The Making of ‘The Herp Squad and the Mystery of the Missing Bluebird’

In 2019, we were approached by the Raffles Ecological Literacy Programme to advise a group of students, as they created a children’s book about Singapore’s biodiversity. Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity. Joon Khai, Pyari, Seng Kitt, Shanyl, Dayna, Justine and Sheu Wen published an amazing book titled ‘The Herp Squad and the Mystery of the Missing Bluebird’. We’ve asked them to give us an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how they put this book together.

Last year, we published The Herp Squad and the Mystery of the Missing Bluebird, a children’s book about a team of herps solving the disappearance of a bluebird.

The Cover Page!

This book project was an extension of the Raffles Ecological Literacy Programme, allowing us to raise environmental awareness through a creative medium. Contrary to popular belief, Singapore has a wealth of biodiversity, making it tough to focus on a specific group of animals in our book. However, we wanted to highlight a group of animals that are typically negatively perceived. Hence, we decided to showcase herps. 

The team behind the Herp Squad! From left to right we have Joon Khai, Pyari, Seng Kitt, Shanyl, illustrator Sheu Wen, Dayna (Not pictured: illustrator Justine)

Initially, we came up with numerous ideas, the most prominent being a snake tackling body image issues. However, after speaking to our mentors, we realised that our story didn’t have a clear focus. We also learnt that most people tend to react negatively to herps. For example, one of our mentors recounted how a snake accidentally wandered into a kindergarten, and the terrified teachers bludgeoned the poor snake to death. While any story with a herp protagonist can indirectly address this stigma, we realised that the revulsion for herps was so pervasive that we wanted to tackle it directly.

Before finalising our plot, we embarked on two field trips – one to the Pasir Ris Mangroves and another along Old Upper Thomson Road, with our mentor Sankar and other HSS members, to get a closer look at herps. During these trips, we encountered many different herps, such as the Mangrove Pit Viper, the Dog-faced Water Snake, Oriental Whip Snake and even caught a glimpse of a Monitor lizard sleeping on a tree branch! We were amazed at the sheer variety of local herps and how close they lived to urban areas. After hearing stories from the HSS members, their passion for herps inspired us to do herps justice in our book. 

A picture of an oriental whip snake taken by Joon Khai during our field trip to Old Upper Thomson Road

It was back to the drawing board for us. It was then that we noticed that herps tend to be villains in most stories, hence we wanted to portray them as heroes instead. Eventually, we came up with a detective team consisting of a Dark-sided Chorus Frog, a Paradise Tree Snake, a Malayan Box Terrapin and a Green-crested Lizard – some of the most interesting herps you can find in Singapore! 

An initial line sketch of Sierra the paradise tree snake
A draft character sheet for Sierra. Here, Sierra was drawn with enlarged front fangs. This isn’t accurate, as Paradise Tree Snakes are rear-fanged. This was corrected in later drafts. 

The detective team would then work together, using their unique traits as ‘powers’ to help them rescue a missing animal and save the day! In doing so, we hope to change the negative image of herps.

A page from our very first mockbook of the ‘Herp Squad’. Disclaimer: drawn by a non artist (Pyari). 
The same page from the first draft of the Herp Squad with much better illustration provided by our resident art club members Sheu Wen and Justine

Overall, writing a children’s book was definitely challenging but infinitely rewarding. As a group, we realised that educating children about Singapore’s environment and inculcating an appreciation for it is important in shaping the next generation to care more about wildlife. Although not all wildlife is cuddly and lovable, each and every animal is fascinating and important in its own right. We hope that this book not only educates children about herps but also shows them that herps aren’t as scary as we think and are worth loving too!

Our storytelling session at NLB, where children joined the herp squad in solving the mystery through an interactive puppet show.

Lastly, if you’re interested in reading our book, you can check it out at the link below:

Read The Herp Squad and the Mystery of the Missing Bluebird

Special thanks to Joon Khai, Pyari, Seng Kitt, Shanyl, Dayna, Justine, Sheu Wen and Mr Tan Sijie from Raffles Institution for their amazing work and dedication!

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