Tarie Sabido: I have visited Malaysia only once, but I completely fell in love with the country and the people. HEAD-OVER-HEELS in love. So it's only natural that I am curious about the children's literature scene in Malaysia.
I invited Malaysian children's book expert Daphne Lee to guest blog today for Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind. I hope you enjoy her post below! Thank you, Daphne!
Daphne Lee: I was recently at my second son’s school to get his mid-year report. There were a few stalls selling books and I thought I would buy some Bahasa Melayu ones for him. (His class has a half hour every week when they read a story book in BM. There is also half an hour for a story book in English.)
When I think of Malaysian children’s literature, specifically children’s story books in Bahasa Melayu, I’m afraid that the phrase “dodgy quality” comes to mind. What I saw being sold at the stalls only confirmed this belief. The books (featuring local folktales or translations of Western fairy tales) were badly written and illustrated, and shoddily produced and packaged.
The low quality of most of the children’s books published in Malaysia seems to indicate that, by and large, Malaysian publishers aren’t too concerned about the standard of the children’s books they produce. Often they read like they have not even been edited. And some illustrations are so ugly, I have to laugh … it’s either that or cry.
However, I think things are changing. Publishers like Linda Tan Lingard are making a difference with their own deep love for children’s books, which translates into serious commitment and effort to produce beautifully written and illustrated books that Malaysian children can enjoy and, most importantly, see themselves in.
Linda is the publisher behind my imprint OneRedFlower Press, and she also works closely with Malaysian artist and picture book author/illustrator Yusof Gajah. Yusof’s books are published by Tan’s Gajah imprint. Linda also has the Kaki Komik imprint which publishes graphic novels. I’m publishing editor of ORF Press so I get to decide what gets published under that name. ORF’s aims is to publish picture books and middle-grade books with Malaysian content. In the future I hope we will also publish YA fiction.
I’ve also just signed on to edit for Scholastic Press (Asia), and this covers the Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian markets so the books I choose to accept for publication might have an Asian flavour but not necessarily a specifically Malaysian one.
However, whether they’re for ORF or Scholastic, I want to publish books that Malaysians can view with pride and children can read with pleasure. I am very psyched about it, but I do suffer from moments of doubt and anxiety, especially when I meet Malaysians who really seem not to give a damn about quality, who are more interested in using children’s books as a networking tool, to curry favour, or as a way to make a quick buck. (This is laughable. As a writer said at the recent Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore, “If we wanted to be rich, we’d have become dentists, not writers.”) It’s especially depressing when these are people who have the power to make a real difference.
For instance, there’s an exhibition on right now at Galeri Petronas called Words+Pictures=Books. It showcases picture books created by 10 Malaysian artists who were given five days to produce these books, from scratch. Yes, FIVE days, I kid you not. I won’t say much more now because I’m in the middle of writing an article about the exhibition. Suffice it to say that this is exactly the kind of project that Malaysian children’s literature doesn’t need: a rush job that obviously lacks proper planning, focus and purpose.
Still, what matters is that those of us who truly care about the direction Malaysian (and Asian) children’s books is headed continue to do all we can to uphold the integrity and quality of the genre. Giving encouragement and support to our writers and illustrators is important, and offering them honest and constructive criticism is essential to their continued growth.
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