Sunday, January 11, 2009

Children's Books with a Malaysian Flavour?

Daphne Lee in today's Starmag highlights the dearth of local children's literature that reflects Malaysian society :
... Our children and teenagers are immersed in American and, to a lesser degree, British pop culture. ... This includes the books they read. Currently popular titles (the Twilight series, the Harry Potter books, Eragon, Wicked Lovely) may not be set in this world, and their characters may not even be human, but the cultural traditions used as references in the creation of these worlds and characters are obviously American and European.
She also reckons that writing children's book is somehow:
... looked down upon by Malaysia’s literati ...
who are more interested in trying to win Booker prizes and the like.

this isn't entirely true of course. We had Shirley Lim's Princess Shawl last year, Tinling Choong's Yuyu and the Banyan Tree will be out this year, and Shamini Flint has been writing some really excllent kids books, the latest of which is the highly readable Ten.

But there certainly could be more ... although I think it really can't happen without the active support all the way of the local publishing industry.

21 comments:

june said...

Margaret Lim, a Sarawakian has written a series of whimsical books on the adventures of a Kayan girl and her animal friends. http://fairybirdbooks.com.my/

Sarawak is part of Malaysia, isn't it? :)

bibliobibuli said...

yes it is indeed, and i have actually blogged about her too. thanks for reminding me

Anonymous said...

Have you read Princess Shawl, Sharon? We have to chat about this book one of these days.

As for Sharmini Flint, although I admire her determination and productivity, I think her children's books, especially the Sasha ones, need some serious editorial input especially when it comes to their illustrations.

While it dismays me when writers say that writing for children is beneath them, it's even more worrying when a writer's work seems to reveal that he/she or his/her editor is less particular about the literary standard of the writing because the it is for children.

Again, we'll chat about this when we meet.

BTW, what I learnt from publishing MY books is that I have a long way to go as a children's writer! - Daphne Lee

Anonymous said...

Daphne, have you actually met someone who said writing for children is beneath them?

-- Preeta

blue said...

You should check out Adventurebox. They are great for Kids aged 6-9 and have a Wierd Noises competition on this month!

bibliobibuli said...

preeta - i was going to ask daphne the same question! (i think she has a story she ain't sharing). i could imagine you writing for kids, and also chiew-siah.

daphne - yes i have read sister shawl (and see here is a literary writer who defintely doesn't think it is beneath her to write for children!). i was supposed to review it but i got stuck halfway through writing about it. it seems to me a noble attempt and i very much like the main character and the way it is written ... but am not sure that a child could think themselves into the historical background, and after all those strong women through the centuries, hang li po comes across as an airhead.

yes we must have a chat about this. lunch soon.

blue - thanks, the books do look fun. but we are talking here about malaysian books ... we know a lot of good stuff is published overseas ...

Anonymous said...

Yes -- I definitely don't think it's beneath me, and in fact I read a LOT of children's books by choice because I think the good ones are playful and inventive with language in just the way I want to be. The Wind In The Willows remains one of my favourite books of all time, and hey, lots of great contemporary writers -- Rushdie, Roddy Doyle, the fabulous American poet Nancy Willard -- have written for kids. Even Gertrude Stein, grande dame of the avant garde, wrote a book for kids (a really fun one, by the way). The boundary between "literary" fiction and "Young Adult" fiction is mostly marketing, anyway -- where would a book like To Kill A Mockingbird be placed today? Is Alice In Wonderland for kids or adults? So I'm really curious as to who these people are who think children's literature is beneath them. I guess Daphne won't want to name names here, maybe, but she can confirm that people actually say/think these silly things.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

While I have not had anyone say "Writing for children is beneath me" I have had people say, "Write for children? But I am a SERIOUS writer/respected professor" and variations of those statements. The implications are the same.

Also, if you (Preeta and Sharon) have not met anyone who expresses confusion/shock and horror/surprise to see you reading a children's book, then you are indeed blessed because I get it all the time. But maybe I just keep meeting "unenlightened" people.

As for Princess Shawl, I thought it read like it was written hurriedly and carelessly. And it also seemed like it had gone to the printers without having been edited. - Daphne Lee

Anonymous said...

Preeta! I want to compile an anthology of stories for young adults and will be inviting you, Tash and Twan Eng to contribute. I'm hoping that you'll say yes! :-D - Daphne Lee

Anonymous said...

well, my mother (and i) were actually quite horrified to read princess shawl, esp from such a prolific writer like lim. sloppy is the word. the storyline was decent enough, the writing passable, but that's about it.

don't mean to slag her off, but after hungrily going through her poetry in school, it was a major disappointment.

Anonymous said...

Sharon said re Princess Shawl: am not sure that a child could think themselves into the historical background ...

Me: If a book has an interesting, well-paced plot and engaging, believable characters, its historical background should not be a problem for a child. Think of all the excellent children's books that are set in a bygone era, including A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson (to name two published in the last 10 years). - Daphne Lee

bibliobibuli said...

agree daphne but i wondered if all the different points in time might be confusing. i feel like handing it to a group of kids and getting feedback from them.

didn't you think hang li po was a weaker character than the other women?

Anonymous said...

I would definitely be interested, Daphne, but you'll need to give me enough time. The thing that's been holding me back is that I have no experience writing for children and I would need to get my mind into a slightly different "zone" -- I'm not talking about talking down to children, which I know isn't necessary, but I still think I would have to think slightly differently. I welcome those challenges but I wouldn't be able to do it under enormous time pressure, whereas I *can* usually think of an idea for a short story (for adults) very quickly now (the writing always takes time but the ideas come quickly).

Thanks for thinking of me, BTW!

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Sharon - Oh yes, def Li Po was a bimbo. I did think some of the characters were interesting - the one who worked in the temple for example, but the writing on the whole was uneven. And the time shifts weren't quite jarring.

Preeta - Oh I would definitely give you plenty of time. I'm thrilled that you are open to the idea. Thank you. - Daphne Lee

Anonymous said...

sorry I meant the time shift *WERE* jarring. - Daphne Lee

Anonymous said...

Bad writing and editing sells 50,000 copies?

Quote from here :

http://www.sunbearpublishing.com/authors.html

What's up with that? even the website is broken.. it says Shamini also writes a blog at "[Coming Soon]" lol. How unprofessional.

And yet, 50,000 copies. That's Rm50,000 if royalty is Rm1 per book (and it's probably more than that.)

Anonymous said...

"Bad writing and editing sells 50,000 copies? "

Let's not go into THAT!

Suffice to say that bestsellers aren't necessarily well-written. - Lipstick Lesbian

june said...

One Malaysian made it on the 2008 List of Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association:

Lat's Town boy!

Link: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/booklistsawards/bestbooksya/annotations/08bbya.cfm

Came across this when I was looking for online recommendations for YA books. :)

Anonymous said...

"Kampung Boy" was on the same list in 2007. The Roaring Press editions cost RM65! But they're a nice size unlike the berita Publishing orginals, which I feel are rather unwieldy. I love Lat, especially "Kampung" and "Town". - Daphne

june said...

Daphne - I didn't know that! Many thanks for letting me know. I love Lat too and it's wonderful to know that many non-Malaysians feel the same way about Kampung Boy and Town Boy!

pebble said...

so true