Nine-year-old RaeAnn Tse was the inspiration and the illustrator behind the picture book.
Finding activities to do together during the circuit breaker was probably common among families.
But for one young family of three, they didn’t just find something to do together. Instead, they accomplished a dream – by creating a picture book titled I Wonder.
Written by childhood educator Lynn Wong, and illustrated by her husband, Eugene Tse, and nine-year-old daughter, RaeAnne Tse, the picture book depicts a child’s perspective on the pandemic in Singapore.
Eugene and Lynn told Youth.SG that what sparked the idea to create the book was RaeAnn’s reaction to the announcement of the circuit breaker extension on Apr 21.
“When it was announced that the circuit breaker would be extended, our initial reaction was disappointment. But our daughter’s reaction was actually quite contrary. She actually said that the circuit breaker is quite good and she likes it.” said Eugene, a 44-year-old corporate finance professional.
“When we asked her about it, she said that she got to do certain things during the circuit breaker that she normally would not do, like playing games together, cooking and baking together, or how I’m home everyday.”
Eugene explained that as a family, they only get to spend about a couple of hours every weekday together after he gets home from work and before RaeAnn goes to bed.
So naturally with all the free time they had together in the 55-day period, without their usual busy schedules, the family had the luxury of thinking about their interests and things they would like to venture into which hadn’t been possible previously.
“Because my daughter loves to draw, and I’ve always wanted to write a picture book, so I thought: ‘Why not ride on this idea of seeing the silver lining even during challenging times’?” said 44-year-old Lynn. “We kind of came up with that broad idea and started discussing it over meals, realising that it’s something we can actually get started on and it became a family project.”
Eugene added that his wife actually has a passion for picture books because of her work as an early childhood educator, and has built quite the collection over the years.
“She will share with me a lot about how a book is better than the other, what makes it wonderful, so I’ve always encouraged her to write a picture book one day. And this time, we actually got round to it,” said Eugene, who enjoys painting and sketching as a hobby.
The entire book took about a month to put together, and Lynn even interviewed RaeAnn as part of the storyboarding process. The couple added that the activities depicted in the books were examples of what they did during the circuit breaker as well.
But RaeAnn wasn’t only just the source of inspiration for the story. She also provided ideas as to how the illustrations should look too.
“Some of the drawings – like shopping carts, or the part about how the world is sick, the ideas came from her,” Lynn said, excitement apparent in her voice. “She actually drew the mask on a recyclable bag that had a globe on it.”
Eugene added: “RaeAnn’s actually interested in writing from a young age. She reads a lot, and from a very young age even though she couldn’t write and draw properly, she started writing stories with pictures and told us about the ‘book’ she wrote. So when we wanted to do this book together, she was definitely on board.
“This book, in a way, brought us together not just physically, but into a creative process. We all feel a sense of ownership in this book. Of course, there were some disagreements here and there [during the process], but at the end of the day, we all managed to work towards a common understanding.
“I think the whole process of physically sitting around the dining table working on the book together, that was actually very fun and it brought us closer together as a family.”
The family also had help from their friends in finishing the book too. Apart from advice they provided, the inspiration for the book’s ending was actually from a gift the friend had delivered to them during the circuit breaker. It came with a beautiful card that contained a quote from Vivian Greene and Lynn said that was the “eureka moment” for them.
The very same quote was what caught Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo’s attention, prompting her to share about the book in a Facebook post. She also said that she found out about the book after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted it to the other ministers.
The couple said they had emailed the picture book to the Prime Minister, but did not expect him to share the book with his colleagues, an act which was very meaningful to them.
Equally as meaningful, though, was the decision from the family to make the book available for free. In return, they hope for those who have read it to make a donation, no matter the amount, to the Courage Fund by Community Chest to help needy families affected by COVID-19.
“Writing a book in itself was meaningful, but we wanted to not just let it be meaningful for our family, but on a broader scale too. We hope the book itself can be a blessing,” shared Eugene.
“We hope it can encourage children, and we want it to be a blessing to anyone who reads it. In return, we want to encourage anyone who read the book to give to the Courage Fund whatever the amount they are comfortable with to help those in need.”
You can download I Wonder here.
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