I used to read my daughter picture books. Now we’ve published one together.

How one father-daughter team turned a cherished childhood pastime into a story for other families to enjoy

  • 12 Jun 2024
Goodnight Crescent Moon, written by Burton Ong and illustrated by his daughter, Philippa

Goodnight Crescent Moon, written by Burton Ong and illustrated by his daughter Philippa, puts a Singaporean spin on the 1947 American classic Goodnight Moon.

“A lot of children’s classics are western, so I wanted to create the book I would have liked to read to my kids when they were younger,” says Burton Ong.

The law professor’s picture book debut, Goodnight Crescent Moon, is a patchwork of different experiences growing up in Singapore. It pays homage to Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon, where a narrator bids goodnight to various creatures, objects, and sights.

“My firstborn Sebastian loved Goodnight Moon so much that at one point, he could recite it from memory,” Burton recalls, “in many ways, this all started because of him.”
Goodnight Crescent Moon was inspired by years of reading bedtime stories as a family

Goodnight Crescent Moon was inspired by years of reading bedtime stories as a family. “It's a good way to wind down and bond,” says Burton, “especially if you’ve all had busy days.”

Within Goodnight Crescent Moon’s pages, readers will find everything from ships resting at the Port of Singapore to the Botanic Gardens Bandstand and nostalgic mamak shops lifted straight out of Burton’s own childhood.

But the project was personal for Burton in another way, too: its illustrator is none other than his fifteen-year-old daughter, Philippa Ong.

A family project

“Philippa has always been interested in art, so my wife Joyce and I wanted to give her an outlet to practice different skills and diversify her portfolio,” Burton says.

At school, Philippa’s classes emphasise traditional artforms like still-life studies and oil paintings. Her own interests, however, are far broader. 
One of Philippa's favourite drawings in Goodnight Crescent Moon is a double-page spread of tropical fruits

One of Philippa’s favourite drawings in Goodnight Crescent Moon is a double-page spread of tropical fruits. “I spent a lot of time on it,” she says, “I loved the variety of colours and shapes.”

“I like drawing fanart,” Philippa says, “and I read fantasy and sci-fi graphic novels like Plants vs. Zombies and the works of Neil Gaiman.” She cites comic book artists Ron Chan and Chris Riddell as influences.

Prior to illustrating Goodnight Crescent Moon, Philippa had little prior experience with digital art. Adding to this challenge was her school schedule, which forced her to work on illustrations during holidays or after school.

“This was a side project that couldn’t come at the expense of regular responsibilities,” Burton says, “so there were a lot of time management and prioritisation skills that she picked up along the way.”

“I just tried to do my homework really fast,” Philippa deadpans.

Burton and Philippa browsing a popup bookstore at the Asian Festival of Children's Content

Burton and Philippa browse a popup bookstore at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. While developing Goodnight Crescent Moon, “We visited bookshops to check out other local titles and visualise how ours would feel like next to them,” says Burton.

The duo also learned to work as collaborators. “Getting to work with Philippa was an opportunity to see each other outside of our usual parent-child roles,” says Burton, “I hope, in the process, she realised how much I respect her skills and point of view.”

For example, “There was a spread where my dad wanted me to draw the sky like in Van Gogh’s Starry Night,” says Philippa, “but I thought it would look too busy and out of place with the rest of the book.” 


Goodnight Crescent Moon otters

Goodnight Crescent Moon’s otter protagonists were Philippa’s brainchild, just one of the many personal touches she contributed to the book. Image courtesy of World Scientific Publishing.

Children will listen

“As you grow up, your perception of your parents shifts from someone who tells you what to do, to someone who (hopefully) is more of a guiding hand that can be reasoned with,” Burton says. 

He is conscious of giving his children more independence and freedom in their teen years, for example when it comes to Philippa’s creative talent.

“As a parent I could put pressure on her to ‘make something of it’, but I've seen my share of people who were pushed too hard and who lost their passion.” he says, “What she does next is entirely up to her, I never want to be prescriptive about things.”


Burton Ong delivering a talk organised by the Singapore Book Council

Burton brought his career experiences researching and teaching intellectual property law to bear when he delivered a talk on copyright in children's fiction, organised by Singapore Book Council. Image courtesy of Singapore Book Council.

For now, Philippa is toying with new ideas including writing her own stories. “If I ever became a filmmaker,” she says, “I would want to do my own practical effects or sculpt and paint props and sets.”

Another father-daughter collaboration is not off the table either. “I'd like to write for a slightly older audience if there is a next time,” says Burton, “maybe Philippa could draw in a more mature style that reflects who she is becoming as an illustrator.”

Burton co-wrote and edited books like Contract Law in Singapore: Cases, Materials and Commentary and International Copyright Law and Practice, but he never expected to publish a children’s book.

“I always enjoyed creative writing at school and even took courses as an extracurricular. When I wrote Goodnight Crescent Moon it was like exercising a part of my brain that laid dormant for years.”

Goodnight Crescent Moon is available at libraries and bookstores across Singapore.