By Mathew Gan (14A01C) and Huang Sihan (14S06D)

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A journey into Ubin filled with forest animals with a talking hornbill for a companion, all in an afternoon’s read. Sounds impossible? Think again!

The Raffles Ecological Literacy Programme’s (Eco-lit for short) recently published You Been to Ubin?, the newest addition to their ongoing series of children’s books about Singapore’s flora and fauna. As part of the programme, each team has to conceive a project targeted at children that promotes the conservation and appreciation of nature. One group chose to do this by exploring the hidden treasures of Pulau Ubin, hoping to encourage more visitors to the island. ‘People don’t notice what is around them anymore,’ said team member Pearlynn Sim (RI, 2012), and that is what the book intends to change.

The book tells the story of Lloyd, a boy newly arrived on Ubin, who has to follow clues left by his grandfather and overcomes various obstacles to help Tomo, a talking hornbill, find his way home. Along the way, bite-sized facts dot the pages, teaching children about the conservation of Pulau Ubin through fun-filled activities.

Illustrator Lim Zhi Jie
Illustrator Lim Zhi Jie

The first noticeable feature of the book was the illustrations, done by talented home-grown artist Lim Zhi Jie (13S03L), who is offering a H1 in Art. The illustrations included intricate hand-painted watercolour drawings and carefully designed puzzles that were colourful, vibrant and arresting. It was evident that an enormous amount of effort had gone into creating the artwork for the book. In fact, Zhi Jie informed us that it took a full day of work to create a single plate of watercolours.

Despite Zhi Jie’s protestations that the watercolours were ‘not completely how (he) envisioned it’ and they ‘were not as detailed as he would have liked’, and that drawing trees was not his strong suit (he actually would have preferred to paint more animals), we found the artwork to be truly impressive, resplendent on every one of the book’s twentyfour pages.

Beyond the beauty of the drawings, painstaking research was done to ensure the paintings were an accurate representation of the flora and fauna of Ubin. The effort to successfully get the details right without detracting from the overall style is an achievement in itself, and more than enough to bring Ubin to life right under our noses.

As for the text itself, it nicely weaves the story of Lloyd seamlessly into the message of conservation that the team advocates. A scene where Lloyd must find a way to free a horseshoe crab illustrates this nicely as it is also a glaring example of how irresponsible individuals can cause significant harm to the ecosystem. The book also featured various meaningful characters who managed to engage the reader by telling us about their ‘home’—Pulau Ubin. On the whole, the story was an engaging way to teach the uninitiated more about the environment.

The authors, from left to right: Chia Yun Ze, Melissa Chia, Pearlynn Sim, Terh Shin Huoy, Choo Xin Yi, Gregory Yap
The authors, from left to right: Chia Yun Ze, Melissa Chia, Pearlynn Sim, Terh Shin Huoy, Choo Xin Yi, Gregory Yap

How exactly did the writers get inspiration for this book? The first sparks of inspiration occurred during a five day Eco-lit camp on Ubin led by their teacher-mentor Mr Tan Si Jie, exposing them to the wondrous qualities of the island. Over the course of the camp, the Eco-lit students immersed themselves in the flora and fauna of the island and even got to know some of the villagers. Realising that the island’s place in society was becoming more precarious as Singapore became increasingly modernised, the authors wanted to share their love of the island with others and encourage its preservation.

Indeed, the story is thus much more than fiction and is based on the writers’ real experience of the place, as well as multiple authentic field studies of its environment. A fertile source of inspiration for the book were the students’ own sketchbooks, which they carried with them during the camp to record the many facets of the natural environment they encountered during their stay on Ubin.

One difficulty that the writers had was deciding what to leave in and what had to be taken out. ‘Of course, we would liked to have said many more things in the book, but due to constraints, we had to cut out about two-thirds of our material.’ Thankfully, this did not prevent them from bringing across the main message of conservation and appreciation for the environment—In fact, Lloyd’s little odyssey through Ubin’s foliage is evocative precisely because of its simplicity in design and tale.

The book is a delightful piece of work. The countless hours spent into making this shines through clearly in the artfully designed pages, and carefully crafted words. The biggest praise we can give the book is that it can send you straight into the thickets of Ubin. So, what are you waiting for? The wild beckons.

Pages from RIEL Ubin Book 150513 FINAL
Authors: Chia Yun Ze, Melissa Chia, Pearlynn Sim, Terh Shin Huoy, Choo Xin Yi, Gregory Yap (all from the RI Class of 2012)
Artist: Lim Zhi Jie (13S03L)
Teacher Mentor: Mr Tan Si Jie (Raffles Leadership Institute)