I was recently made aware of a new series of books: Timmy and Tammy by Ruth Wan-Lau and illustrated by Eliz Ong. These five books were of particular interest to me as I have written and edited leveled reading materials for children.
The Let Me Read series is a guided approach to helping children read on their own. As the reader turns each page he/she becomes confident with new vocabulary and comprehension. The series’ Level 1 books are perfect for my emergent reader, who is beginning to read high frequency sight words, or words she can automatically recognize in print without having to use any strategies to decode.
The Timmy and Tammy series of books are, no doubt, educationally sound; they encourage young children to read on their own with predictable story patterns, memorable rhymes, and comforting repetition. Ong’s bright, whimsical illustrations are inviting. A note at the end of book, by Dr. Myra Garces-Bacsal, Assistant Professor, National Institute of Education and friend, offers tips for caregivers and teachers of emergent readers.
But… As more and more as books for young readers are brought to my attention, especially of realistic stories set in Singapore, I can not help but notice how few feature non-Chinese children as protagonists in contemporary settings. I am raising a “third culture” child who happens to be of one of Singapore’s “official” ethnicities/”races.” I had expected to find it easier to raise an ethnically Indian child here, given that nearly 9% of Singaporeans and permanent residents trace their ancestry, wholly or in part, to the Indian Subcontinent. I had believed that it might be easier to find media that represented her multi-national identity. How wrong I was!
The Timmy and Tammy books are peppered with the occasional non-Chinese character (in On the MRT or At the Fire Station, for example), but these characters represent “diversity” only on a visual level. These characters hardly make it past their function as a visual supplement or plot device. Their faces may be on the page, but they only serve as accessories to Chinese characters’ developments.
I’ll say it again: minority children need books in which they can “see” themselves. Books like these offer offer opportunities for children to see how others go through experiences similar to theirs and to develop strategies to cope with issues in their life, and spark a sense of pride and validation.
Timmy and Tammy are, of course, a welcome addition to our shelves. My toddler loves spotting the familiar sights of her adopted home—the MRT, the library, the Flyer. However, I, as an educator, am frustrated by the lack of truly diverse resources for children like mine.
(N.B.: I purchased these five books from Books Kinokuniya earlier today; they were not sent to me as review copies as the books I write about here often are.)