Book Reviews: One Summer & A Wish to be a Christmas Tree

One Summer by David Baldacci
Genre: Loss (Psychology) Fiction

Christmas is approaching, but Jack’s household is missing the festive spirit. Jack is terminally ill, spending his last days preparing to say goodbye to his wife Lizzie, and their three children. Then Lizzie is killed in a car accident on her way to the pharmacy to purchase his medicine and the children are sent to live with family members around the country.

Sounds like a holiday mood damper, but in truth, this New York Times best-seller is an encouraging read. It tells us that miracles happen, and that love brings the best out of the worst.

In a miraculous turn of events, Jack recovers from his terminal illness, but he has work cut out for him. While mourning his wife, he has to struggle to reunite with and reconnect with his children. In honour of his late wife, Jack takes his children to spend the summer at her childhood home. They learn to live without her, struggling with anger and the angst of the setbacks that come their way. In the mean time, Jack finds love with a special woman, but guilt and other external factors are keeping them apart.

This heart-wrenching story reminds us to put things in perspective, for there are misfortunes in life that far exceed our petty worries.

If you were dreading the annual get together with your noisy little cousins or your busybody aunt, this is one story that will make you go home with an open heart.

This book is available at most libraries. Call number: English MON ~[BA]

A Wish to be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe
Genre: Juvenile Fiction

In a woodland forest, there lived a tree that longed to become a Christmas tree. But each year when people came to select trees for their homes, he was always left out. Eventually, he grew too tall to be used as a Christmas tree, thus sealing his fate and dashing his dream. Realizing his sorrow, the forest animals whom he has been providing for decide to’give him a surprise to show their love and appreciation for him.

Despite this being a children’s book, its meaningful and sweet tale is likely to delight adult readers. For a simple story, it delivers a strong message on the meaning of life and the significance of goodness and generosity to others. The text is smooth and a joy to read. The animals delivered thought provoking statements that were not at all juvenile. The story is delivered with the aid of gorgeous illustrations by Michael Glenn Monroe, a wildlife artist who frequently draws for children’s books.

This is an entertaining and educational Christmas book to read to junior. Being a sturdy and wonderfully illustrated book, it  would also make a lovely gift for people who love beautiful books and Christmas.

Available at select public libraries. Call number: English MON —[BA]

– These book reviews first appeared in a lifestyle magazine


Rat Attack

There is an old adage “you are never more than six feet away from a rat”. This is especially so if you live in a densely populated city. Even in glamorous world—class cities like New York, Paris and London, rat populations amount to millions, according to Animal Planet. It is not a rare sight to see a rat scurrying along a drain or leaping from a garbage bin.

The higher the population density, the greater amount of wastage and the more litter bugs there will be and the more the rats thrive. In fact, according to recent rat culling exercises carried out in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, it was observed that the main food source for the rats in our estate is waste left by residents at void decks near the bulky bin area.

Since reports of rat sightings have surfaced, pest control services have been engaged on a regular basis to keep the rat population in control and eventually exterminate it.

Waste left out overnight in the open are rat magnets. Residents are reminded to bag your waste properly and dispose them in designated dustbins and rubbish chutes.

Additionally, not all presumed rat sightings are rats. In recent culling activities, almost half of the captured rodents were found to be shrews, which are commonly mistaken as rats due to their similar appearance. However, unlike rats, shrews are less invasive, largely harmless and may even be helpful to pest control as they consume harmful insects like cockroaches.

Prevention is better than cure, particularly when it comes to controlling the rat population. Rats multiply rapidly and have several nests in different locations, making it a challenge to exterminate them. Everyone must do their part by practising responsible waste management and keeping their living environment clean and waste-free.


Photo by Ken Hawkins

– This article first appeared in a newsletter for Bishan-Toa Payoh residents


Book Reviews: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother & Confessions of a Shoppaholic

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
Genre: Biography

American Chinese mother of two, Amy Chua, reveals her secrets to raising Grade A children. This includes throwing unimpressive birthday cards back at her young daughters, forcing her three-year- old daughter to stay out in the cold, calling them names like ‘garbage’, and withholding food, water and rest until they are done practising on the piano and violin for hours. Amy is so hard on her  daughters that even kiasu Singaporean parents would cringe.

Amy’s lively and engaging writing has won praise from critics, but readers labelled her methods ‘disgusting’, ‘absurd’ and ‘child abuse’. Nevertheless, Amy has expressed that her book was never meant to be a guide to raising children, and readers are encouraged to enjoy her narration as it is. Even as you feel frustration at Amy’s self-delusion and indignation for her children, you will find her book an entertaining and gratifying read.

This book is available at most public libraries.
Call numbers: English 306.8743092 CHU—[FAM], Chinese 306.8743092 CA -[FAM]

Confessions of a Shopaholic  by Sophie Kinsella (also known as  ‘The Secret Dream World of a Shopaholic)
Genre: Chick Lit, Romance, Comedy

Compulsive shopper Rebecca Bloomwood is a nightmare for credit card companies and banks. She shops beyond her means, accumulating mountains of debt. Thereafter, she ‘would concoct. ridiculous excuses for not paging off her credit card bills, while attempting get-rich-quick schemes like trying to win the lottery, and buying a financial management guide, which ironically lends her in more shopping sprees. Her thought processes are so clownish that you cannot help but shake your head as she comes up with crazy excuses to justify her frivolous spending.

Eventually, she manages to pull herself together to land a fairy—tale ending. This is a light-hearted book that evokes laughter and fond memories (for fellow Shopaholics), while reminding you about the importance of good finance management especially in times of recession.

This book’ Is available at most public libraries.
Call numbers: English KIN, English KIN -[MO], Chinese KlNS

– These book reviews first appeared in a lifestyle magazine


Helping Junior to make friends

In the first quarter of the school year, getting your child to make friends may perhaps not be one of the priorities. Yet friends help children to adapt more easily to school life, especially at a new school. According to the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department at the University of Florida, researchers found that children who lack friends may suffer from emotional and mental  difficulties later in life.

Friends are more than fun and distractions. Inter— acting with other children helps a child to learn communication skills, cooperating with others, managing emotions and much more. Children with good social skills are able to express themselves clearly and communicate with the appropriate manners. They are able to show consideration for others while asserting decisiveness and authority in necessary situations. Moreover, when children have friends in class, they tend to look forward to going to school. And, like all other skills, social skills have to be learnt.

If your child is having a little trouble making friends, there are some things you can do to help.

Create opportunities for your child to interact with others. Invite other children to your house to play. Have your child participate in activities and clubs that interest him/her. Your older children may want to chat with their friends online or through the phone, and you should not ban them outright for using technology. Do set some ground rules. Refrain from stopping your child from going out with friends unless absolutely necessary. Setting a curfew is fine but do understand that having a social life is important for your child.

Help your child manage negative feelings and solve problems. Ask how your child is coping in school, not just about homework, but about interactions with classmates and teachers. Encourage your child to share his/her happiness and concerns about social situations in school. Listen and validate his/her feelings. For example, if your child speaks of being left out of a ball game, you might say, “It sounds like you’re upset because you think your friends don’t like you.” and then try to work out some solutions together. If you hear your child quarreling with friends, let them work it out by themselves. You only step in if it gets out of hand. There is a tendency for protective parents to side with their own child regardless, and that is both damaging to the friendship as well as the child’s growth.

Don’t judge or criticise your child’s friends in his/her presence. Refrain from interfering with your child’s social life if he/she is managing fine and said friends are not being a negative influence or behaving badly. After all, you wouldn’t like it if your own folks or significant others criticise your friends.

lmpart appropriate social behaviour. Poor social behaviour is a common hurdle to making friends. No child likes another who is rude, violent and takes things without asking for permission. Family members are essential role models for young children. Whether it is greetings, the Ps and Qs or asking permission to borrow stuff, setting these family rules and getting the child involved will be a significant boost to his/ her social skills.

Help your child learn games and sports that are popular among his/her age group. Children make friends over games, and if your child knows the rules and basic skills of the game, it would be easier to join in. Don’t pressure your child to play games that he/she doesn’t like, but find out what he/she is interested in and help your child to learn it. Get your child to enjoy the fun of playing with others, and not be the overbearing smarty pants that tries to outdo everyone else, as that is one of the surest ways to lose friends.

Have a very shy child? Certainly shyness raises the difficulty levels for making friends, but there are ways to draw your child out of his/her shell. In the company of competitive, overbearing children, a shy child may feel overwhelmed. Help your child to find playmates with suitable temperaments, and create opportunities where they may play together without being “challenged” by others.

It’s not a number game. Don’t sweat it if your child does not seem to have many friends. Some people prefer just one or two close friends instead of a large circle of friends. Ultimately, what it all boils down to is that your child is happy with his/ her friends and looks forward to going to school and participating in social activities.

If your child is unable to make friends, speak to the teacher, or counsellor who would be able to  give you professional support and advice.

Is your child a victim of bullying?

Frequent signs:

  • Damaged clothes and/or belongings
  • Unexplained Injuries, possibly from fighting (cuts, scratches, bruises)
  • Disinterest, even fear, of going to school
  • Doesn’t talk about friends anymore
  • Dramatic drop in grades
  • Wants to be left alone
  • Depressed and moody
  • Takes different route to and from school

Bullying is detrimental to a child of any age and should never be taken lightly. To make matters more difficult, victims of bullies are prone to suffering in silence. There have even been cases of suicides attributed to bullying. If you suspect your child is a victim, do talk to him/her, as well as authority figures in the place where the bullying has been taking place with the aim of putting a stop to the bullying.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine