According to MPH Online's Malaysia Author Index, when financial analyst/author Wong Ching Hsia "writes to escape the humdrum world of numbers and gruelling MBA studies" and when "not occupied with work or her studies (or when she simply needs a break), she lets her imagination run wild!"
Having read the five books she has written (published by MPH Publishers), I know just how "wild" her imagination does run -- to the extent that it ceases to be consistent and meaningful.
A common mistake made by authors who wish to write for children is that they believe that anything goes and every sort of nonsense is permitted. Books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice's Adventures Underground and Harry Potter lead them to believe that the story needs not to make sense. What they don't see is that while it's true that you can allow your imagination free reign, your story has to make sense within itself. The world an author creates can break all the rules of the real world but it must run by other rules, made up by its creator (the author).
Wong's five books are marketed as concept books: They aim to teach young children about nature (The Miserable Moon); shapes (The Terribly Tall Triangle), colours (The Ugly Green Umbrella), musical instruments (The Xenophobic Xylophone); and animals (The Zany Zebra).
However, the author seems to want to feature several ideas in each book, and it's like she can't decide what to focus on, and goes out of point somewhat.
For example, the title The Xenophobic Xylophone is confusing. It's supposed to be about musical instruments, but the word xenophobic is a pretty strong one to drop into a book withour addressing its meaning.
Here's the thing though - if you read the book, you realise that the only reason why the xylophone is xenophobic is because there aren't many adjectives that begin with the letter X.
The xylophone is named Xavier and is from Xanadu so, naturally (not!) he has to be xenophobic!
The other instruments also have names and nationalities chosen for their alliterative qualities. For example, there's Danny the Drum from Denmark; Vicky the Violin from Vietnam; and Fiona the Flute from France.
The story that's been created to introduce these musical instruments revolves around the fact that Xavier is xenophonic. To show he's xenophobic the other instruments have to be "foreigners". But Xavier's attitude is really just one of an unfriendly little boy. His "intense and/or irrational fear of people from other countries" (the definition given in the book) isn't clearly shown. The foreigness of the other instruments seems merely incidental.
On every other page of this book and the others are "Fun Facts" laid out in cloud-shaped frames. However, there doesn't seem to be any order as to the sort of facts presented. In The Xenophobic Xylophone, most of the facts are about musical instruments, but you also get the aforementioned definition of xenophobia; the geographical location of Xanadu (the city of Shangdu); and the number of muscles used in a frown and a smile!
The other books in this series also suffer from random inclusion of facts. At times, the link to the main concept is tenuous. For example, in The Ugly Umbrella, which is about colours, one of the "Fun Facts" tells the reader that owls are the only birds that can see the colour blue.
In this book the characteristic of being ugly has been chosen (once again) for its alliterative quality since the umbrella's name is Ursula. There is nothing to indicate why it is particularly ugly or uglier than the other umbrellas in the shop though. Could Ursula have a self-esteem problem? This possibility is not addressed.
The other umbrellas have names that "match" their colour - Mr Boring is black; Ronnie is red; Betty is blue; Mrs Perry is pink. Of course. But why is Ursula green? Shouldn't she have been umber? Once again, there is no consistent thought behind the creation of this story.
The same goes for The Terribly Tall Triangle. Is Tina (alliterative names are all the rage with the author but they sound rather twee) tall because she's a triangle or is that just an accident of "birth"? The other shapes reject Tina because her height is inconvenient, but only for the situations the author has chosen to show them in. Tina is too tall to go sunbathing with Rachel Rectangle - Tina blocks the sun - but is sunbathing ALL that Rachel Rectangle does? She's too tall to go to the cinema with Olivia Oval - Tina blocks the screen - but is that ALL she can do with Olivia?
In the end, Tina lives happily ever after in Paris where everyone loves her, presumably because she is shaped like the Eifle Tower. Go figure!
I'm going to leave it at that. These are definitely not some of my favourite locally published books. What was the author thinking! What was the editor doing? Didn't he/she spot the inconsistencies (not to mention the grammatical errors)? It's been said, in the defence of poorly edited local children's books, that there are no editors who specialise in children's literature. Well, in that case, why bother publishing these books at all? Could it be that the publishers and editors aren't concerned about the standard of children's books because they are for children (whom they think won't recognise bad quality)? I hate to think that this might be true, and I wish someone would write to me and explain what's going on
P.S. Actually, an editor need not specialise in children's fiction to notice the faults of the five books mentioned in this post. The books read like they totally skipped being edited at all.