Monday, September 10, 2007

Don't Dumb Down, Don't Preach

Well, we had a jolly old time at MPH's writers' circle Saturday, talking about writing children's literature with Daphne Lee in the hot seat.

She says that she began to write when she realised that she could not find children's books with local content, and tries to write the kinds of books she would have liked to have read as a child or teenager.

She talked about her own writing process and said that says she doesn't think of it so much as writing a book for children as writing a good book. She doesn't believe in dumbing down as and it's good for kids to read above their level.

Neither does she believe in writing books which preach moral values - though if these come up naturally - fine. And they will if you write honestly and stay true to your characters.

(I posted my own little variation on the theme of moral values some time ago, making the point that this just isn't how literature works.)

Finding a good editor is vitally important. You need to find a person you trust, but they need to be objective and able to give honest criticism. Daphne is herself a member of a writing group who give each other feedback, and that's also where she found her illustrator, Amir Shah Amiruddin.

The first book took a year to produce and then Daphne and Amir went to see Datuk Ng ... and Eric Forbes of MPH. They liked it but said that they should produce 3 more books to go along with it. Eric (who was there at Writers Circle) says it is easier to market children's books as a set - the same energy, time money goes into marketing them. The other titles took about four months each.

(More on the books in this article by Jade Chan in the Star and this one on the Bernama website by Sophia Ahmad.)

Daphne and Amir are collaborating on another couple of books, and she is also in the midst of writing a novel for young adults as well as ... (she adds a little cheekily) "the great contemporary Malaysian novel".

The session opened out into a nice discussion with some very valuable contributions from those who came.

C.Ean who won an Utusan Group Literary Prize competition talked about her experiences writing and editing her novel for young adults.

And then there was a very nice man called Wan Abhar who reached into his bag and pulled out a whole set of beautifully produced children's story and activity books and CD based around the character of a little boy called Abu B'Goode to teach children ... good moral values! I reckon he should find a good market in schools and wish him all the best with them. (If you want to contact him, his e-mail is

Mind you, it strikes me that even on the front of his publicity leaflet there is a blooming great grammatical error. It should, of course, read How Do We Teach ...? .

Here's Daphne with C.Ean.


Anonymous said...

What, you haven't heard about the boy who met a grape yet ? I've got to get down to writing it :)

bibliobibuli said...

don't just talk .... ;-P

anna-redz said...

hemm, i had always wanted to involve in children literature, this post reminds my longing dream, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Tell you what Bib, invite me to one of your writing seminars, and I'll make up one on the spot :)