”. We went for the book launch and my son spent most of the time running around with one of his buddies. We said hi to a few families that we have gotten to know over the years, and as I flipped through the book, I saw that The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #1: Why Am I Blue? had been listed as one of the resources. That’s when it really hit me: SO MUCH has happened within these five years.

It’s kind of like the potted plant that you see in the photo above. My son did some “gardening” at a birthday party last week where he got to paint a pot, dig soil and sprinkle seeds. When we got home, I chucked it at the balcony and forgot all about it. When I finally remembered yesterday, I discovered that little shoots had sprung forth.

This made me realise that growth is a part and parcel of life, and it happens whether you want it to happen or not. We age, children (and plants) grow, and sometimes, things just blossom when you’re not even really looking.

For the Our Very Own 2 book, the story which struck me the most was from an older parent, Yoke Fong, who recounted how she and her husband had adopted two girls who initially were resistant to their love. There’s this realistic resilience in this account which somehow encouraged me so much in this parenting journey.

Such stories are not bestsellers. Such stories may not really contribute anything to the “literary scene”. But these personal narratives need to be out there in a society that struggles in dealing with anything out of the norm. Such stories plant the seeds for more dialogue, acceptance and love.

If you’d like to get your hands on Our Very Own and/or Our Very Own 2, please email to order the books (delivery can also be arranged). 



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Five things to know about Squirky #5


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! :)) 



Author Matthew Salesses: The Space Belongs to Adoptees


The first time I read American author Matthew Salesses’ experience as an adoptee, I was blown away not just by his way with words, but also by this burning frankness that I never get from reading the “self-help” kind of adoption literature (even those that interview adult adoptees).

Matthew was adopted from Korea at the age of two. After reading a couple more of his wonderfully thoughtful (and sometimes, emotionally hard-hitting) essays, I e-mailed him last year asking if I could feature him on this blog. Even though he is on a whirlwind book tour for his first novel, he said he would definitely get back to me at some point because he was “happy to do anything that can help people in the adoption triad”.

He finally did a few days ago. His answers have made me realise that there are many more adoption perspectives I have not considered, and strangely links to a realisation I had while writing the 5th Squirky book (which I’ll be talking more about in the next post). But for now, here’s Matthew:

Could you tell us briefly what it was like growing up in a transracial adoptive family?
I’m not sure it can be told briefly. I’ve written various essays about it, but none of them have captured the full complexity. It’s very complicated. There’s this essay I like on racial melancholia and Asian American literature, about the inability to get over the thing you are mourning because you never really possessed it. That’s one way to describe it.

Have you contacted/searched for your birth family? Why or why not?
I have never searched for my birth family in the way you need to if you want to find your birth family. When I was younger, I didn’t know enough about how to search, and how many lies people are told, and now (or so I tell myself at least) I don’t have time. I never wanted to upset my adoptive parents, either.

What would you say to adoptive parents who want to help their children find out more about his/her parents but their children show no interest?
I would say that there are a lot of potential traps there. Again, I never wanted to upset my parents, to make them feel betrayed or whatever. They never brought up searching, which made it feel like it would be a betrayal if I did. If they had pushed it, though, I suspect I would have felt (at least at first) like they were pushing me away or highlighting my difference, or testing me, and I would have refused because that would have seemed like the best way for me to tell them I love them.

There was also the fact that I didn’t want to be seen as different and didn’t want my parents to feel the pain of difference that I always felt. The adoptee is always saving the adoptive parents. So what I would say is that “show no interest” doesn’t mean “not interested.” I think it would have helped if I had felt that the option was available, that I finally had a choice in the matter. I, and I suspect other adoptees, needed to be able to come to things in my own time, on my own terms. My own time and terms were constantly things denied me.

Could you suggest how adoptive parents and agencies/institutions can create a space for adoptees to contribute more towards the adoption narrative and/or adoption issues?
I like the intention here, but I think the question starts with the assumption that the space is for the adoptive parents and agencies to give to adoptees. It should be the adoptees’ space first and foremost. It should be the adoptees’ option to give space to adoptive parents and agencies/institutions to contribute to the narrative or not. I don’t think this is so different from the way we look at parenting in general. I’m not giving my daughter space to be herself. I’m trying not to take away space from who she is-she owns herself and I’m trying to keep society from telling her differently.
You can find out more about Matthew Salesses here and reach him on Twitter @salesses


 Do also check out his novel The Hundred-Year Flood, which has picked up a bunch of accolades such as  A Millions Most Anticipated Book of 2015, A Buzzfeed Pick for 17 Awesome New Books You Need to Read This Fall, A Refinery29 Pick for Best Summer Reading and A Gawker Review of Books Pick for 9 Must-Reads for the Fall.

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Squirky retrospective


Now that we’re at the final stages of the Squirky book series (Book 5 being illustrated, Book 6 undergoing editing), I’ve been reflecting on the ups and downs so far and here’s how I hope to approach getting these final two books out:

Growing even thicker skin: An author friend wisely advised me to compartmentalise the writing and the promoting bits. As such, once the book comes out, focus on SHAMELESS PROMOTION (something I have experience in, which I should not be afraid of, but I always get angsty about because ick, how weird is it promoting myself but I got to tell myself – no, no I’m promoting the books, the books etc etc etc).

Becoming a better listener: But of course, one’s writing could always be better. And so yes, always gather more feedback. Be open to criticism and suggestions, and as much as possible, objectively evaluate whether these ideas will make the book(s) better.

Connecting more: Another huge hurdle. But the few connections I did make in 2015 really were such blessings. So if I’m up to it (i.e. not too snarly or sleepy), I hope to be more open to connecting with the adoption and writing community both online and offline this coming year.

Not being so defensive: The kind of things I’ve heard on adoption can sometimes make my blood boil. But I have to remind myself, that is why I’m writing the book series in the first place; to create more awareness. So be patient and gracious, and check my own assumptions constantly as well.

Not being so defeated: It can get discouraging, writing books that are so niche and are so not in line with the “hot kiddy topics”. I’m thankful for friends and media who have been so kind and encouraging by giving exposure to this book series in various ways. But during the lull periods, it does feel like I’m shouting in a vacuum. I always have to remember the bigger picture of why I wanted to write these books. I always have to remember that in this world of information overload, I have to keep on getting the word out (which goes back to the first point).

Making things more fun for more kids: Besides my son finally becoming aware that these stories were inspired by him, the happiest aspect of this whole Squirky process is sharing the stories with children and seeing them enjoy themselves at Squirky events.

Can you tell this is really more of a reminder to myself? And actually, these are generally my new year resolutions for everything else in life heh.

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Sharon Ismail: Adoption Taught Me About Family


Sharon Ismail is a familiar face in Singapore for her acting and hosting work in theatre and television. She’s also a polytechnic lecturer and a children’s book author. In fact, her first book “What Sallamah Didn’t Know” (2007) is based on her mother’s adoption story. Here’s an excerpt of the synopsis:

“Sallamah grew up thinking that her life was ordinary. She lived in an ordinary kampong with an ordinary family and had an ordinary group of friends whom she played ordinary games with. Little did she realize that a piece of paper would change the reality of all that she knew and understood.”

Sharon is hoping to continue this story with a 2nd Sallamah book out next year. I had a chat with her recently to find out more about why she wanted to write about adoption.


Hi Sharon, why did you want to tell this story?

My mother is Chinese and she was adopted by a Malay family. I’ve realised that in her generation, inter-racial adoption was actually quite common, but there are no statistics or studies formally looking into this phenomenon. We hear of people being adopted by families of another race, but they are all personal anecdotes, and I felt that I wanted to create a more permanent record of this for my daughters.

How did you find out your mother was adopted?

I was 13 years old and at the wet market with my mother, waiting for my father to pick us up. Out of the blue, she said, “By the way, you’re half Chinese.” There was no prior conversation, but some things began to add up. People always mentioned that she looked Chinese and that she looked different from her siblings.

How did this piece of news affect you?

Nothing was different on the surface, but my understanding of family began to change. I didn’t love my grandparents any less, my grandfather still picked me up from school everyday, but I saw them in a different light. They had two biological children and four adopted children, and I realise how undiscriminating they were in their love to bring these babies into their family. Family is not necessarily the one you are born into, but the one who loves you. “Blood is thicker than water” deserves a rethink because if that were true, my mother and I would not be here today.

How does your mother regard her adoption?

I don’t really know as she doesn’t really talk about it. She is used to not talking about it because she came from a time when there was a huge stigma on adoption. Adopted children were perceived as being discarded and picked up from a rubbish bin. My mother does have some information on her biological family, and I did suggest that she open up the search by telling her story to the newspapers (many older adoptees in Singapore have found their biological relatives that way). However, she really doesn’t want to make a fuss and I respect her decision.

How have readers responded to your story?

It’s been really heartwarming to have people come up to thank me for telling their parents’ stories. Some adoptive parents have also told me that this book has helped them start the disclosure discussion with their children. I’d initially self-published this book under the First-Time Writers and Illustrators Publishing Initiative, but it was later picked up by Scholastic Asia and it has been translated into four languages. The Ministry of Education also made this book part of their Primary 6 English text under the STELLAR (Strategies for English Learning and Reading) syllabus.


Thanks so much, Sharon! I really enjoyed the evocative descriptions in this book (e.g. “This little bundle was fair and chubby, with dark hair so fine that it stood straight up and swayed gently whenever a breeze curled its way around her.”) and it is such a necessary Singaporean story. You can borrow it from the library here or purchase a copy here.

1st image courtesy of Sharon Ismail