Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Interview: Jaclyn of My Imagination Kingdom

One of the new online book stores that we prefer is My Imagination Kingdom. We did reviews of two parenting books here and here. Last year, My Imagination Kingdom also interviewed MummySay in its 'Reading Aloud with Mummy Bloggers' interview series.

This week, we speak to founder Jaclyn, about her inspiration behind setting up My Imagination Kingdom.






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Please tell us more about My Imagination Kingdom. How did it come about?

It really started when I began to notice how the popularity of tablets and smartphones was changing the dynamics between parents and children in Singapore. All around me, I saw how parents were using technology devices to keep their children occupied. You could see it on the trains, at the dining table or even at family gatherings.
It bothered me that our young children today are being brought up on a diet of Angry Birds and Disney’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse instead of being introduced to the wonderful worlds of Roald Dahl and Julia Donaldson. Gone are the days when you would see a child buried behind a book, so engrossed that they would remain quiet all by themselves.
I remember being a child like that once, myself. When I was young, you would see me walking around everywhere with a book in my hands. Every single book I read transported me into an entirely different world from the world I lived in. It was fascinating, inspiring and absolutely delightful. That then prompted me to think about the possibility of nurturing the same love for books amongst our young children today.
I started doing more research and realized that there is indeed the lack of a robust selection of children’s booksellers that cater to the reading needs of parents and children in Singapore at the moment. And so with the vision of sharing my passion for reading with young families like yourself, I started My Imagination Kingdom.

Who are the people behind My Imagination Kingdom?
At the moment, My Imagination Kingdom is run by myself. I have a full-time job in the advertising industry and I run My Imagination Kingdom at the same time.
I have always been an avid reader and still am one. But in particular, I have always had a soft spot for children’s books. Having grown up voraciously consuming them, I find that children’s books have a charm and intellect to them that deserves more credit than we give. The hidden lessons and parallels drawn with the real world are always cleverly brought to life with the help of metaphors, animals, illustrations and plain old storytelling. All these are unique characteristics of children’s books that you don’t often find in adult literature. And that’s what keeps me motivated every day to find that next gem which we can introduce to our readers through My Imagination Kingdom.

There are many brands of online book shops specialising in children’s books in the market. What makes My Imagination Kingdom different?
When I first started My Imagination Kingdom, I did a lot of research about the benefits of reading and how it impacts the growth and development of the child. And what I found, time and time again was the fact that reading to children, is one of the best ways for parents to bond with their child. And in this day and age, there are very few other activities that would offer the same level of quality bonding that reading aloud to your child provides.
With that objective in mind, we set about designing our online store to help parents fulfill that goal. Our books are first of all, categorized according to the recommended reading level for a child. For parents who are shopping online for a book for their child the first time, this helps guide them in the process quickly and efficiently.
Besides categorizing the books according to the recommended reading level, we also classify our books based on certain themes. Perhaps you might be looking for books that are suitable as bedtime stories, or books that are award-winning. If you’re such a parent, themes will help you to find what you’re looking for.
Since our main goal is to get more parents to read aloud to their children more often, we also have a dedicated section of books that are targeted at parents. Books that are curated for this section will offer resources, tools and techniques that will help parents in their reading aloud sessions.
Finally, we also maintain a blog where we interviewed mummy bloggers about their experiences with reading aloud. Through these articles, we hope we can provide valuable insights for parents to encourage them to read aloud more often to their children.
As you can see, the whole of My Imagination Kingdom is really greater than the sum of its parts. Put together, you have an online store but also a platform that is genuinely committed to the goal of helping parents to read aloud to their children. And that is not something that is offered by any of the other online stores specializing in children’s books at the moment.

What would you say are the benefits of shopping for books online, as compared to visiting a physical book store where one can touch and feel the books, or going to the library?
Before I answer this question, I would like to say that when I started My Imagination Kingdom, I never saw our online store as a competitor to the library or a physical bookstore. I feel that all these are important elements in a child’s reading ecosystem. The public library offers parents and children a selection of books that they would never have access to on their own. The physical book store offers children the opportunity to own their favourite books and gain access to it whenever they want to in their home library.
I see My Imagination Kingdom as a complement to these other elements. For parents that need a guided shopping process or a quicker/less time-consuming method to finding the books they need, our online store is the perfect solution for them. Through the online platform, they can read reviews of the books written by other parents or children so it can further assure them about the suitability of the book they intend to buy for their child. The reason why technology devices are often used to occupy the time of children today is because parents are so time-poor most of the time. By shopping online at My Imagination Kingdom, we help to facilitate the buying process so that parents can truly concentrate on the important things that matter – reading aloud to their children.

Recently, you interviewed several mums about their experiences reading aloud to their children. What inspired you to start that interview series? Does it resonate with your own beliefs to?
As you know, I’m not a mother myself at the moment. I wanted to find a way for our readers and parents to connect with other parents who understand the struggles and challenges of making time for reading aloud. No matter how much research I do, it would never be able to replace the invaluable experiences that mothers would have accumulated. And that’s why I started the interview series.

I understand that you are planning to have a family soon. What would you say is your parenting style? What is your belief when it comes to helping a child learn?
I haven’t really thought about this question before! But now that you’ve asked, let me attempt to answer your question.
First of all, I don’t think there’s one single type of parenting style that’s right. Depending on the temperament of the child, and the personality of the parents, the most effective parenting style would probably differ from one situation to the next. Having said that, whichever parenting style is adopted, it is important that the child always understands the reason behind any actions that are taken by the parent. Whether it is a reward for something done well, a punishment for bad behavior or even something that the child observes the parent doing, the child must always be taught to understand what is driving the parent’s action.
And that brings me to the next point about helping a child learn. A child learns through mimicking others. And for a young child, the key people they will be mimicking against are their parents and the people/characters they are exposed to in their daily lives. If a child sees an adult smoke, they are likely to pick up the actions of holding something between their fingers and inhaling it. Similarly, if a child watches a character on TV engaging in a certain behavior, they are likely to simulate that in their daily lives after watching the show. So I believe strongly in the thought of “leading by example”. In addition, for lessons or parallels that I would like to impart to the child which I cannot demonstrate because we have yet to experience it in our lives, there is no better way for a child to learn about it than to read about a book’s character doing it. Whether it is having the courage to stand up for what you believe in, or being confident of who you are and where you came from, children can learn about all this and more through books.

What three things do you think is most important for kids to learn in today's world?
The first thing, is the idea that we are one human race at the end of the day. With all the wars that are being fought (both big and small in our lives today), we seem more divided than ever as a human race. We forget that though we are different in many ways – our skin colour, our religion, our beliefs, our history, we are still very much the same in many others. We share the same biology, the same wants and the same home - Earth. If our children today do not learn this one important lesson and stop fighting amongst ourselves, we, the human race will be the cause of our own downfall.
The second thing that I would like them to learn, is that although we are all one human race at the end of the day, we are, funnily, different in our own unique ways. And the most wonderful thing about that is, if we are able to teach our children to respect each other for our differences, we will find so much more to celebrate in our differences. There’s so much we can learn, and so much we can take and give each other because of our differences. On top of that, not only should we learn to respect each other for our differences, we should also learn to respect all the living and breathing things that share this one planet with us. Because a human being is different from a lion which is different from a whale which is different from a tree, we all have our parts to play in order to co-exist in the same world together. Respect all these living things for who they are and how different they are from us. Because without even one of those elements, our existence on this planet could be threatened.
Finally, the last thing I’d like them to learn, is the power of one’s imagination. One of the most amazing things about the human brain is the ability to imagine something that isn’t present or even in existence at the moment, and have us behaving as if it were real. When we imagine slurping a bowl of hot noodles when we’re really hungry, our mouth starts wetting and our stomach starts churning because our body is behaving as if we’re really slurping a bowl of hot noodles. What this tells us, is the fact that no matter how impossible something may seem, if you think about it hard enough, you can literally make it come true by the sheer force of human will. So dream, and make sure it’s big, because only when you dream big, will you be able to make something big happen.

As a parent-to-be, what is the one thing you think parents should know, but don't?
Having done my research about the impact of technology devices on the lives of children, I am surprised that most parents don’t know this fact. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2”. I look at the young children around me today and most, if not all of them have had exposure to their parents’ smartphone devices as soon as they have the ability to grasp objects and pick them up. At that age, the recommendation is for them to interact with the world and people around them in an authentic and physical manner. Board books, especially are a great way for them to do that. So yes, I wish for more parents to be made aware of this very simple fact.

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Thank you, Jaclyn.

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