KUALA LUMPUR, May 31 — International Children’s Day arrives tomorrow and this year the young ones will have plenty to rejoice about. Children’s book publisher Yusof Gajah Picture Book House has lined up a fortnight of activities during the Children’s Book Week running from June 1 to 14 at Silverfish Books’ new location at Bangsar Village 2.
Silverfish Books proprietor Raman Krishnan is excited about the event, aptly named Reading is Magical, as it will showcase the wonders of locally-created picture books for children.
Some of the children’s books authors and illustrators featured during Reading is Magical include Rossiti Aishah Rashidi, Chooi Ling Keiong, Emila Yusof, and Tan Vay Fern. Other creative children’s activities such as storytelling, batik painting, Japanese puppetry, tree-collage and puppet-making workshops will also be organised during the event.
One of the featured writers is Heidi Shamsuddin, who wrote The Mystery of the Missing National Anthem. Heidi, who had previously worked as a lawyer in the UK, won the first prize of the Eye Level Children’s Literature Competition for her short story Johan the Bee Hunter in 2012.
Growing up, Heidi got most of her books from the library as her family couldn’t afford to buy many books. She recalls, “On my ninth birthday, my father got me a book by Roald Dahl called The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. Unlike his other stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, the stories in this book were a bit darker, scarier but still funny. I loved this book and must’ve read it at least 20 times.”
Despite her early love for children’s books, Heidi didn’t set out to write exclusively for children in the beginning. “I wrote on a variety of themes for both adults and children, but over time I found that I naturally gravitated towards stories for children.
Stories by authors like C.S Lewis, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and L.M Montgomery got me hooked on the magic of reading in the first place. I do hope that, in some small way, my stories might have the same effect on kids.”
Heidi considers her The Door Under the Stairs series 100 per cent Malaysian as the books are set in a local school with Malaysian characters. She says, “The Malaysian themes I explore in each book are mainly historical because the three children go back in time and meet Malaysian historical figures such as Tunku Abdul Rahman and P. Ramlee.”
Heidi’s The Mystery of the Missing National Anthem was illustrated by Lim Lay Koon, who also collaborated on Atuk’s Amazing Sarong, another children’s book with her sister Lim Lay Har. The sister act is a formidable duo: Lay Koon is a self-taught illustrator while writer Lay Har won the Calistro Prize in 2013 for her chapter book, Master & Apprentice.
“Growing up, we love books by Enid Blyton such as Magic Faraway Tree and Five Find-Outers, and classics like Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels,” says Lay Har. “The stories captured our imagination. They made us curious about life in other parts of the world – we always wondered what treacle pudding tasted like because it sounded so delicious in the Enid Blyton stories!”
Lay Koon adds, “My sister and I have both never quite grown out of children’s books. She loves making up stories for kids and seeing the look on their faces as they wonder what will happen next. Reading shouldn’t be a chore and shouldn’t be something that had to be done just to pass school exams.”
The Lim sisters’ stories are centred on family, specifically the interaction between the different generations. Atuk’s Amazing Sarong is about a little boy and his grandfather while in Master & Apprentice, the story of a father and his son takes centre stage.
“Our themes are quite universal but the stories highlight Malaysian life and culture,” says Lay Har. “For example, in Atuk’s Amazing Sarong, the little boy plays with his grandfather’s sarong and he uses it like a cape when he pretends to be a superhero. This is something we have done as kids ourselves, but we wonder whether children now even know what to do with a sarong!”
This love of local childhood traditions is echoed by writer-illustrator Nor Azhar Ishak. A science museum educator by day, Azhar has been published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka after winning the consolation prize in the Kota Buku-DBP Picture Book Award 2013. His latest book, Under the Sea, demonstrates a creative use of the batik technique in his illustrations.
As a child, Azhar enjoyed reading folk stories from Malaysia and around the world. He says, “Some of my favourite books include the Cerita Cerita Rakyat collections which my sisters often borrowed from the National Library Malaysia back then when it was located at Wisma Sachdev. What attracted me most about these stories are the richness of what is beyond our known little world and how exciting it is to open our minds up to infinite possibilities.”
While Azhar had always enjoyed art growing up, he credits his sisters in shaping his interest in children’s picture books. “They look simple yet there is a great deal of thought and effort that goes into making one. We need more picture books which children can enjoy, that inspire them and that are thought provoking. For example, Dr. Seuss books touch me deeply. I would like to create books like that.”
Azhar is drawn to stories with Nature themes and hopes his work will instil a sense of ownership in caring for the environment in his young readers. He adds, “I also love exploring our Malaysian stories in batik as the craft has its own uniqueness and charm. For me, hand-drawn batik is very Malaysian and I would like to do my bit to introduce our art and culture to the younger generation.”
It’s clear reading is indeed magical, whether you’re a child or you’re an adult writing for children, with happy memories of your own childhood reading picture books. After all, aren’t we all a child at heart?
Reading is Magical at the Children’s Book Week
June 1 to 14, 2015
Silverfish Books (new address starting from June 1), Level 2, Bangsar Village II (near Starbucks)
Visit www.childrensbookweek.org for more information on Children’s Book Week. Sign up for Silverfish Book’s mailing list at www.silverfishbooks.com/silverfish/ to learn more about future events and activities.