Book Reviews: Last Child in the Woods & Horrible Science: Nasty Nature

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv 

Genre: Parenting

Child advocacy expert Richard Louv’s timely masterpiece discusses what its title promises – pulling the younger generation out of their wired-up world and getting them to start mingling with nature and loving nature.

Citing research studies, and with his persuasive writing and anecdotes, he raises the alarm on why kids these days are experiencing a rising health problems. These include obesity and depression and other physical and emotional problems associated with lack of activity and interaction in nature. And, a lack of apathy for nature is one of the main reasons environment activists are now scrambling to mend the injuries inflicted on our earth.

Having analysed the problems, he offers solutions on fixing the broken bond between nature and people. While some recommendations, such asthose pertaining to the education system and building development projects, may not be directly applicable to Singapore, the small reminders do make the difference.

Louv advises how to harness the best of Mother Nature to your child’s benefit Let your kids have unstructured time in the natural world, he says, whether it’s a garden, park or nature reserve. Be more enthusiastic about the natural world and less suspicious. Say “pay attention” instead of ”be careful.” Teach general observation skills, from sitting still to watch a deer cross a meadow (in our case, a dog crossing a park) or a bird in the garden, to assessing the surroundings – slippery rocks, thin branches, and venomous snakes. Such lessons from nature not only impart observation skills and cautiousness in place of over-dependence on a parent’s protection, but far exceed all the preaching by schools and public campaigns to care for the earth.

Even for adults, this book will re-open our senses to the truth, that we need nature. Nature is our tonic — simply spending more time outdoors does wonders to our health and knowledge. In return, we have the obligation to care for nature. After all, even the greatest gadgets can’t save a planet ailing from pollution.

Horrible Science: Nasty Nature  by Nick Arnold

Genre: Juvenile literature

Don’t be fooled by the title of the book. There is nothing gruesome illustrated nor is the content gory per se. Horrible Science is a series written to encourage primary school children to appreciate Science in all its quirkiness. This particular volume “Nasty Nature” imparts to readers facts about plants, animals, the environment and Mother Nature in all her wondrous glory. The contents are mostly in line with what schools are teaching in their curriculum, but also contain little- known but fascinating answers to questions like “Why are vultures bald?”

This series is a best seller that has sold over four million copies in the UK, its country of origination. For good reason, it is also popular among many Singaporean parents, and its merits are discussed on Kiasu Parents (www.kiasuparents.com), a portal for parents to share and discuss teaching education for their children. This book engages readers with interesting graphics and humorous narration, putting on the finishing touches in the form of fun facts placed in nifty little boxes. Most of the time, those were facts I never knew.

Even as a 22-year-old reader, I enjoyed the book very much. It gives me a greater insight on the wonders of Mother Nature, because as a city dweller I hardly come into contact with nature. The information in the book are as rich as what one can find in National Geographic or Discovery Channel, but presented with a youthful edge to appeal to the younger crowd. Having tutored science to primary school students previously, I have recommended this book to my students to improve their knowledge about nature. The fact that it helps them develop a better understanding about Science was reflected in their improved grades.

– These book reviews first appeared in a lifestyle magazine

Residents revel in the gaiety of Chingay

Many give a rousing welcome to the colourful pageantry.

An air of anticipation and a festive mood gripped Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, hours before the Chingay floats were due to arrive. Residents of all ages and races slowly gathered along the route to be taken by the floats within the GRC.

Indeed this was one event which required no invitation to draw the crowds. By the time the convoys of colourfully illuminated floats arrived, the route was packed with residents, ranging from seniors to young families with young children, eager to catch a glimpse of the floats.

The kick-off was a rousing affair with live firing of fire crackers to the delight of hundreds of residents both young and old. The Chingay floats were launched at Bishan Community Club in Bishan Street 13 by Grassroots Advisers of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC GROs, namely Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence,  Mr Chee Hong Tat, Minister of State for Health, and Communications & Information, Mr Chong Kee Hiong and Mr Saktiandi Supaat.

Much to the delight of residents, there were game stalls, food and musical performances to give added flavour to the evening’s festivities at strategic locations along the route. From cameras to smart phones, residents clicked and recorded the spectacular floats, revelling in the pomp of the Chingay parade with the streets bathed in a kaleidoscope of bright colourful lights.

The first Chingay parade in 1973 was mooted by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew who was then Prime Minister and also the Chairman of the People’s Association (PA). The noise and gaiety of the parade would help drive away evil spirits, just as firecrackers were previously set of]c to drive away evil.

This year’s GRC Chingay parade was organised by Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Citizens’ Consultative Committees, and supported by People’s Association, Central Singapore Community Development Council and Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council.

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

Book Reviews: The Hunger Games & Amazing Gracie: A Dog’s Tale

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Genre: Young adult, Dystopian fiction

Don’t be fooled by the genre “Young adult fiction”. The Hunger Games speaks out to older age groups and it can get emotionally intense, grim and at times disturbing.

The book takes its readers to a time in the future, when the US was destroyed and it was renamed “Panem”, consisting of 13 districts and a Capitol City, ruled by a totalitarian dictator. The districts had rebelled against the Capitol City and were defeated. As a punishment, each district had to send a boy and girl to participate in the annual Hunger Games for the entertainment of the Capitol residents. In this battle for survival, only one winner lives.

The first book in the trilogy “The Hunger Games” speaks of the savageness of the games. In the second book “Catching Fire”, the people of the districts begin to demonstrate dissent against the dictatorship while the games go on. The final book, “Mockingjay” illustrates the horrors of the war between the Capitol City and the returning rebels to great and grisly detail.

Suzanne Collins is not afraid to portray harsh realities, even if it means killing off likeable characters in ways that hit very hard. The emotions and tragedies portrayed in the story are very real, with clear implications of the horrors that come with war to everyone involved, regardless of its purpose and whose side one is on. Reading a dystopian story may not be a cheerful way to enjoy the holidays, but it will certain inspire you to count your blessings and appreciate the world you live in.

The trilogy set can be purchased from all major bookstores in Singapore. Alternatively, the separate volumes are available at several public libraries, including Bishan and Toa Payoh Public Library, with the common call number English COL.

Amazing Gracie: A Dog’s Tale by Dan Dye, Mark Beckloff

Genre: Dog literature

Amazing Gracie is a story about the author Dan Dye’s experience with his late canine companion Gracie, a deaf and partially blind Great Dane, whom he credits for inspiring his and co-author Mark Beckloff’s successful ”Three Dog Bakery” business.

Gracie has a delicate constitution and almost died on several occasions by the time she was eight weeks old. For her good health, Dan, who was never good in the kitchen, decided to personally cook for Gracie. This spelt the early beginnings of Three Dog Bakery, a pet food store with unique, healthy treats for dogs.

Mark’s two dogs, Sarah and Dottie, joined Gracie in becoming the bakery’s mascots (hence the name ”Three Dog Bakery”) and taste-testers. The business grew and became a full-scale franchise, with stores operating across several states in the US. Dan discovered what he wanted to do with his life, while Gracie went from throwaway pup to a canine hero of national celebrity status.

The love that Dan has for his dog can be found in the humorous tone he adopts when describing his dog’s misadventures. The engaging writing style, coupled with cute doodles in the book, enables the reader to picture the scenes taking place right in his house. The story offers many heartwarming moments and life lessons. The last pages of the book will bring some tears especially if you have had the experience of accompanying an older dog through its last days.

This is a perfect read for dog lovers, and it will change the mindsets of those who aren’t dog lovers. This book can be purchased from all major bookstores in Singapore.

– These book reviews first appeared in a lifestyle magazine

Get a little sun in your life each day

Tropical Singapore may be sunny almost all year well. Yet many of us work indoors in air-conditioned comfort. We avoid the sun almost every day. Perhaps inspired by Korean idols with their fair, flawless skin, some would consider this a blessing. However, do you know that lack of sunlight has been linked to a myriad of health problems, including depression, sleeplessness and even some cancers?

If your daily schedule consists of heading straight to work in the morning and by the time work ends, it’s dark and you’ve had no sun in-between then think again. Here are some benefits of healthy sun exposure to make up your mind:

Prevents Depression

Sunlight prompts the brain to produce serotonin and endorphins, which will improve your mood. One of the best ways to start the day positively is to enjoy a jog in the morning sun to harness endorphins released from exercise and the sun!

Prevents insomnia

Exposure to sunlight informs your body that it is day time, guiding your biological clock to be programmed correctly. The sun also stimulates the pineal gland in the brain, which produces melatonin, helping you to sleep better and get a good night’s rest.

Breaks Down Toxins

Sunlight helps to break down wastes and toxins in your body, thus reducing the burden on your liver.

Improves skin health 

Sun exposure helps in the alleviation of skin conditions like mild acne, rashes, eczema and athlete’s foot. You also get a healthy glow!

Improves blood circulation 

Sun exposure increases white and red blood cell count, helping the blood to circulate more efficiently, relieving problems like aches, numbness and fatigue.

Produces the all-important Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps to regulate the immune system, which means you fall sick less  easily. It also increases calcium absorption which is crucial for healthy bones. Studies have linked Vitamin D to weight loss in obesity, preventing diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease.

How to incorporate healthy sun exposure into your busy lifestyle

Ideally, you should spend at least 30 minutes in the sun, but take note of the time of the day. Certainly, you want to get healthy sun exposure without potentially increasing the incidence of skin cancer.

According to US-based Sun Safety Alliance, an organisation dedicated to reducing the incidence of skin cancer, UV rays are greatest when the sun is at its highest in the sky (between 10 am and 4 pm). So, if you are thinking of sunbathing, do it outside of this time. A good idea would be to incorporate it into your morning exercise routine, or take a short break from work and take a walk outdoors after 4pm. Allow yourself more opportunities to walk in the open while the sun is up by alighting a stop earlier, or walking to a bus stop further away. Try to wear clothes that allow as much skin exposure with the sun as possible.

Let’s look forward to a brighter year ahead!

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.