THE book started with that damn pull-along suitcase. We had just returned from a trip to Australia and my daughter insisted on re-enacting every aspect of the holiday.
We laughed at her inspired role play, the improvised check-in procedures, the in-flight meals and the choice of entertainment; until we arrived at customs (our kitchen) and found her trying to chop our passports with her Mickey Mouse stamp and inkpad.
But her pull-along suitcase provided the Eureka moment. It served as a portal to transform her to the vibrant, unique worlds of her imagination. In her mind, the suitcase was a key to infinite kingdoms, breaking down all conventional barriers; a passport to creative freedom.
In my cynical mind, the suitcase was a potential best-seller.
Six months later, father and daughter stood side-by-side scribbling our signatures at the Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase: The Day a Panda Really Saved My Life book launch; one of the proudest, and certainly most surreal, days of my life.
Throughout the event, the question was a common one: How did Daddy and his little girl write a book together? What’s the secret?
The answer was a bit of a letdown, but it was a simple truth … reading.
We just read together. And then we wrote together. That’s how it usually works.
Being as kiasu as they come, our reading journey began in utero, my storytelling brilliance was reserved for an audience of one in the womb. My wife and I had read that foetuses can discern different voices and that was all we needed to dig out The Gruffalo, The Hungry Caterpillar and Elmer the Elephant.
I even read a couple of chapters from my own books, which probably constitutes child abuse. Intriguingly, she never went near my books again once she came into the world.
But within days of me personally cutting the umbilical cord, the storytelling began in earnest. The common consensus suggests children should have devoured at least a thousand stories before embarking on their own reading journey.
If the average child starts learning to read at around four or five, that’s only a story a day. By a conservative estimate, our daughter to kiasu parents has probably heard at least 2000 bedtime stories.
She loved the nightly routine, the wee-wee, the tooth-brushing, the book selection, the storytelling, the Q&A at the end and the kiss goodnight. I loved watching her intellect and our relationship blossom.
As the stories became more complex so did the questions, the comments and the philosophical questions ranging from the usual “why is the sky blue Daddy” to “how does an animal with claws pick its nose”. The second question was easier to answer.
She discovered narrative, plot and character, improved her vocabulary and extended her descriptive language. I learned more about my daughter during our bedtime story routine than at any other time of the day.
Her questions about character revealed her sensitivity, her love of animals and her desire for conflict resolution at any cost. She can’t even get through the first half of The Lion King when Daddy Mufasa dies.
It was more than just a superficial childlike wish for a happy ever after, her sense of empathy blossomed as we read more stories together. She cared for characters, engaged in their decision-making and considered other potential outcomes.
Every book aroused her curiosity and the ‘what if’ questions started. What if the character did this instead of that? What if Mufasa hadn’t fought with Scar? What if he hadn’t fallen off a cliff? What if Daddy hadn’t read me such a damn depressing Disney book about the father being killed off in the first act?
When her love of literature met with her empathy and curiosity and crossed paths with that pull-along suitcase, the stars aligned and I sat down and started scribbling with my four-year-old muse beside me.
In our children’s book, the enthusiastic curiosity and constant prodding for information of the main character is my daughter. Her admirable, but funny, attempt to use big words in the wrong places is my daughter. Her instinctive willingness to help others less fortunate is my daughter. The language, cheekiness, sense of wonder and her yearning for adventure is all my little girl.
The magic suitcase provided the Eureka moment, but four years of reading, dramatising, acting and role-playing provided the background research.
So that’s the long-winded answer to how daughter and daddy wrote their first book together. The short answer: reading.
Oh, and let’s not forget that damn pull-along suitcase. We owe it a lot. But it’s still not coming down from the wardrobe.
Neil and Abbie Rosie’s first children’s book Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase: The Day a Panda Really Saved My Life has been reprinted and is at all bookstores now.
About the Author: Neil Humphreys is one of Singapore’s best-selling authors. His works include Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island: A Farewell Tour of Singapore (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His latest Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island, is a No.1 national best-seller. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Men’s Health and Young Parents in Singapore. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.
First published in 24-01-2013.