Hong Kong singer-songwriter Khalil Fong can now add a new title to his creative portfolio – that of children’s author.
This month, Fong, 35, who was born in Hawaii, in the United States, launched the first three books in his bilingual series of Emi The Dream Catcher graphic novels – his first attempt at writing for youngsters.
With 330,000 Instagram followers, thanks to his successful music career, Fong launched a social media campaign to invite 30 fans to an exclusive launch party for the books – The Secret of the Golden Bricks, Saving Snowy and The Tree of Life – at the greenhouse-style vegetarian restaurant, Grassroots Pantry, in Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan.
He plans to publish three books each year, as part of the series that is expected to go on for 10 years. That’s 30 books in total.
The stories all focus on Emi, a Chinese girl who goes on adventures with whimsical creatures in her dreams.
The books see her fighting evil robots, frolicking in an organic ice cream playground and solving ancient architectural puzzles.
Fong is a vegetarian and a believer in the Baha’i faith – a religion teaching the essential worth of all religions, and the unity and equality of all people – and hopes to spread the message of moral integrity and following a green lifestyle through his words.
These ideas are featured in the pages of his stories, including (spoiler alert) the catastrophic aftermath of deforestation and scoops of all-natural, preservative-free ice cream.
Fong has written a bilingual theme song, featuring his signature style, combining rhythm and blues, soul and Chinese melodies, for the books, alongside producing a music video that shows animated characters that appear in his stories.
Read our Q&A with Fong to learn more about the production process of these novels:
1. What is the story behind writing your first children’s books?
I was always a big fan of [American] children’s television programmes, such as Sesame Street and Mister Rogers. These shows would often have a great balance of entertainment and thoughtful things to say.
One of my favourite books as a child was The Giving Tree. It is simple, to the point and tells a universal story that compels us to think about many aspects and the meaning of life.
During the past 10 years I had often heard parents comment on a lack of meaningful children’s material on the market and that thought stuck with me
Khalil Fong, singer-songwriter and children’s author
During the past 10 years I have often heard parents comment on a lack of meaningful children’s material on the market and that thought stuck with me.
Another main factor for this series was because of the fact that, before my mother became my full-time business manager, she [worked as an educator and] had her own children’s curriculum.
More than 10 years ago, I had promised her that one day I would come up with a new method to convey the same principles and concepts she presented in her previous programme.
Five years ago I finally began the creation of Emi The Dream Catcher – a graphic novel for kids.
2. What was the inspiration behind the characters Emi and Zier?
Emi is actually the name of my niece. My cousin adopted a child from China and I have a lot of admiration and respect for people who opt for adoption. It is a service to humanity and I thought it would be the perfect inspiration for the character of my stories.
In my story however, Emi isn’t an orphan. She is child from Shanghai who has the ability to have lucid dreams and in her dreams she travels to amazing places and gains insight and awareness from these adventures.
She has a dream friend named 紫兒 (zǐ ér), or Zier, which translates as “Little Purple”. Coincidentally, I found that Zier in German means ornamental and in relation to adornment, which also worked in the context with the virtues aspect of the stories.
He has a special role and represents something very important which will eventually be revealed as the series develops.
Emi’s dreams can take her to any place her imagination leads her. These could be triggered by events that happen to her in her daily life, her inspirations, aspirations, tests or challenges … [they help] her in becoming more aware of her relationship with the world around her and how everything is interconnected and interdependent
3. Emi traverses across traditional Chinese and futuristic settings in the series. How did these scenes come about?
Emi’s dreams can take her to any place her imagination leads her. These could be triggered by events that happen to her in her daily life, her inspirations, aspirations, tests or challenges.
They say our subconscious helps us to deal with real life matters and I think that is definitely happening for Emi as well.
Her dreams are a kind of system that aids her in becoming more aware of her relationship with the world around her and how everything is interconnected and interdependent.
4. In one sentence, what is the most important takeaway for your young readers?
I think they will be able to find something new each time they read it and, as their perception and perspectives grow, they will relate differently with the stories and see things in a new light.
5. How do these ideas resonate with your faith and philosophy of life?
I think for any positive change to happen, it must start with individual initiative.
Children have a greater potential for this since they are less jaded and generally more intuitive.
I think these stories are a reminder to myself and others of the things we should be mindful of, to create a better society for future generations.
I think children will be able to find something new each time they read [the books] and, as their perception and perspectives grow, they will relate differently with the stories and see things in a new light
6. Are there any ‘creative interactions’ between your music and your books?
Currently, each book will have a bilingual theme song. You can find the EP on iTunes and various digital streaming platforms as well as the lyric videos on our YouTube channel.
I wanted the songs to be both in English and Mandarin so that all children – no matter their background – could, from an early age, be accustomed to a bilingual mindset.
I believe the majority of the future generation will be speaking multiple languages at a young age.
We are still in the early stages, but we will be slowly adding animated shorts that pertain to backstories and characters found within each of the books.
6. Is there any plan to turn Emi’s adventures into a cartoon series, since the music videos have already animated the stories?
After we eventually publish 30 books who knows what could happen?
If this picks up around the world some day the possibilities are endless.
My mother and I have initial plans to create a new curriculum based on these stories and start an Emi learning centre when the time and resources are in place.
7. How did you put together the team to work on the books?
It took us about a year to search online for the perfect illustrators and eventually I found who I was looking for in Spain.
I had [in mind] a very specific style and vibe that was very difficult to find. We now have a small team assembled and my hope is to gradually expand and speed up the publications.
8. What do you think children in Hong Kong lack the most nowadays?
Time to dream.