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Q&A: Don Bosco on making Singapore cool for children and writing books together with his family

Image credits: Don Bosco

In our ‘Local Authors’ series, we speak to local writers to shed some insight on their works, thoughts and process.

As a writer, publishing studio founder and father, Don Bosco wears several hats. The author of the Sherlock Hong Adventures and Lion City Adventures series talks to us about setting cool stories in Singapore, how being a dad has influenced his writing and his tips for choosing children’s books.

What was the inspiration for your Sherlock Hong Adventures series?
This idea first came to me over 10 years ago. One of my friends, an illustrator, wanted to apply for a grant to create a comic book. So I wrote a pitch for us, about an inquisitive boy who lived in Singapore back in the late 1800s, and how he went around the Singapore River area solving mysteries. Like an Asian Sherlock Holmes. It was quite influenced by manga, with elements from detective fiction and historical epics with some funny bits. But we got busy along the way and dropped the project. Then, after I started Super Cool Books, I was at a meeting with some creative writing teachers, and I shared this concept with them. They were thrilled and very eager to read it. So I rushed home and developed this as a book series for kids. After thinking about Sherlock Hong for so many years, I feel like I know him like a buddy. And I have many more stories about him and his circle of friends that I am dying to tell.

What made you want to write children’s books?
I have two sons, and I used to go to the library twice a week to get books for them. They were quite fussy about what they wanted to read, and would often reject the books that I borrowed. So I spent time reading with them discussing the books that they liked. It helped me understand that children love stories that are fun and encouraging, with clever twists along the way. That's the magic formula. Later on, my sons wanted to create their own books too.

That's how I started working with them on original stories, which led us to launch Super Cool Books.

The Legend of Lady Yue by Don Bosco

How has your role as a father influenced your writing?
Many years ago, I actually worked as a developer of learning materials for children. My approach to writing was very professional and influenced by theories about child psychology and learning frameworks. But now, as a father, my writing is all about encouraging enthusiasm, being entertaining, and creating great reading experiences for children that they will remember for years to come. Once you can accomplish that, the rest will take care of itself.

The Lion City Adventures series is set in Singapore. Do you consciously set out to include local settings in your books?
When I started creating children's stories through Super Cool Books, that was the most common request that I received from parents and teachers. They wanted to help their kids appreciate our local culture, community and creativity more, but there weren't many books that celebrated these in a fun way. I also feel that it's important for my own sons to know that this city of ours deserves to have cool stories written about it. There are already so many books that talk about how awesome London, New York and Paris are. I wanted to do the same for Singapore with the Lion City Adventures series. The response from young readers and parents has been really awesome.

The Immortal Nightingale by Don Bosco

You have an upcoming series called Superkicks. Could you tell us more about it?
Superkicks is a series that I developed with my friend Benedict Boo, who has a lot of experience teaching in schools and developing educational content. The concept is a bit like Singapore Idol, but instead of singing, the girls and boys compete to join a very special football training programme — the Superkicks football academy started by a sports entrepreneur, Dr JJ Khan. The storytelling style is fun-filled, action-packed and humorous at times. Plus there are incidents that help kids realise the importance of teamwork, leadership and tenacity. One thing I'm especially excited about is that the series features lots of girls who are awesome at football, and talented in many interesting ways. I think it's important that we encourage girls to develop their talents and compete with boys. Hopefully we can inspire more writers to do this too.

As founder of Super Cool Books, you produce and market your own books and collaborate with other writers on new titles. You also write. On top of that, you are a dad. How do you juggle your multiple roles?
My wife and I sometimes joke that Super Cool Books is like our third child. It has inspired the whole family to work together, share a common dream, and grow as book lovers. This is essential because it provides a grounding for all the roles you mentioned, and it also makes the publishing work fulfilling. Things click together in a simple, harmonious way. My sons feel involved because they understand what's going on. Also, I manage Super Cool Books like an internet startup. This gives me a lot of flexibility, and I use all sorts of publishing technology to get things done.

Do you have any advice for parents on choosing children’s books?
Start with books that are related to what your children are experiencing at that point in their lives. Try to mirror their interests, their concerns, their hobbies and their environment. If they're trying out for the school badminton team, for instance, get books for them about sportsmanship, competition and also dealing with disappointment. If they are inquisitive, get books about solving mysteries, going on adventures and conducting experiments. Focus on books that make the world around us seem fun, friendly and full of good things to discover. I sometimes blog about this and share ideas at the Super Cool Books website, do drop by and check it out!

Browse Don Bosco’s books here.

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