Bridging Cultures and Imaginations Through Children’s Literature 

November 21, 2023

In the Lower Mainland’s diverse literary scene, former Hong Kong English teacher William Ng is making waves as a graduate student in the MEd in Curriculum & Instruction: Children’s and Young Adult Literature program. In his first term, Ng seeks to explore the captivating world of children’s stories, intersecting culture, language, and visual arts.

Discovering a Calling

Before joining Simon Fraser University, Ng taught English in a Hong Kong secondary school, laying the foundation for his profound interest in comforting language and visual arts. "I often found myself sharing touching, eloquent, and witty texts in my lessons to explore coming-of-age and acceptance issues with my teenage students," Ng shared. “With this amateur interest further intersecting with my profession, I began seeing the need to gain better exposure to this genre in a systematic and reflective manner.”

His motivation and desire to be more engaged and responsive to his students’ diverse needs and backgrounds led him to SFU’s MEd program, which drew him in instantly. "A responsive literary education program in an inclusive and progressive community!? That lightbulb moment led me to apply and pursue my graduate studies overseas," he exclaimed.

Influences and Insights 

For Ng, the roots of his passion and interest in children’s and young adult literature trace back to a search for identity and understanding. "What are other people experiencing in other worlds, whether fictional or biographical? What qualities of them do I want to possess in the future?" he pondered. His influences include a rich tapestry of Japanese manga and animations, and the works of Western storytellers like Oscar Wilde, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling.

The transition from Hong Kong to SFU has provided Ng with fresh insights into the traditions and stylistics of children's literature. "Children's texts, from cover to cover, are always a concerted process and product contributed by a web of interacting elements," he explained. This newfound awareness encouraged him to rethink conventional understandings of children, childhood, and children's literature, which continues to guide him throughout his studies.

Cultural Context Challenges

Navigating a new cultural context in the Lower Mainland in his first semester has been challenging for Ng. However, he has found warmth from the region’s respective and welcoming nature along with his classmates and professors at SFU. "Coming from a predominantly Chinese population, I find it heart-warmingly perceptive that Vancouver, and Canada, strive to be respectful and conscious of people’s diverse social and cultural backgrounds," shares Ng. 

"The lively and rigorous discussions together with the experiential learning activities in and out of the classroom have already heightened my awareness of the traditions and stylistics of children’s literature and are teaching me to better understand and support community members of different walks of life – First Nations, gender identities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, cultural identities, and many more.” 

Nurturing the Future

Ng’s dedication to exploring coming-of-age matters with children and youth remains unwavering. "In my studies at SFU, I will carry on my research on engaging and culturally responsive texts, touching upon diverse topics and concerns relevant to our community and, more importantly, our younger generation," he declared.

Volunteering for literacy organizations while pursuing his master’s is crucial to Ng’s mission. "By reading aloud books with children in educational settings, I aim to reacquaint them with their inner resources and wisdom from cultures in their communities," he explained. Ng sees children's literature as a transformative force, fostering a cultural foundation shared among community members.

A Transformative Journey

Ng recently attended the Vancouver Writers Fest, a week-long festival connecting people to exceptional books, ideas, and dialogue. Ng described his first time attending the festival as "magical" and emphasized the power of storytelling to create understanding within a community. His fond memory includes a masterclass session on the picture book "Maybe a Whale," where the immersive experience mesmerized audiences of all ages.

“Inside the theatre, a soft spotlight, along with the soothing sound of waves, brought the attention of the kindergarten, university, and public audience towards a tent where Kirsten and Crystal eventually revealed themselves. Sitting next to a campfire prop, Kirsten read aloud and guided us through the protagonist’s kayak trip with her mother after her grandfather’s decease to hear his most-loved animal, whales. This immersive experience mesmerized us, stimulating young and adult readers’ inquisitive minds to relate, learn and empathize with others. It was a moving experience where I felt how a story coalesced individuals into an understanding community.”

Resonating with works by authors like Thao Lam, Karl Newson, Kirsten Pendreigh, Bao Phi, and Shaun Tan, Ng found himself transported to worlds that prompt reflections on identity, belonging, and connection with others. Face-to-face and imaginary conversations with writers during this festival served as welcoming handles in this vibrant literary community.

Thriving on Creative Texts

Ng envisions a future where he continues to work with youth and creative texts. "With my hands-on experience gained from the program so far and other volunteer literacy experiences, I would love to carry on my role as a literacy educator," he shared. He aims to devise engaging and culturally responsive reading programs for children and teenagers of diverse backgrounds. In Ng's words, "Let all children and youth thrive on creative texts." 

William Ng’s journey, marked by a deep appreciation for diversity, storytelling, and community, is one of determination to make a lasting impact on the literary landscape and the lives of the young readers he seeks to inspire through his involvement in the community and through his continuing studies and research in his master’s program in the Faculty of Education.

Fall 2024 Masters programs are now accepting applications. Learn more.