The Big Old Rambutan Tree – Q&A with Kathy Creamer

The Big Old Rambutan Tree
Children's Author | Loyalty | Picture Book | Trust
Kathy Creamer
Kathy Creamer

What is The Big Old Rambutan Tree about?

It is about love, trust, loyalty and the struggle of survival.

Ginger is a young and endangered orangutan living in the threatened Indonesian rainforest. When feeding on the fruits of the big old rambutan tree with all the other orangutans in the forest, she hears a strange noise and goes to investigate. At the bottom of the big old rambutan tree, Ginger finds a lost tiger cub. Despite warnings from the other orangutans, Ginger adopts the cub and looks after it as if it were her own baby. As the tiger grows up, it begins to follow its natural instincts and it develops an appetite for fresh meat. When Ginger discovers this, she knows she has to allow her ‘child’ the freedom to become the tiger he truly is, and they part company. Years later, when the rainforest is burning and Ginger is in danger of losing her life, a loyal old friend comes to her rescue.

Is there a particular theme in your story?

The theme is based on the direct threat to rainforest wildlife from human development and activity. It reveals the predicament of a wild orangutan with the ongoing destruction of her rainforest habitat and her struggle to survive. Although the big old rambutan tree is scorched and the jungle is burned to cinders by fire in the story, there is still hope for nature and wildlife with the monsoon rains, which bring new life and re-generation to the forest.

Was there an inspiration for your story, and what is the story behind the story?

My inspiration came from a beautiful red-haired lady known as Ah Meng, who was an orangutan living in the Singapore Zoological Gardens. I had only been in Singapore for a few weeks, and was trying, rather unsuccessfully, to acclimatise to the extreme heat and humidity of the island. Quite difficult to do when you’re eight months pregnant and have just left the chilly weather of an English winter. After walking around the zoo, I was hot, sweaty and extremely tired, but when I sat down next to Ah Meng, as was allowed in the early days of the zoo, I became completely spellbound by her beautiful nature. I could see she was discreetly observing me, as I in turn watched her, and I saw her tenderness as she lovingly hugged her two-month-old baby. I will never forget what happened next. Ah Meng reached out and gently placed her hand on my ‘baby bump’, then looked directly into my eyes. I instantly became aware of her intelligence, and I knew that she understood that the bump was a baby, and that she was showing compassion and empathy towards me. I was moved to tears.

After a few years, I began working at the zoo as a docent, helping to inform schools and the general public about wildlife and the environment. During that time there were many uncontrolled fires burning in Indonesian, due to the ‘slash and burn’ technique of clearing rainforest for human development. The smoke and ash impacted greatly on Singapore’s air quality, and there were days when ash actually blocked out the sun, and school children had to wear masks for outdoor activities. The information and photographs of Indonesian rainforest destruction and the impact on wildlife, especially orangutans, was so disturbing, that I felt I wanted to do something, no matter how small, to help organisations who work at protecting and conserving orangutans and other wildlife. So, with Ah Meng as inspiration, I created a children’s picturebook.

What kind of research did you do to write this story?

Working at Singapore Zoo as a docent, I heard first-hand about the current state of orangutan habit destruction, and also of the lucrative trade in baby orangutans in the illegal pet market. An orangutan mother will do anything to protect her baby, and the only way a poacher can capture a baby is to shoot and kill the mother. Sadly, I also became aware of the bush meat market.

I read everything I could find to do with orangutans and other primates, and even completed a short course with the Open University on The Life of Mammals. I visited Monkeyworld in Dorset, England and spoke to Jim and Alison Cronin about orangutan rescue and rehabilitation, and I was also lucky enough to meet and talk to Jane Goodall about the future for primates at one of her Roots and Shoots presentations. I now follow the Orangutan Outreach blog and the very entertaining and informative series Orangutan Jungle School.

Peter has observed orangutans for many years through the lens of his camera with his interest in animal photography, and his many photos, some taken within the Singapore Zoo, have been my valuable references for illustration.

Do you have any tips for people wanting to write for children?

Gosh, I’m still learning how to do this myself! I believe that writing for the picture book market is probably the most difficult of all genres, as you have to carefully weigh up each word, and also leave space for the illustrator to utilise the visual narrative within your story. I still find myself agonising over the editing, and in having to lose deliciously descriptive sentences that are just not necessary in a picture book. As for tips: write every day, do your research, read your work out loud, edit, edit, edit. Keep sending your manuscripts to publishers. Never give up!

Best wishes, Kathy Creamer

To order your copy of The Big Old Rambutan Tree visit the Little Pink Dog Books website.

Please help support the Orangutan Outreach program.

All profits from Little Pink Dog publisher, Kathy Creamer’s latest picture book, The Big Old Rambutan Tree will be donated to support the conservation work of Orangutan Outreach based in the USA.

This is Kathy’s third book aimed at conserving orangutans and follows previous books entitled My Cousin, Ah Meng (Singapore, 1998) and The Old Man of The Forest (UK, 2002). Both these books raised considerable funds in their host country for orangutan conservation.

As with the earlier books, Kathy has donated all her time and the funds raised via Indiegogo will support the printing of the book.


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