Accepting the invitation from the school in March 2018, I was privileged to share about my journey to publishing my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, at a Book Talk event organised with some 30 student leaders at SMK Dato Jaafar.
I then discovered that school principal, Mohd Hanafi Samad, is my regular reader and was among the first to buy my books, even before they were officially launched.
With his approval, a group photo captured at my Book Talk 2018 was featured in the cover design of the 2018 edition of their school magazine, the Jaafarian.
Book Talk teacher-in-charge, Dr. Navinder Kaur d/o Dhiraj Singh, was a guest at the launch of my next book, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People, and she told me that another Book Talk event will be arranged with me in 2019.
This time it was organised by the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) Panel in a District Level event with 160 Form Six students from eight schools.
These students from Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar (English College), SMK Sultan Ismail, SMK Aminuddin Baki, SMK Tasek Utara, SMK Mutiara Rini, SMK Tanjong Adang, SMK Skudai and SMK Dato Jaafar, would be accompanied by their teachers.
Dr. Navinder explained that these monthly Book Talks with invited speakers, aim to create more learning opportunities to mould active student leaders.
As we discussed the objectives of my Book Talk with the students, Dr. Navinder and I agreed that it should focus on sharing valuable tips for writing more effectively.
Dr. Navinder had identified that most students needed help to overcome their fear and anxiety of writing so I should consider sharing some points to encourage them.
I am, however, fully aware that present-day students in this information explosion era, have plenty more distractions than my generation especially when everyone owns a smart-phone and are so tech-savvy that all their leisure hours are spent on their devices.
The challenge to keep students focused on developing their own potential is an uphill battle for educationists the world over and it is no different in our local schools.
While pondering over the material that I should share to encourage the students, I happened to read about environmentalists who are advocating the ban on plastic straws.
In another article I read that people are encouraged to use natural products like dried loofah to shower and wash dishes instead of manufactured synthetic sponges.
From reliable reports that were supported by horrific photos, I gathered that the world is paying the price of modernisation and is now making a definite U-Turn to literally go-back-to-basics.
I had a sudden flashback to dish-washing in our grandmother’s kitchen – which was done using a handful of dried loofah – and was gripped by how experts are now advocating its use again. The old-fashioned way is still the best way!
As a published author, I know that no matter what the experts say, there is really no short-cut to acquiring the skills to writing effectively.
The only way is from a firm foundation with a good grasp on grammar and punctuation, a wide vocabulary, a fondness for reading and most importantly, a passion for writing.
I share the concern of teachers because we know that unless students acquire enough vocabulary, grammar and basic writing skills to write with confidence, they will end up in college and university, struggling to write their thesis or dissertation.
With this in mind, I decided to share my experience, trusting that the students who are truly keen to learn, may pick up the important facts and be inspired and challenged by what I would tell them in, Reading & Writing: From hobby to career.
So there I stood in front of the students and teachers gathered in the school hall of SMK Dato Jaafar, the event’s host school, and started with a brief introduction of myself: an ordinary Johor-born girl who grew up in Johor Bahru and studied in primary and secondary school, very much like them.
I introduced my parents and grandparents and talked about growing up in Masai and Jalan Ngee Heng in JB, which was a walking distance to my school, and how I was encouraged to develop my hobbies in reading and writing, through receiving gifts of books since childhood.
I brought my well-thumbed dictionaries to show and advised them not to be lazy but to look up the meanings of words because unless we know the meanings of the words in any language, we cannot use words effectively.
They saw how my little Malay-to-English and English-to-Malay dictionary was literally falling apart and my Oxford Pocket Dictionary – a well-used gift from my dad – was dog-eared and tattered.
I then challenged the students to keep a journal to write new words and meanings so that they can review the words and benefit by Learning-A-Word-Day.
My reading habit did not start with reading thick volumes but it was simply through looking at impressive photographs in issues of Life, a magazine my dad subscribed for and from reading comics. Yes, cartoons!
I also brought our family’s Lat comic books to show the students that we can even learn about current affairs through comics such as these.
I first started reading jokes and riddles in a quality magazine like the Reader’s Digest but Word Power was a page here that helped to widen my knowledge and vocabulary.
To illustrate the importance of general knowledge and vocabulary, I invited ten students to participate in a game and was pleased that they met my challenge to think on their feet.
Then I continued with sharing interesting details about my eventful journey that culminated with two published books – something that certainly did not happen overnight.
Thank you MUET Panel, for the privilege to be a positive influence on young minds.
Long after the event was over, I’m still smiling as I recall a question from the Question & Answer session where a student had asked, “Is there going to be a third book?”