By Loh Lin (19A01D)
Photos courtesy of Koh Yin Jie (18S03Q)
“Look closer. Look longer. Look harder.” Found also in the biography of Eco-lit Batch 18’s Instagram, this tripartite prompt was reiterated at the start of the book launch on 26 May, where the outgoing batch presented the fruits of their 10-month labour to an audience that was surprisingly lively on an early Saturday morning (perhaps due to the almost alarming number of children present).
The launch opened with an address by both RI’s principal Mr Frederick Yeo and Guest-of-Honour Ms Ria Tan, before the attention turned to the two student presenters, Shermin Ong (18S03I) and Ian Chan (18S06Q). Sharing about the various trips EcoLit went on, they recounted their experiences with a faint tinge of nostalgia, quoting that “the most amazing thing (about the Taiwan trip) was the culture”. To not forget their various fascinating encounters with the diverse wildlife and culture from each trip, they journalled throughout their travels, taking the chance to also draw inspiration for the books they were due to create.
As Shermin and Ian wrapped up their presentation with a steady composure and easy smiles, the eager buzz of energy from the others watching at the back could not be ignored. And the reason for this flustered anticipation was soon realised: amidst the muted chatter, they thanked the audience, which was the cue for the Y6 batch to hasten to the stage to unveil their published books.
“On the count of 3, okay? 1…2…
…3!” The last and loudest count saw several children from the audience chiming in, and was accompanied by a swell of applause as the Y6s swept the cloth aside, revealing the two books they had poured their heart and soul into: The Super Seagrass Search and WOOSH! A Coral’s Journey.
Wasting no time in sharing with the audience the process behind their final product, Denise Loh (18S03A) and Jae Mak (18S06D) approached the podium with visible anticipation. They credited inspiration for their book (The Super Seagrass Search) to the vast seagrass meadows they had encountered for the very first time in Pulau Semakau, gushing that the sight of the meadows “stretching so far into the horizon” was “very heartwarming”. Their excitement was endearingly infectious — they drew chuckles from the audience at several points, especially when Denise quipped a cleverly apt pun: “See! Grass (seagrass)!”
The story was definitely not crafted without thought, for the team had specifically chosen the topic of seagrass to raise awareness and promote conservation of seagrass. Introducing their book characters, Jae explained that they had chosen juvenile characters such as baby animals as they felt the seagrass meadow was akin to “a nursery”. At least seven ideas were rejected before they agreed on using the game Hide-and-Seek to keep the children reading the book engaged.
The process of illustrating was equally as painstaking and diligent, with the illustrator mulling over various ways of “shading, water texture and background”. Sharing that the team finalised the mockbook “at 12am in Taiwan on the last day”, Jae remarked that “it may not have been easy, but it was definitely worth it”.
Swapping places with a quick exchange of encouraging smiles, Natalie Quah (18S06Q) and Leow Zhi Yong (18S03G) presented their book: Woosh: A Coral’s Journey. They attributed their idea to the intertidal walks they had enjoyed on their trip to Berlayer Creek, where they had learnt about artificial reefs and interconnectivity in the dependence of reefs’ survival on water. Natalie revealed that the team had toiled through “long hours and long nights on Skype” discussing characters (“oh no! This is way too similar to Moana!”), and had even camped at Kinokuniya for further inspiration.
Pausing to chuckle nervously, Zhi Yong shared that the team decided to rhyme the entire book in March, two mere months away from the launch. “After all, go big or go home!” he declared, to an approving burst of laughter and applause. After the bustle simmered down, he explained that the choice to rhyme was a bid to convey the complex idea of interconnectivity to the children in a way that grabs their attention and allows them to grasp the concept.
With that, the sharing concluded, and the entire team rushed to prepare the stage for their storytelling section. As they set up the stage, this writer wandered around — bumping into too many children along the way — and noticed a group of seniors from Batch 17 lingering near the book sale at the back. “We came back to see our juniors! And we had a lot of fun in Eco-lit so here we are again,” was the immediate reply, followed by an affirmative round of nods. Perhaps this bears testament to the bonds the Eco-lit community has forged beyond that with nature.
Attention turned back to the stage, where the teams performed skits of their respective stories for a captivated crowd of children. The performers bounded around the stage, and interjected from time to time with simple explanations. An impressively natural and effective engagement with the children was observed throughout the two skits, with the performers pausing every now and then to direct questions and interact with them.
At one point, a member with a brown (cardboard) shell attached to his back asked why he was called “the green turtle”, to which a boy yelled: “because your shell is green!” (This writer will admit here that she thought the same thing before she cognitively processed the details of his costume.)
As the event drew to a close with the Arts and Craft session, the members jumped into a flurry of action: several of them assisted the children with their craft, others were manning the book sales and attending to queries, and the rest was helping to pack up. Even the performers from the storytelling session did not stop for a break, instead rushing to take stock of logistics, all the while trying not to trip over their costumes.
When 4.30pm rolled around, the previously filled area in the morning contained only Eco-lit members and a handful of lingering parents picking out books for their children. Even so, the warmth was palpable — the members were jostling one another good-naturedly and tiredly leaning on available shoulders as they wrapped up.
Stopping in his tracks, Lian Kok Hai (18S06C) obliged for a quick interview, and shared that the most valuable part of Eco-lit for him was the people: “We spend a lot of time with each other — going on overseas trips, going on camps, being cooped up in a room painting for hours on end. You have to learn to deal with one another […] The friendships we made were really sincere and will last a long time, I hope.” He remarked that the challenges they faced manifested in “[handling] the logistics, [handling their] friends, [handling their] own emotions, [having to] prepare themselves for their own presentations”, but was firm in his belief that the launch was still “overwhelmingly meaningful and fun”.
“It’s important for children to be exposed to this natural environment. It’s not just robots or violence.” – Lian Kok Hai (18S06C)
As this writer took her leave, faint exclamations toggling between relief and expressions of exhaustion were heard as the members of Eco-lit reveled in the well-deserved glory of their months of hard work. The weariness was undeniable, yet it was tempered by the profuse sense of pride the members displayed.
This launch, while being a showcase of their efforts over the past year, displayed also the earnest and whole-hearted community they had forged in their time together, as well as their genuine belief in and love for what they learn.
Books by Eco-lit Batch 18:
The Super Seagrass Search
Authors: Chan Teng Kai, Ian (18S06Q), Chong Wei Ming (18S03Q), Denise Loh Si Ying (18S03A), Mak Ho Yu Jae (18S06D)
Illustrator: Mak Ho Yue Jae (18S06D)
WOOSH! A Coral’s Journey
Authors: Leow Zhi Yong (18S03G), Lian Kok Hai (18S06C), Natalie Quah Wen-Fei (18S06O), Shermin Ong (18S03I), Yan Pei Ling Clarice (18S03I)
Illustrator: Lian Kok Hai (18S06C)