By Jenny Daneels
We thought that the Christmas season would be a good moment to review some children’s books made in Malaysia. Unfortunately we only came to that realisation a few days ago, so this review is terribly late for Christmas. Still, the books are for sale all year round!
The first striking fact is that there are hardly any children’s books in English published in Malaysia. When I contacted the established children’s bookshop Trisha and Sasha, I was shown four books, unfortunately only one of which relates to Malaysia and none has any recognisably Malaysian visuals – one was on knights, one on adopting a pet dog, one, reviewed here, is a sweet story about a tiger in a country that looks very much like India.
Now the good news is that the two books that do have a very Malaysian flavour are excellent and bound to captivate any child.
The first one, Wildflowers, carries lots of goodwill. It was written and published by Malaysian writer Crescentia Morais (with help from sponsors) to raise funds for the Home of Peace Building Fund. Founded by her sister Justine Morais, Home of Peace looks after 11 adopted girls and is run at the moment from a house in Brickfields. But they have to leave soon, and so, wanted to build a new house. Though most parents probably bought the book in order to make a donation to Home of Peace regardless of the book’s content, my daughters (aged 6 and 8 years old) loved it. I would certainly place it in my own list of the top favourites that I had read in my 8 years of being a mother.
For one, the images by Jean Tsen are striking. They are made out of juxtaposed photos and cute drawings of flowers, little insects and girls. In the accompanying audio CD, you can hear the story told in a very engrossing way by Jodie LaRiviere – it makes for good entertainment in the car.
The story is a very poetic rendition of the true story of Justine’s decision and her approach in adopting these 11 little girls, or “wild flowers” – flowers that came into the world without anyone particularly wanting them, but very beautiful all the same.
The story gets rid of the feelings of pity or condescension that one tends to have towards kids in such homes. Instead, it instils a huge optimism and curiosity as to what adults they will become. “They will be healers and shapers and changers and builders”, she [Aunty Dolly] said. “They will teach everyone how to love.”
The book neither blames parents for neglecting the children nor society for letting this happen. The spider simply tells the story and describes every little girl as they present themselves, letting their qualities shine through. The spider adds his own comments in his own funny way. The passages where the Spider digresses and spoke about David and Goliath got my daughters a bit lost and are probably more within reach for older children or adults.
More than anything, however, Wildflowers helps young readers see children in homes in a new light and carries a strong message of faith and love.
Natu The Chichak
The second book reviewed here is a delightful read for children in Malaysia – it also provides a glimpse into the country for children not fortunate enough to have been here.
In the same way that Beatrix Potter brings to life little animals in a very English atmosphere, Natu The Chichak, written, illustrated and published by Malaysian writer Rebecca Duckett Wilkinson, portrays a little chichak and his life under the rafters of an old man’s home in the jungle.
Rebecca herself was trained as a textile designer. She was previously known for the cotton clothes she designed and created under the name “Owen Rebecca designs” – her prints are full of tropical plants, animals and mysterious islands. Thanks to this experience, her drawings easily plunge readers into a world of jungles, lush foliage, and colourful creepy crawlies lurking everywhere. One can almost hear lizards calling and insects buzzing.
The storyline is not what is important here, although the swallowing of the wasp by the chichak at the end provides a dramatic denouement. It is more about the relaxed atmosphere of kampong life, and the abundance and diversity of Malaysian nature. My daughters were very proud to tell me about the flying lizard, the monitor lizard and the gecko that says ”Towkay,” which were told to them in a “meet the writer” session at their school. They also spent a fair amount of time looking for all the different types of lizards hiding everywhere. Maybe a few more lines at the end of the book on every lizard portrayed would give young readers a chance to learn even more.
Natu the Chichak gives readers more for their money’, as there is a translation in Bahasa Malaysia – which works for children who want to perfect either their English or Bahasa – as well as two pages to for colouring (I had to photocopy them several times to satisfy my children’s colouring needs).
This is the first of a series of books that will include Old Towkay gecko, Gamid the Green Crested Lizard, Mabu the Sun Lizard, Draco the Flying Lizard and Bewak the Big Monitor Lizard.
The third book reviewed here was written by Malaysian writer Shamini Mahadevan Flint and was published in Singapore. Jungle blues is a sweet story told in rhyme about a cocky tiger who gets into trouble when he falls into the blue dyeing cauldron in the men’s village and needs the help of his family to find his own colour again. The colourful images, the pictures of animals, the musicality of the rhyme and the message will appeal more to younger children.
All three books were published in 2005. They can be found here:
- Wildflowers can be bought from Home of Peace (03-2273 8176), Gladsounds, Canaanland, City Harvest Church (Bandar Sunway), Kinokuniya, MPH, Silverfish, and Trisha and Sasha. RM35 (all proceeds go to Home of Peace Building Fund). Hard back, includes an audio CD.
- Natu the Chichak can be bought from Kinokuniya, KL, or online from Kakiseni’s online shop. RM28.
- Jungle Blues can be bought from Trisha and Sasha. RM30.99 (part of the proceeds go to World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF).
First Published: 22.12.2005 on Kakiseni