Sunday Scares #2: Kids’ Books

In honour of Halloween, this October instead of my weekly Sunday Sofa Sojourns posts I will list a few of my favourite creepy things. Last week, I wrote about horror graphic novels.

Today I found out I’ve been blessed with a new niece! We’re beyond-the-moon excited.

It’s also amazing timing, because this week I’m talking about three of my favourite scary books for young children*. Because you know, #momlife.


1) The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs”

The Gashlycrumb Tinies teaches your young one the ABCs, except with a deliciously morbid twist. To my mind, it’s classic gothic, gory Gorey. (Fact: In my head, I read Gorey in my best parody of a British accent. I don’t know why; his writing just seems to call for it.)

In the book, 26 children with names that start from A to Z die in various memorable and macabre ways. Each of the deaths is illustrated in black-and-white pen-and-ink illustrations, with detailed hatching and cross-hatching characteristic of Gorey’s art.

Source: The New Yorker

Is the book dangerous reading for kids? I don’t think so. (The concept is not too different from the hilarious Dumb Ways to Die PSA from the Melbourne Metro that went viral some years ago.) You can’t exactly say “Kids, don’t try this at home!”, because most of the children in the book don’t exactly try to do anything harmful. Things just happen. How do you warn against wasting away, getting sucked dry by a leech, or an assault by bears?

Source: Metro Trains Melbourne

On the positive side, with The Gashlycrumb Tinies you can teach your little one fun, new words like devoured, awl, and ennui.

A highly recommended read.

2) Ma-Me-Mi-MUMU! by Jomike Tejido

“Siguro may mumu sa bahay namin. Kasi ang mumu, sa dilim daw nakatira. Baka isang gabi, bigla ko pang makita!”

Jomike Tejido’s Ma-Me-Mi-MUMU! is a wholesome take on Philippine ghostly folklore, through the eyes of little Sophia and her Lolo Nanding. The book begins with a neighbourhood boy taunting Sophia, saying, “May mumu sa bahay n’yo!” (“There’s a ghost in your house!”) Sophia is afraid of encountering a mumu in her house — and imagines one in the shadows of the kitchen, in the bathroom, or just about wherever she goes.

Our well-thumbed copy

Lolo Nanding helps her overcome her fear of monsters by presenting each of them in a friendlier light. Tejido makes clever use of these creatures’ real traits as a way for Sophia to bond with them. For example, Lolo Nanding encourages her to cheerfully splash any siyokoy she sees in the bathtub. (In local folklore, a siyokoy is a half-human, half-fish monster with sharp teeth, known to drown and consume humans.) Similarly, Lolo Nanding suggests that Sophia use the tiktik’s long, snaking tongue to paraglide; teach the tiyanak, a vampiric monster baby, his ABCs; or give the kapre, a cigar-smoking giant thought to reside in big trees, some pakwan (watermelon) candy so he’d dump his cigar.

There’s a picture gallery at the back of all the creatures mentioned in the book. It’s also bilingual in English and Filipino, so you can help your little one learn the language too.

A fun introduction for kids to the Philippine supernatural.

3) Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann (English translation)

“When the children have been good / That is, be it understood / Good at meal-times, good at play / Good all night and good all day / They shall have all the pretty things / Merry Christmas always brings. / Naughty, romping girls and boys / Tear their clothes and make a noise / Spoil their pinafores and frocks / And deserve no Christmas box. / Such as these shall never look / At this pretty Picture-Book.”

In one of The Office’s hilarious episodes called “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” Dwight Schrute whips out a book that his German “Grandmutter” used to read to him. He starts to tell the kids about a tall tailor that visits children who keep on sucking their thumbs – if they do, the tailor takes his great sharp scissors out and cuts their thumbs clean off.

Dwight on The Office. Source: NBC

Friends, lucky for us this book really exists. It’s called Struwwelpeter (translated as “Shock-headed Peter”) and the rest of the stories are just as weird as the one above (which is called ‘The Story of Little Suck-A-Thumb’). Best of all – it’s illustrated in colour!

Struwwelpeter was first published in 1845 and has delighted and scared German children for nearly two centuries since. Hoffman wrote the books as a Christmas present for his three-year-old son.

It’s delightfully graphic, with tales of “the often-gruesome consequences that befall children who torment animals, play with matches, suck their thumbs, refuse to eat, fidget at meals, etc.” Such consequences include being burnt to nothing but ash (‘The Dreadful Story About Harriet and the Matches’), wasting to death (‘The Story of Augustus Who Would Not Have Any Soup’), and a possible rabies infection (‘The Story of Cruel Frederick’).

The titular character’s unkempt appearance. Check out those witchy nails

One of the tales, ‘The Story of the Inky Boys’, is an interesting one – here, Agrippa dips three boys in a giant pot of black ink for teasing a “harmless black-a-moor”: “Boys, leave the black-a-moor alone! / For if he tries with all his might / He cannot change from black to white.” Agrippa’s punishment leaves the bullies as silhouettes that are “as black as crows.” While at first glance, it seems like a lesson in tolerance, I wonder about the punishment as it suggests the colour black itself has negative connotations. Food for thought. But also do bear in mind this was published in the 1800s.

If you’re looking for a sure-fire way to teach the kids to finish their food and stop bothering the family pets, here you go! Bonus nightmare fuel too, haha.


I know some of you may be thinking “Well, these stories are too scary to read to my precious wee ones” but you know what: kids are smarter than we give them credit for.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Afterword in Struwwelpeter:

“Many educators, from the book’s earliest days, have had ideological objections to the violence of the action and the drastic fates of the disobedient children, but young readers and listeners over the decades have seen the humour in the impossibly exaggerated situations, and have endorsed Hoffman’s pedagogic views by taking the book to their hearts.”

As always, I hope you enjoyed my short list. Till next week! 👻

Think critically dear readers,

* No Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” or Goosebumps or the Stephen Gammell-illustrated version of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” here; those are for older kids. I’ll save that for next year.

Sunday Scares #1: Graphic Novels

We blinked and it’s October!

You may already know that I like spooky things. So, I thought that for today and the next three Sundays, instead of my weekly #SundaySofaSojourns I will list a few of my favourite creepy things to celebrate the season – nay, the Mood – that is Halloween.

If you’re thinking “Well this year is already horrific enough as it is without adding zombies into the mix” then it might interest you to know that watching films / reading fiction / engaging with the horror genre has been found to be useful in this Covid-19 era. A recent study concluded that “exposure to frightening fictions allow audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.” (You’re welcome!)

This week, I’m listing down three of my favourite horror graphic novels.

In my view, the graphic novel as a medium adds another layer of immersion to any story. It works especially well for the horror genre – to see a shock of bright red or dark moody hatchwork complement the black-and-white text next to it amps up the scare factor for me by several notches.

Creepy Post-it artwork by John Kenn

Here are three of my picks…


1) Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

“It came from the woods. Most strange things do.”

Through the Woods has five original stories, not counting ‘An Introduction’ and ‘In Conclusion.’ I like that Carroll’s stories are mostly about women — a lady trying to uncover the terrible mystery of her sprawling, dark manor and her husband with red-stained lips in A Lady’s Hands Are Cold; three sisters dealing with a bruising winter in the unsettling mystery of Our Neighbour’s House; a lonely girl whose mother’s cautionary tales saved her life as she uncovered her pretty sister-in-law’s hidden secret in The Nesting Place; and the sinister story of two brothers in His Face All Red (also published in full on Carroll’s website – check it out. Don’t miss Out of Skin and The Prince & The Sea too).

Opening panel in His Face All Red. (Source)

‘In Conclusion’ had a Red Riding Hood-like character narrowly missing the wolf in the forest, and expressing immense relief as she tucked in for the night. Suddenly, she hears something speak:

“Oh, but you must travel through those woods again & again…” said a shadow at the window. “…and you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…

But the wolf …the wolf only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.”

Add the jet-blacks and blood-reds colouring her eerie yet haunting art, her spindly elegant handwriting, the oppressiveness of her snowy landscapes, lonesome houses in the woods, and the nostalgic Victorian and 1920s fashion — and Through the Woods ticks all my horror-loving boxes.

2) Trese series by Budjette Tan and artist Kajo Baldisimo

“When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions. When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.”

I would not be exaggerating when I say the Trese series is a rare and very welcome find for me in the graphic novel medium, let alone the horror genre. There’s hardly any Filipino representation out there, as far as I’m aware. (If you know of others, please let me know in the comments.) Bonus points for having a strong and independent woman as the lead character.

In the Trese series, we follow Malate club owner and police consultant Alexandra Trese and her trusty hitmen the Kambal. Trese gets called in to cases that involve the supernatural.

The characters in Trese are as old and familiar as childhood, but with a modern twist – helpful nuno sa punso (who now live in underground sewers instead of soil mounds), well-off tikbalang who’ve upgraded their usual balete tree home to a Makati penthouse, a typhoon deity who watches over an exclusive urban village (as long as the residents made the right sacrifices).

The settings are also recognisable: Manila South Cemetery in Case 6: The Outpost on Kalayaan Street, also considered home by many poor squatter families in makeshift houses (“… and some find themselves joining the dead all too soon”); a crowded MRT train in Case 13: An Act of War, and gritty Manila in Case 1: At the Intersection of Balete and 13th Street from the first Trese book, Murder on Balete Drive.

Trese, redrawn for the US market. Source: Comics Beat

There’s even a nod to local urban legends, for example the snake-like creature that supposedly stalked people in Robinson’s Galleria in the ‘90s (remember that?) in Case 7: Embrace of the Unwanted, which is set in the fictional Robertson Mall.

If you’re looking for a highly engaging and modern introduction to Philippine myth and folklore, I recommend reading Trese. I heard that Netflix will adapt it as an animated series this year. I can’t wait.

3) Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror by Junji Ito

“Spirals… this town is contaminated with spirals…”

Ito is the first artist that comes to my mind when I think about how artwork complements the story in graphic novels.

In Uzumaki, the phenomenon is never explained fully. Kurozu-cho, a small fictional town in Japan, is haunted by a pattern: the spiral (or uzumaki in Japanese – Naruto fans would know this 😉). Spirals start to manifest itself in everything – townspeople start to become obsessed with it, hair independently shapes itself into spiral curls, pregnant women gorge on spiral-covered mushrooms with alarming consequences.

As a pitch, the plot sounds utterly ridiculous: “Town is cursed, driven mad, and ultimately fucked over by spirals.” Err, say what?

But Ito’s artwork makes all the difference. It manages to mesmerise and be deeply uncomfortable at the same time, and is peak form in Uzumaki. It’s my favourite of his many works because the story builds, with all the seemingly unconnected short chapters starting to make sense as the main characters hurtle towards the end. (Watch out for Chapter 8: The Snail. I could not get the imagery of the snail people out of my head for days.)

You’ll never look at a spiral the same way again.


I’ll stop at three so I still have some to talk about for next October haha. Hope you enjoyed this list. Till next week! 👻

Think critically dear readers,

Life in Miniature

I originally wrote this post back in June.

I had never heard of book nooks until earlier this year, when I stumbled upon a subreddit dedicated to them. It’s a shelf insert for bookshelves, a little world sandwiched between your books. Book nooks combined two of my favourite things: books and miniatures. So, I instantly fell in love.

I wanted one! However, I had neither the time nor the creative muscle to make one of my own, so I was elated to find June (she’s on Instagram and Etsy). She’s a veterinarian by day and a book nook maker in her spare time. It’s amazing how much detail goes into each of her pieces. She makes each of the little books in her little libraries by hand, wraps teeny packages with bits of string, sews tiny cushions and upholsters doll-sized couches — you get the idea.

Her book nooks have themes: Harry Potter (very popular), vintage libraries, coffee shops, even an incredible Peter Pan-inspired nook (I spotted a small hook on the bedside table!).

Off to Neverland (Source: June’s Book Nooks)

I eventually landed on this particular book nook, which is one of the more topical ones in her portfolio. As soon as I saw it back in May, I knew “Main Street 2020” was special. My book nook arrived around a month after I ordered it, in bubble wrap and packing peanuts, all the way from Ohio. Notwithstanding the theme, I still can’t believe how gorgeously detailed it is. Can you guess what it’s about?

There are miniature hand sanitisers, face masks, and toilet paper (limit 1!) in the window display…

“Flatten the curve” signs and tiny newspapers announcing closures and lockdowns…

Cheap flights anyone…?

Even the road in front of the shop is marked out with little “X’s” for safe distancing.

It’s still grim out there. But with all the stress and the strangeness these past months have brought upon everyone, there is a small sense of comfort that this experience is universal.

Think critically dear readers,

Our Happy Place

One of my favourite books is a book about books, ‘Ex Libris’ by Anne Fadiman. In one of her essays, she describes her parents’ library, with her dad and mom between them having “about seven thousand books.” In another she writes about having so many books in her loft that it “had come to look less and less like a home and more and more like a second-hand bookstore.”

While I don’t have a thousand (yet!), like Fadiman, I sometimes feel like we live in a bookstore too (think homely BOOKSALE rather than chic Kinokuniya). Back when Hub and I lived in London, I managed to accumulate a Billy-bookcase-and-a-half’s worth of books, aided in no small part by a wealth of choices (it was a literature lover’s paradise), cheap prices, and the convenience of book-shopping via Amazon.

Since we moved to Singapore, the family library has ballooned to nearly three tall Billy bookcases, not to mention my kid’s own growing collection. We were running out of space…!

It was such a joy for us then, to find out early last year that they were opening a library in a mall close to our condo. From zero bookstores within a mile radius to thousands of books at our doorstep! Bye-bye Amazon! It truly felt like Christmas had come early.

As a non-citizen, all I needed to do was pay a S$10.50 one-off registration fee (around Php 400) and a S$42.80 annual membership fee (around Php 1,520), and I could start borrowing up to 16 physical books straightaway. On top of that, I could borrow up to 16 e-books, so the total number I could check out was 32.

I don’t think I ever maxed this limit out borrowing books for myself, but the fees were truly worth it when it came to book choices for our kid. The selection of books we could read to him increased exponentially from what was on his little shelf. It made our routine “story-time bedtime” more interesting (both for him listening and us reading).

A trip to the mall library became almost like a weekly family ritual: we dropped by before a run to the grocery, while killing time waiting for a movie, after eating dinner out.

During the circuit breaker period though, libraries were one of those places deemed “higher risk” and were told to close. We thought they wouldn’t open until Phase Three. But – joy! – the government announced libraries across the country could open on July 1st.

We all wanted to visit it immediately, especially my kid. He’d been stuck reading the same old stuff from his bookshelves and I could tell he was getting bored.

But there were now a few extra steps we needed to do:

  • Pre-book our visit online. We were only allowed to stay in 30-minute time blocks and the online booking had to be done at most the day before the visit. The government’s message was clear – get in, get your book, and go home. But… but… who does that?! Libraries are made for aimless wandering.
  • Check the crowd levels before our visit. I admit, this feature is pretty useful. This link shows which libraries are crowded in real-time, so you can avoid the crowds and save yourself a walk. I would use it, even if we weren’t safe distancing!
  • Have our temperature checked and “check-in” by QR Code or government ID before entering. Like all other places now open in Singapore, there was a compulsory infrared thermometer scan at the entrance. We also had to check in via SafeEntry, the country’s national visitor management system, for easy contact tracing.

Of course, this didn’t stop us and we made it to the library – our library – yesterday. It took all of my kid’s self-control not to sprint through the entrance checks.

We had it to ourselves. There was a section right outside the library where the clouds reflected against the windows. It looked stunning, as if the books met the sky.

It dawned on me then that this truly was our family’s happy place.

Best 30 minutes spent this week.

Think critically dear readers,