Picture Book Review: Lili by Award Winning Author-Illustrator Wen Dee Tan

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A Quick Look at this Picture Book

Lili is an elegantly illustrated picture book by award winning Malaysian author illustrator Wen Dee Tan about a seemingly ordinary little girl… until we see her fiery red-hot hair! Lili’s “different” hair makes it hard for her to make friends. However, when she shows bravery in leading some lost village children to safety, things change.


Why You Should Read Lili

  • Lili has crossover appeal – suitable for everyone from ages 1 to 99+.
  • It conveys important messages: Being different is not a bad thing; be brave enough to be yourself; appreciate diversity. These are important messages for a multicultural, multifaceted country like ours.
  • Nice interplay between the words and pictures, with creatively drawn pictures that amplify the reading experience – a mark of a good picture book.
  • Wen Dee Tan’s clean and crisp illustrations. She cleverly draws attention to Lili’s hair by keeping everything else in black and white. Some pages I really liked include: Lili skipping and her hair singeing the arch of the rope; the spread with the wolves, children and Lili – I love how it pans from the bottom corner of the right page (where eyeballs naturally move) to the upper corner of left page like a movie scene; and happy children toasting marshmallows on Lili’s hair
  • While the price may deter some parents, try to think of these type of books as evergreen – and you are teaching your children how to appreciate beautiful works of art.
  • The book deals with fire, a topic considered taboo and dangerous for young children. However, it is better for children to learn about such topics within the safe confines of the home with parental intervention. The book does not mention “fire” anywhere but we can “feel” the heat of Lili’s hair. It shows how fire can be useful but also harmful. You can use this to start interesting conversations with your child e.g. What is fire? What does it feel like? Why is it useful? How can it be harmful? etc.
  • The book has just the right amount of text and pictures to engage with early readers. It can also make a great gift for an appreciative adult.


How My 2-Year Old Twins Responded to this Book

I recently started introducing concepts like hot, cold, light and dark as well as feelings such as happy, sad, scared and angry to my twins. So, this book came in very handy. My kids enjoy pretending Lili’s hair is really “hot” by touching it and quickly pulling their hands back while saying “hot!” loudly.

The simple yet engaging story arc – a relatable character, a bit of adventure plus a happy ending makes for good bedtime reading. I like that it is a book that can grow with my kids. When they are older, we can use it to discuss what it means to be different and the importance of being yourself.

Many parents shy away from wordless picture books or those with minimal text, thinking that these are “not value for money” or they can’t “read” these to their children. Actually, with such books, you have room to tailor the story to your children’s activities and interests; compared to more generic readers that don’t allow for creative storytelling. In books like Lili, we can point out details related to daily life to encourage conversations with young children, which will help with their speech development.

Links on Wen Dee Tan and Lili:

I look forward to more books from Wen Dee Tan. It is nice to be able to support good local talent whilst celebrating good picture books.

This book is available at Kinokuniya Bookstore in KLCC Suria.

Image Credit: Amazon & Wen Dee Tan.

Li-Hsian left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role. She is also currently the co-facilitator of the Art Discovery Tours for Kids and coordinator of children's programmes at the ILHAM Gallery in KL.