Sunday, April 8, 2012

Children's Books about Hong Kong

It's Hong Kong beyond our wildest imagination

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I'm in day seven of our staycation over the children's two-week school holiday. I'm see-sawing between exhaustion from an overdose of quality time with the kids and boredom from all the extra time on our hands. The kids are having fun with the make-believe games they are playing at home, but I can tolerate only so many consecutive days of pretend tea-time.While I say thank you to my toddler for the 55th imaginary cookie she is force-feeding me, my mind wanders to new writing projects. What about a children's book on Hong Kong? No, thanks, I decide, who has that kind of time?

Well, it seems that that a number of Hong Kong parents find the time, because there is a notable collection of children's books on Hong Kong, some of which are sitting on my bookshelf. Cindy Stephens' Hong Kong for Kids: A Parent's Guide has been No1 on the SCMP & Dymocks best-sellers list for months now, so we know that many Hong Kong parents are mining it for ideas on family excursions around town.

Prampushers, a guide that folds out like a map, was written by three mothers who wanted to share their favourite Hong Kong baby-friendly restaurants and stroller-friendly walking routes. It's categorised into green walks and urban jungle exploration, such as the elevated walkways of Central and Admiralty. There are also useful maps of various districts in Hong Kong. This is an especially good resource for new parents.

Toddlers and kindergarteners will enjoy the beautiful woodblock print illustrations in Joanne O'Callaghan's My Hong Kong. I have handed out a dozen copies to out-of-town visitors and friends moving away from Hong Kong. Ironically, this book has been a staple in my gift closet, and yet my own daughter had not seen it until her grandmother walked by a bookstore recently and bought it for her.

My Hong Kong has many familiar scenes, such as pandas at Ocean Park, the vista looking out from the Dragon's Back hiking trail and the costume stalls on Pottinger Street. This picture book, with simple rhymes describing each scene, was a helpful companion for my daughter during the week she was learning about transport at school. Hong Kong's iconic modes of transport are such an integral part of a child's outings in our city. The Star Ferry, The Peak Tram, double-decker buses and taxis are all depicted in My Hong Kong.

For primary school children, I highly recommend Karl Woodbury's Hong Kong is Truly a Magical Place. The book follows the adventures of Jenny and Lenny, two kids who fly around Hong Kong in their dream. The book comes with a CD audiobook and includes illustrations and maps of all the places that they visit.

I can only imagine how months Woodbury devoted to his tome. It's a truly comprehensive lesson on Hong Kong. It covers the Tanka boat people who arrived on Lantau Island centuries ago and the history of the Tuen Ng dragon boat festival, and more.

Woodbury has not left out a single historic, cultural or geographic fact about Hong Kong, and he has astonishingly presented the entire story in the rhyming couplets of four-beat iambic tetrameters, the metre of nursery rhymes.

What shines through in all these books is the genuine affection the authors have for Hong Kong. And it's interesting to see how each of them has chosen to present their knowledge. By sharing their affection and knowledge with us, we are better off trying to find time to read rather than write.

Annie Ho is a board governor of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong a non-profit organisation devoted to improving children's literacy.

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