Monday, September 24, 2012

Olympic Inspirations: Ambrose Goes for Gold, Koala Lou, Olympig

Books can bring out the best in children

Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 12:00am

Few parents are ever completely satisfied with their children. When my children were born extremely premature, all I wanted was for them to come home in good health. When they came home in good health, I wished for them to be more outgoing in new environments. When they started to speak English words, I wished for them to learn more Chinese words. And on it goes.
The same is true of my friends with children. Those with active children wish their offspring would sit and read picture books for long stretches of time, while those with cerebral children wish for them to be sportier.
In the case of the latter, reading aloud is simply a matter of finding a wide variety of engaging books because they are already inclined to learn about the world through books. However, this doesn't apply to children for whom reading a book falls at the bottom of their long list of fun things to do.
Children who are not yet interested in reading, or being read to, need to be showered with books that focus on what they like, regardless of quality or genre. For children who love their superhero figurines, read comic books about the Avengers to them. For children who love fairy princesses, share pink sparkly pop-up books with them.
If we remind ourselves that the read-aloud journey is for parent-child bonding and for developing a lifelong enjoyment of reading, then we can relax a little on quality control.
When it comes to budding bookworms whom parents wish could spend hours running around an outdoor playground, a few quality books on topic may just provide the inspiration needed to get them moving.
Victoria Jamieson's Olympig is melodramatically subtitled The Triumphant Story of an Underdog. Espousing the belief that attitude is everything, it endearingly depicts Boomer the Pig as an optimist who continues to participate in various sporting events even though he is defeated time and time again.
Our family enjoyed extensive coverage of the London Olympics on television during our visit to Canada. The country was filled with pride when it won its first medal, a bronze in women's synchronised diving. I love how Canadians practise such good sportsmanship.
The title characters of the other two books, on the other hand, don't have the positivism of Boomer the Pig. Koala Lou and Ambrose the insect are closer in temperament to a typical preschooler; they are eager to win and feel dejected when the victor's trophy eludes them.
Koala Lou by Mem Fox is about a little koala's attempts to win the Bush Olympics. As Fox is Australian, the illustrations in this story capture the bush, which is that dry, shrub-filled landscape that is uniquely Australian. She also introduces local animals such as the emu and the kookaburra. Beneath the story, which accurately evokes the despair of wanting to place first but failing to achieve it, is a deeper theme of the love between a mother and her firstborn.
When little brothers and sisters were born and took up more of her mother's time, Koala Lou feared her mother no longer loved her as much as before. She mistakenly thought that her mother would love her more if she won the Bush Olympics, and hence her determination to train diligently for the gum-tree climbing event. Following this childish logic, Koala Lou equated losing the Bush Olympics with losing the chance of more love from her mother. Naturally, the story ends with Koala Lou getting love and reassurance from her mother.
Ambrose Goes for Gold by Tor Freeman has a lighter tone than Koala Lou, and this is consistent with its equally light pen-and-ink drawing style. In this story, Ambrose competes in various events at the Great Insect Games, but keeps losing to an insect with greater abilities, such as the grasshopper in the jumping competition.
Each time he loses he feels a little more dejected, until Ambrose all but gives up on the Games. But in the humorous twist at the end, Ambrose does, unexpectedly, finally win a gold medal. Good sportsmanship is a value I hope to instil in my children, if not as future Olympians, then at least in time for the big sports day at my elder daughter's school in November. These are just the books to help me with this task. 

Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong

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