Breaking the mould

A young writer tries to overcome male stereotyping with his new book for children.

HE’S SOMEONE who likes kick-boxing and knitting, so it comes as no surprise that Clayton Koh wrote a children’s picture book to counter stereotypes.

California-based Clayton Koh, 23, author of a children’s book entitled I’m A Real Boy, which challenges societal stereotypes of male behaviour. He has plans to write a similar book targeted at girls.

Aptly entitled I’m A Real Boy, the 32-page book talks about breaking away from society’s perception about how a boy should behave.

Based in California, Koh was back in Malaysia recently to launch the book, also published in Singapore and India.

Koh got the idea to write the book, which he also illustrated, during his final year at university.

“As part of my honours programme, I was required to do a research thesis before graduation. I chose the topic ‘Modern Masculinity’ and how masculinity deve­loped in Western societies over the decades and also cross-culturally,” explained Koh, whose parents are nurses.

“Boys feel a lot of pressure to conform to what society expects of them. Girls as well, but the feminist movement helped change that and broadened their potential,” said Koh, 23.

He added that men have always dominated the political, economic and employment sectors, therefore they face less discrimination in terms of getting equal rights or job opportunities.

“But in terms of interests or ­certain careers that men can pursue, there are certain mindsets and perceptions.”

He also felt that men were “not allowed” to express their emotions freely, which can lead to suicide and depression, and that many do not seek help until it is too late.

“So I decided to research these issues, put it in a kids’ perspective and hope this will reshape the way society thinks about masculinity,” said Koh, who emigrated to the United States with his family when he was three.

The affable writer encourages I’m A Real Boy to be read by teachers and parents with children.

“I hope it can spark discussions between them and that parents and teachers will also start rethinking these issues,” said Koh, who hopes to work on a similar book for girls in the future.

“The picture book broadens the spectrum of what a typical boy should do and its message is that ultimately, the choice is up to the individual.”

Koh, who has written two other unpublished children’s books, obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from La Sierra University, California last year. He is currently pursuing his Masters in School Administration and Leadership, which he hopes to finish next year, at the same university.

Next month, Koh will start his new job as a fourth grade school teacher at his alma mater, Loma Linda Academy in California, a school set up by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Teaching was something the confident young man has wanted to do since he was a boy.

“When I was in second grade, I had already written in my journal that I wanted to be a teacher,” he said. By the eighth grade, a research project in school reinforced his conviction.

“We were asked to research a career that interested us. I chose teaching and really liked it,” said Koh, who also enjoys singing. Volunteering at children’s summer camps in the past also sparked his love for teaching.

“I enjoy the interaction with children because I feel I can validate and guide them towards succeeding in life, which is rewarding for me.”

The avid swimmer and runner also harbours hopes of providing education opportunities to less fortunate children in the future.

“I would really like to start a mission school somewhere outside the United States, especially in a place lacking a good education system,” he said.

Now, there is nothing stereotypical about that.

I’m A Real Boy, published by Scholastic, is available at all MPH bookstores.