Preparing Kids for Change: Top 10 Books and Movies about Moving and Travel

During my growing up years, my dad went abroad for post-graduate studies and our whole family would follow him to support his education.

Although this meant that my sister and I had the awesome opportunity to travel, live and study in a different country, we also had to learn to adapt to a new environment and culture.

When my parents told me that we were going to move far away from my friends and extended family for a whole year, I went through a whole string of emotions. I was sad about leaving my friends and schoolmates behind, as well as my precious dog, but I was also very excited about embarking on a whole new adventure with my family.

I think my parents were quite relieved that both my sister and I chose to see this Big Move as a start of a new chapter in our lives, and I think that is partly due to the fact that we grew up on a steady diet of books and movies that encouraged exploration.

I’ve put together a list of books and movies that I think will really help kids who are preparing for a big change – from the littlest ones starting school to the big ones going off to college. So here’s

Owls Well’s Top 10 Books and Movies about Moving and Travel


1. Augustine by Melanie Watt (Recommended for Preschoolers)

Little Augustine the penguin moves with her family from the South Pole to the North Pole, and it isn’t easy saying goodbye to her grandparents, friends and her old room. Being a shy penguin, adjusting to her new school and making new friends is a challenge, but with the help of her colouring pencils, Augustine finds that she can still be herself even if her surroundings are different.

This is a very good book which definitely covers both the physical and emotional journey involved in moving to a new place. I also love the beautiful pictures in this book, most of which are inspired by famous paintings and artists – also a very good way to introduce kids to art!

2. Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World (Recommended for Preschoolers)

This was one of my favourite books when I was growing up, and it has a load of ridiculously funny stories taking place around the world. I loved seeing the various animal characters dressed up in traditional ethnic costumes and learn about great landmarks from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Spanish Steps in Rome to the Blarney Stone in Ireland.

I remember being so excited to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time, just because of the story about Pierre the Parisian Policeman chasing a robber all across the Paris and through a French restaurant, blowing his police whistle, “Breeeeet!”

3. Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss (Recommended for Emerging Readers)

In this book, a little boy heads out and explores the world, encountering many new things – some of which are sad or scary or boring – but in general, the book takes a very positive view of being brave enough to step out of one’s comfort zone and embrace the adventure that is life and growing up.

It’s opener out there, in the wide open air

– Dr Seuss

4. Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” Series (Recommended for Confident Readers)

This is a wonderful series of chapter books for encouraging young readers, especially little girls who will love reading about Laura and her sisters as they grow up, moving from their Little House in the Big Woods to the Prairie and beyond.

In general, despite the fact that the Ingalls family appears to be constantly on the move and always facing new challenges, the fact remains that the concept of ‘home’ for Laura is not a physical place, but an emotional one. This is a good series for teaching kids to understand that as long as a family sticks together, they can make a home anywhere and weather any changes that life throws their way.

Everything from the little house was in the wagon except the beds and tables and chairs. They did not need to take these, because Pa could always make new ones.

– Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie

5. Terry Pratchett’s Bromeliad Trilogy: Truckers, Diggers, Wings (Recommended for Confident Readers)

In this hilarious book series, a group of tiny 4 inch high Nomes who have lived for generations in a departmental store find out that their home is soon to be demolished. They embark on an epic journey to find a new home, bringing with them The Thing – a  mysterious black cube which has been the Nome tribe’s totem for as long as anyone can remember.

I remember that the main struggle that the Departmental Store Nomes had was meeting other Nomes who were from different cultures and challenging long established beliefs. The way the Nomes had to deal with drastic changes in their societal structure and family values is beautifully handled by Terry Pratchett, who writes about these issues with humour and sensitivity. A very good series to help kids keep an open mind about change!

The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.

― Terry Pratchett

6. J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” Series (Recommended for Confident Readers)

Although I have many issues with the Harry Potter series (I still think Harry Potter is rather a jerk. The underdog Neville Longbottom is my favourite guy in this series), the fact remains that this book series is often about having the gumption to seek out adventure.

Harry Potter’s life only really begins because he’s brave enough to leave behind everything that he knows and understands about the world – exchanging a life that is safe and predictable for one that is unstable, painful, and even dangerous. However, because of his willingness to embrace change, he finds faithful new friends, a new family and a welcoming home. Definitely a good one for a kid who needs encouragement to be brave and bold!

Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect

– J.K. Rowling

7. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) (Recommended for Preschoolers and above)

This is a very sweet film focussing on two sisters who have moved to a new home with their father in order to be closer to the hospital where their mother is recuperating from a chronic illness. In their new home, they make friends with all of their neighbours, including the woodland spirits from a nearby camphor tree.

I love the way the family is depicted in this film, and the sibling relationship between the sisters is well scripted. I also like the positive attitude that the two little girls have towards moving to the countryside and exploring their new surroundings.

8. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) (Recommended for Preschoolers and above)

13 year old Kiki has to complete her training as a witch by spending at least a year away from home, so she flies off on her broom with her black cat Jiji in search of a town in need of her services. She moves into the port city of Koriko and has to find a way to fit in whilst earning a living – it’s not always easy but Kiki makes it work.

What I find particularly good about this film is Kiki’s vulnerability and self-doubt which is so common to many children, especially when faced with what seems to be an insurmountable challenge. Kiki is able to learn more about herself, become more independent and take control of her own life without sacrificing her open-hearted personality or sweetness, and without anger or rebelliousness.

9. The Karate Kid (1984) (Recommended for Tweens and above)

Daniel LaRusso, a spunky teen, moves from his New Jersey home to California, and he has a very hard time fitting in until he befriends a kooky old man who teaches him the ancient art of car detailing Karate.

I mean, who doesn’t love this film? Stick with the 1984 version though.

*Mummy warning: Some swear words, juicy insults and kids beating each other up.*

Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don’t forget to breathe, very important.

– Mr Miyagi

10. Legally Blonde (2001) (Recommended for Teens and above)

Sorority girl Elle Woods moves from California where she holds a degree in fashion merchandising to begin her postgraduate studies in Harvard Law School, in order to win back her ex-boyfriend. This very silly comedy deals mostly with a girl who appears to be out of her depth in a new environment, but manages to defy all expectations (including the expectations she had for herself).

I particularly like the way the heroine stays true to herself whilst also discovering talents that she never knew existed until she made the decision to leave her comfort zone.

*Mummy warning: Some swear words, sexual jokes and gay stereotyping.*

I’d pick the dangerous one, ’cause I’m not afraid of a challenge.

– Elle Woods

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Book Series that we love (Chapter books): Extraordinary Losers

Over here at Owls Well, we have a soft spot for homegrown Singaporean authors and I am so glad to tell you all about the Extraordinary Losers chapter book series by Jessica Alejandro! These are good entry-level chapter books for encouraging reluctant readers who are looking to graduate from Early Reader books but need some pictures to break up the wall of words.

This book series follows the adventures of four primary school kids, Darryl De, Janice, Mundi and Clandestino, each of whom are considered class misfits for various shallow physical reasons (e.g. too ugly, too messy, too fat, too Indian etc). However, they also have incredible hidden talents that are overlooked by their peers who often underestimate their abilities. Fuelled by courage and junk food, the four kids find themselves banding together to solve mysteries within their school and find their self-worth, whilst dealing with the problems of class bullies, cyber-predators and of course, the all-encompassing villain of Primary School life, the dreaded PSLE!

I really appreciate the straightforward way that the book deals with bullying and being unique, encouraging the reader to look for the extraordinary gifts that lie within themselves instead of striving for conformity.

Right now, there are four books in the series (you can check out the titles in the picture above), and they are pretty engaging to read. The book also features funny illustrations by artist Cherryn Yap, as well as the occasional hand-scrawled cheeky poem by the book’s main POV character, Darryl De.

I have been told that the book series has gotten so popular that our local kid’s channel, Okto, is now looking to cast actors and actresses for an ExLosers TV series!

Open auditions are this Sunday 3rd July 2016 from 11am -6pm (registration closes at 4pm), so if you’ve got a budding thespian on your hands (or if you know one), do bring them along to the Suntec Convention Centre Level 3 Concourse.

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A extraspecial surprise for Owls Well Readers: The fine folk over at Bubbly Books have kindly agreed to sponsor a giveaway of the full set of Extraordinary Losers books by Jessica Alejandro to ONE lucky Owls Well reader! Thanks Bubbly Books!

To take part in this giveaway please complete the following:

  1. Leave me a comment below telling me about an extraordinary talent that you have (or your child has) that is often overlooked or underappreciated or how you personally dealt with bullying in school – don’t forget to include your email address! (If you would like to send me the email address privately, leave a comment for the other answers, then email me at 4owlswell [at] gmail [dot] com)
  2. For extra entries, share this post on any social media platform and leave a comment below with the link!

(This giveaway is open to anyone with a Singapore mailing address and closes on 15 July 2016. Winners will be picked via Random.org.)

Buyer’s note: I received a set of the Extraordinary Losers books from Bubbly Books for this review. If you’d like to get the books for an extraordinary kid in your like, you can find Extraordinary Losers and other books by local authors here.

For more news and information about the Extraordinary Losers books, check out their Facebook page here.

Midweek Break: A Writer’s Workshop & A Book Giveaway!

If you saw our post on Peranakan culture earlier this week, you might remember that I mentioned the book Stacey goes to the Peranakan Museum‘ by Lianne Ong, which is part of an ongoing books series published in partnership with Singapore’s National Heritage Board.

Lianne Ong, the author of the Stacey & the Museums book series, is actually going to be doing a very special writer’s workshop aimed at kids aged 7-10 years old at the upcoming Singapore Writer’s Festival held at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

The workshop, Create A Stacey@ACM Adventure, will have kids exploring the galleries at the museum and coming up with their own Stacey story under Lianne’s guidance. Additionally, James Tan, the illustrator of the books, will be there to teach children how to draw Stacey and accompany their story with pictures.

I am a big fan of creative writing, so I think this workshop sounds like a whole load of fun and a great experience for kids. At $5 for a 90 min masterclass with a published children’s book author, it is a real bargain!

The workshop will take place on 8 November (Saturday) at 11:00am-12:30pm at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Tickets to the workshop and more information available here.

If you already own a Stacey book, you ought to bring it with you and I am sure both Lianne Ong and James Tan will oblige you with an autograph if you ask nicely.

And if you don’t own a Stacey book yet, well, here’s a Special Something for Owls Well Readers: Armour Publishing has very kindly agreed to sponsor a giveaway of a copy of the book “Stacey Goes to the Peranakan Museum” to ONE lucky Owls Well Reader! Huzzah! Thank you, Armour Publishing!

To take part in this giveaway, just complete the following:

  1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page
  2. Share this giveaway on your Facebook Page (set to public), tagging @Owls Well as well as at least three friends
  3. Visit my Peranakan Peregrination post and leave a comment there telling me about one thing that you know or appreciate about Peranakan culture! Don’t forget to tell me the name of your Facebook account that you used to share this giveaway and include your email address! (If you would like to send me the email address privately, leave a comment for the other answers, then email me at 4owlswell [at] gmail [dot] com)

(Giveaway is open to anyone with a Singapore address and will end on 10th October 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete all 3 easy steps!)

P.S. If you still aren’t convinced of how great this book series is, check out my review of the first book in the Stacey & the Museums series here – we liked it so much, we made our own book trailer!

Update: This giveaway is now closed and the winner has been emailed – Thanks for playing!

Book Series that we love: Our (current) favourite Chapter Book series!

J, who is now 7 years old, has become rather a prolific reader and there are a few book series for young readers that have been responsible for encouraging him on his reading journey. Currently, my aim for J to get him to progress towards chapter books that not only increase his vocabulary and reading fluency, but also widen his imagination or scope of interests. Choosing books that appeal to little boys has been quite a challenge for me! I was brought up on a steady diet of Laura Ingalls and Anne of Green Gables, both of which are wonderful book series but do nothing to engage J’s attention. I have since discovered that in order to encourage J to stay with a book for more than a few pages, the book had to contain some or all of the following aspects:

  1. Text as well as illustrations – a great black and white wall of text was just too intimidating for a young reader.
  2. Fictional subject matter that involves intelligent young male heroes, fast-paced action and a little bit of cheeky humour.
  3. Factual subject matter of the slightly yucky kind.

So, here are…

J’s current Top Three Favourite Chapter Book Series

1. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket lemony-snicket-unfortunate-events This is a series of 13 books, each with 13 chapters, following the melancholy adventures of the three Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny. The books trace the lives of the Baudelaire orphans as they pass through various foster homes before going on the run from the police, whilst being pursued by a self-proclaimed ‘distant relative’, Count Olaf, who is bent on acquiring the Baudelaire’s considerable inheritance. Along the way, they uncover the mystery surrounding their parents’ deaths and encounter all manner of exciting things like secret organisations, venomous snakes and delicious pasta. The author, Lemony Snicket, is as much a character in the books as well as their narrator and commentator – and his satirical humour is evident throughout the novels, often warning the reader that very few positive events take place in each book and even suggesting that the books be discarded in favour of more cheerful pursuits. The stories are accompanied by beautifully detailed black and white illustrations by Brett Helquist which are Victorian in style and add to the gothic nature of the books. The pictures often hold clues as to the true nature of people and events in the story that are not fully described in the text, and this adds an extra dimension to the books as the reader has a chance to play detective (which J thoroughly enjoyed).

Mummy Guide: These books are extremely well-written but the subject matter is a little bit on the morbid side, so if you have a particularly sensitive or anxious young reader then proceed with caution. Additionally, binge-reading these books is not recommended as you will feel miserable at the unfairness of it all. However, the underlying theme of maintaining a courageous and positive outlook in the face of adversity as well as the concept that moral decision-making is not always straight-forward are both great learning points!

2. Horrible Science by Nick Arnold  Horrible-science-books-fact-kids The Horrible Science books are basically little encyclopaedias covering a variety of science-related topics from physics, chemistry and biology, often in gruesome and disgusting detail. Every page is peppered with silly jokes and hilarious cartoons by Tony De Saulles which make each book a fun and engaging read – so it’s absolutely perfect for kids who are still entertained by toilet humour (which is all kids, really). J loves these books because they help to answer all his questions about the world and provide him with plenty of subject matter for creeping out his classmates.

Mummy Guide: These books are not afraid to be yucky and gross (because science is often messy) but there are no sexual themes or gratuitously written descriptions of gore.

3. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell cressida-cowell-train-dragon-books This is definitely our current TOP favourite chapter book series not only because the books are such an entertaining read and have dragons in them, but also because the main protagonist is one of the best role-models we have ever come across. (Did I forget to mention that there are dragons in these books?) At the moment, there are 11 books in the series, with the twelfth (and final) instalment due to be released in September of this year. The books are set in a fictional Viking world and record the experiences of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third and his tribe of Hairy Hooligans. The books generally deal with various aspects of the Viking Instructional Programme which also involves the capture and training of both small hunting dragons as well as larger riding dragons. This inevitably leads to Hiccup, his puny hunting dragon, Toothless, and his asthmatic best friend, Fishlegs, getting into some awful (and life-threatening) misadventure. As the books are meant to be the memoirs of an elderly Hiccup looking back over his young life, they are full of funny annotations, notes about dragons and crudely drawn sketches of various characters.

Mummy Guide: The books do involve quite a bit of violence (eg. sword fighting, hunting animals, people getting eaten by dragons etc.) but there are no graphic or gory descriptions. There’s also plenty of ridiculous potty humour of the sort that tends to appeal to little boys (eg. burping, farting, characters going through Advanced Name Calling training). However, Hiccup is a very well-written hero and his journey traces the struggles of his character as he grows into a good leader. One of the main themes of the series involves him having to make tough choices between what is right and what is easy, and through his actions, we can see the power of forgiveness, humility, compassion and loyalty.

Update: MPH Bookstores Singapore has kindly offered to sponsor a copy of How to train your Dragon: How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm by Cressida Cowell to TWO lucky Owls Well readers! Hooray!!

 To take part in this giveaway, just complete the following:

1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page

2. Share this Facebook post (set to public) and tag a friend

3. Leave a comment below telling me about a chapter book or book series that you or your children have enjoyed. Don’t forget to leave your Facebook name and your email address so that I can contact you if you win – or if you’re really shy, you can email your details to me separately at 4owlswell@gmail.com

(This giveaway is open to people with a Singapore mailing address and ends on 7 April 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete the 3 required steps!)

Book Series that we love (Emerging Readers): Timmy & Tammy

One of the ways that I have been teaching J and Little E to read is through the use of books that are specially written for emerging readers.

These are little picture books that use a controlled, repeated vocabulary, with one or two sentences on each page printed in a large and clear text. These easy-to-read books are great for helping kids to match spoken words with print and for building up confidence in reading. Although there are plenty of beginners books on the market, I find it rather difficult to find really good books that use natural language and contain engaging subject matter.

However, when Armour Publishing introduced me to the homegrown Timmy and Tammy ‘Let Me Read’ series written by Ruth Wan-Lau, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the books were not only beautifully illustrated (by Eliz Ong) and well-written but also appealed very strongly to Little E. At the moment, we keep the books at the Aged P’s house and they are her current go-to books. She is always bringing them to the Aged Ps to get them to read along with her!

Part of the charm of the series lies in the fact that the stories are all set in Singapore and revolve around Timmy & Tammy’s adventures to popular local attractions such as the Botanic Gardens, Changi Airport and the Fire Station. Little E gets a real thrill out of pointing out familiar landmarks featured in the books and talking about cultural experiences mentioned in the books that are uniquely Singaporean.

Super cute illustrations by Eliz Ong

Super cute illustrations by Eliz Ong

I am not at all surprised to find out that the Timmy & Tammy series was selected to be part of the SG50 Jubilee Baby 2015 welcome package! That means Baby #3 is going to receive a set later this year! Woohoo!

A Special Something for Owls Well Readers: The kindly folk over at Armour Publishing are generously sponsoring a set of 5 Timmy & Tammy books to ONE lucky Owls Well Reader! Thank you, Armour Publishing!

To take part in this giveaway, just complete the following:

1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page

2. Be a fan of Timmy & Tammy Facebook Page

3. Leave a comment below telling me about a book or book series for emergent readers that you or your children have enjoyed. Don’t forget to leave your Facebook name and your email address so that I can contact you if you win – or if you’re really shy, you can email your details to me separately at 4owlswell@gmail.com

3. (Optional) To double your chances of winning, share or reblog this giveaway on any form of social media that you fancy and leave a comment below with the link!

(This giveaway is open to people living in Singapore and ends on 24 March 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete the 3 required steps!)

P.S. You can purchase Timmy & Tammy books at S$34.50 (for a set of 5 books) or S$6.90 each from Popular Bookstores, Amazon Website or from Armour Publishing’s Website.

Update: This giveaway is now closed and the winner has been emailed – thanks for playing! 

Book Series that we love (For Preschoolers): The Adventures of Squirky The Alien

The Adventures of Squirky The Alien #1 and #2 by Melanie Lee

The Adventures of Squirky The Alien #1 and #2 by Melanie Lee

I am so glad to introduce this wonderful series of children’s books by my primary school chum, Melanie Lee, the author of Imaginary Friends! Yay! It’s so great to see brilliant work from local Singaporean authors!

This book series revolves around Squirky, a little blue alien from Planet Q who is living on Earth with his parents and sister Emma. In the first book, ‘Why Am I Blue?’, Squirky realises for the first time that he is different from the rest of his family, and his parents reveal to him that he is adopted.

The book deals very sensitively with the concept of adoption which is a subject very close to Melanie’s heart and provides a great springboard for discussion. I imagine that the books will be invaluable to adoptive parents who are looking for ways to gently and openly talk to their children about the subject. Melanie also includes links to useful resources about adoption as well as a very helpful FAQ at the back of ‘Why Am I Blue’ about the issues surrounding adoption which I found very informative. After reading the FAQ, I have a better understanding of the struggles and fears that adoptive parents go through when broaching the subject with their young ones, and I hope that I can be a better support to my friends who have adopted children.

I was very surprised to find that both J and Little E identify very strongly with Squirky, as (coming from an interracial background) they already know that they are different from the people around them. When they look in the mirror, they are both very aware that their outward appearances are different from that of their classmates. This is something that Squirky has to deal with in ‘Why Am I Blue?’ and he learns that being different makes him unique, and that he is not alone in the world when he is surrounded by a family who loves him.

Queen Stella

Queen Stella

J and Little E were also intrigued by Squirky’s story, which bears many similarities to that of DC Comic’s Superman (whom both of them are familiar with).

When Book #2 of the Squirky adventure series was released, J became very excited and could not wait to get home to read it to Little E! They were both captivated by the beautiful illustrations by local artist David Liew, especially his depiction of the beautiful and sad Queen Stella.

In ‘What Happened To Planet Q?’Squirky’s loving parents support his decision to search for his birth parents and find out more about his origins, so with the help of his sister Emma, he leaves his home on an exciting space adventure in the second book.

The theme of this book is on the concept of honesty and openness in communication which is something that I am currently trying to impress upon my children. The truth is oftentimes hard and painful, and the reaction you may get from telling the truth may be unpleasant, and this is something that Queen Stella experiences when talking to Squirky. However, lying through omission can be even more hurtful!

The Adventures of Squirky The Alien #3 by Melanie Lee

The Adventures of Squirky The Alien #3 by Melanie Lee

Squirky’s adventures continue in the latest addition to the series, ‘Who Is The Red Commander?’ and I have been very privileged to receive a preview copy of the book from MPH Group Publishing.

In ‘Who Is the Red Commander?’, Squirky and Emma land in the hostile environment of Planet R and bravely persist in their quest to find out about what happened to the inhabitants of his home Planet Q, meeting the mysterious and unfriendly Red Commander. In this book, both Squirky and Red Commander learns that facing one’s fears head-on can lead to forgiveness, personal growth and strength.

I really appreciate the way that Melanie weaves difficult concepts and themes into all the books, providing many opportunities for discussion with my kids – and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for the rest of the series!

(By the way, Melanie and the book series illustrator David Liew will be at Kinokuniya at Ngee Ann City on Saturday 14th March 2015 at 3:30pm and at Books Kinokuniya at Jurong Store on Saturday 22nd March 2015 at 2:00pm for the launch of Book #3 of the Squirky series! They will be conducting a storytelling session as well as some really fun art-and-craft activities for the little ones, so do hop on down and check it out. More details here.)

A Surprise for Owls Well Readers: MPH Bookstores Singapore is very generously sponsoring a full set (Books #1-3) of The Adventures of Squirky The Alien by Melanie Lee to TWO lucky Owls Well Readers! Woohoohoo!

To take part in this giveaway, just complete the following:

1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page

2. Be a fan of The Adventures of Squirky the Alien Facebook Page

3. Leave a comment below telling me about a book series that you or your kids are currently enjoying and why you think everyone should read it. Don’t forget to leave your Facebook name and your email address so that I can contact you if you win – or if you’re really shy, you can email your details to me separately at 4owlswell@gmail.com

3. (Optional) To double your chances of winning, share or reblog this giveaway on any form of social media that you fancy and leave a comment below with the link!

(This giveaway is open to people with a Singapore mailing address and ends on 17 March 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete the 3 required steps!)

Good Luck!

Update: This giveaway is now closed and the winners have been contacted by email. Thanks for playing!