1. My Mother's Garden and series
One of our very first picture books was My Mother's Garden by Emila Yusof. It's a beautiful picture book first published in 2013 that has gone through several print runs and continues to be popular today. The simple text and lush illustrations make this picture book a delight. We can certainly recognise such a garden in Malaysia with plants that we see everyday. There's also a ginger-coloured cat on most of the pages although it was not specifically mentioned in the text.
Reading with a child, one can easily become engrossed in each page, trying to count the number of ladybirds on the little girl's baju or naming the plants (the names of the plants are helpfully provided on the last two pages of the book).
Emila followed up My Mother's Garden with My Mother's Kitchen, another bestseller which is destined to be another Malaysian classic. In the third book of the series, we follow the little girl to her father's farm in My Father's Farm. This series has won the Samsung KidsTime award (Singapore) and the Festival Sastera Kanak-kanak (Perbadanan Kota Buku)
2. Malaysian Folktales from East Malaysia and Princesses
Malaysian stories are loved not only in Malaysia but also in other countries.
Jainal's unique illustrations enliven his stories in Longhouse Days, The Magic Buffalo, The Wonderful Sparrow and The Proud Butterfly and the Strange Tree. The illustrations for these books have won Noma Concours Awards, organised by the Asia-Pacific Cultural Centre of UNESCO based in Tokyo, Japan. Jainal's books have also been translated into German, Korean and Chinese. Similarly, Emila's My Mother's Garden has been translated into German and Chinese. As you can see, Malaysian stories are loved not only in Malaysia but also in other countries.
After being bombarded by foreign princesses in the popular media, we decided we had to publish a book about Malaysian princesses. Quite by accident we found an author, Raman, who skillfully brought our princesses to life, with rich illustrations by Emila Yusof. The Legendary Princesses of Malaysia is our all time bestselling book. How many of these princesses or legendary women do you know?
1. Cik Siti Wan Kembang
2. Puteri Saadong
3. Puteri Gunung Ledang
4. Hang Li Po
5. Puteri Bidasari
6. Puteri Santubong and Puteri Sejinjang
7. Walinong Sari
8. Puteri Lindungan Bulan (Puteri Zaleha)
9. Ulek Mayang
10. Tun Fatimah
3. The natural world
The Real Elephant was awarded the Grand Prize in the 1996 Noma Concours, UNESCO
Malaysia is rich in nature and wildlife which greatly influence Yusof Gajah, one of the leading figures in Malaysian children's picture books since the 1990s and up till today. A crowning achievement for Yusof Gajah in terms of picture books was when he received the Grand Prize of the Noma Councours (ACCU) in 1996 for The Real Elephant. The Real Elephant was originally published in Bahasa Malaysia (DBP) and translated into English by Oyez! It has also been published in Japanese.
This touching story of a baby elephant who lost his parents and went on a journey through the rainforest to look for them introduces many wonderful animals that can be found in the Malaysian rainforest.
Nature lover and activist, Rossiti Aishah Rashidi has delighted us with Puteri Tioman the Green Turtle, Siti the Elephant (both illustrated by Farah Ashiela Samsuri) and Pak Belang the Tiger (illustrations by Widiyatno). All three books have amazingly detailed and realistic illustrations that emphasised the wonder and beauty of these creatures. Besides highlighting the special features of each animal, the book encourages children to care for the environment in specific ways. Puteri Tioman has been translated into Chinese.
Under the Sea by Nor Azhar Ishak is a non-fiction picture book that has not lost its appeal after three years. With illustrations that were originally painted on fabric using the wax resist dye or batik method with the canting, coupled with simple and enthusiastic text, it's another book to get lost in, this time, under the sea. This book won the Samsung KidsTime award (Singapore) and the Festival Sastera Kanak -kanak award (Perbadanan Kota Buku).
In 2015, Oyez! organised a competition to celebrate the International Year of Soils (UN) and we received a delightful submission from Mazuin Stapah. In this story, Hadiah untuk Emak, two children are looking for a present for their expectant mother. Their father takes them to a shop that sells a variety of pillows, bolsters and cushions. The shop owner introduces them to kapok and shows them his kapok trees. The illustrations by Mohd Yusof Abdul Wahid perfectly complements the story. How many children in Malaysia know we have kapok trees or what kapok is? For book reading activities, the author brought kapok and encouraged the children to feel them and to sew little pillows. What a delightful way to introduce children to the natural world around them.
Children will surely enjoy Lim Lay Koon's Pip's Peculiar Porblem about a pangolin who couldn't curl up, which is what pangolins do when faced with danger. Do you know that the name pangolin comes from the Malay word pengguling, meaning "one who rolls up". This is a fun book to read with children as they learn more about animals in the rainforests.
What better way to introduce children to animals found in Malaysia than to start them young? The above three books by Beverley Hon (illustrated by Lim Lay Koon) is written in simple lyrical text that can be recited or put to music together with physical movements that young children will love.
The Lost Princess by Liza Shahida with illustrations by Nor Abdullah tells the story of little girl who has lost her father and found herself wandering in the rainforest where she meets a variety of animals. Supplementary materials provide more in depth information of the flora and fauna featured in the book.
4. Culture and Happenings
Picture books have been published about the sarong but none will bring a wider smile than Lim Lay Har and Lim Lay Koon's Atuk's Amazing Sarong. What can a little boy and his imagination do with a piece of sarong?
This year, Oyez! published another book by the Lim sisters, Where the Stars Come to Play. This time we are taken on a boat trip to view fireflies. Do you know there are fireflies in Malaysia?
And by the way, do you know there are ostriches in Malaysia? And one in particular likes to run on the highway of Kuala Lumpur. We could not just let such an occasion pass by without a picture book and thanks to Heidi Shamsuddin and Lim Lay Koon, we now have Chickaboo, The Runaway Ostrich!
Oyez! loves introducing new authors and one of them is Azman Md Nor. Azman's Abang Saya takes us on a trip around a kampung with paddy fields, hills, rivers and scenes of chickens and children playing. A simple story of the narrator's elder brother who works in the city and comes home on his old and trusty vespa and then calls on his friends one by one.
Sedapnya Nangka by Naemah Ismail (illustrations by Emila Yusof) features a slice of life, with two children enjoying the jackfruit and learning to share.
We are introduced to owls and different types of birds in Where Is Owly by Mohd Khairul Azman Ismail (Samsung Kids Time Award 2016). In Malaysia we have a variety of birds and a number of common ones we see everyday. Children will surely feel great satisfaction to be able to recognise a bird, from the swallows to the mynah birds. The companion book, My Owl Family Tree introduces the owl family and their different occupations and hobbies.
5. Early Readers
We love alphabet books and have several (which will be highlighted in subsequent articles) but here's one that is quintessential Malaysia, ABC Malaysia illustrated by Nur Azmi Mokhtar.
6. Poetry, Proverbs and Rhymes
Malaysian stories are stories about Malaysia created from the heart, inspired by the culture, people and natural environment of this beautiful and rich country.