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Malaysian Authors Share Their Favourite Children’s Books

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Every year on April 2nd, the world celebrates the love of reading with the International Children’s Book Day. A movement initiated by International Board of Books for Young People, traditionally, the day is celebrated in schools and with library programs to nurture the love of reading in students and kids.

Makchic talks to four Malaysian authors  – who are also mummies – on the books they loved reading growing up, and the books they now read to their kids.

Bernice Chauly

Photo by Daniel Adams, from bernicechauly.com

Bernice Chauly is no stranger to the literary scene and creative circles in Malaysia. This Penang-born writer and poet wears different hats in Malaysia’s cultural scene – she photographs, acts, and makes films – but her love for the written word is unmistakable. Known for her award-winning memoir ‘Growing up with Ghosts’, she is also the founder and director of KL Writers Workshop.

Did you have a bedtime routine of reading stories with your kids?

My daughters are 21 and 16 now, but I started reading to them when they were days old. I started buying books for them very early on and amassed a huge collection over the years. I would sit with them in bed, get comfortable and then read. Sometimes I would read in funny voices, ad lib, and add flourishes of my own. They both loved it. I would also sometimes make stories up and retell fairy tales. They were very demanding at times, so it was hard work!

 What were your favourite books when you were a kid?

I was a voracious reader from a young age and my mother said that I never really played with toys, but books instead. I remember reading the Peter and Jane series, almost everything ever written by Enid Blyton, Beano and Dandy comics, Tin Tin, and then I moved to the classics. My mother would force me to read some really dense books, like the Fountainhead by Ayn Rand when I was 12! War and Peace, Exodus by Leon Uris and I moved on to Dickens, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot and more in my early teens.

I read almost every volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, the NST every Sunday, which had a huge pullout section of comics, lots of Mills and Boons, teen mags, everything I could lay my hands on really. My parents had an extensive library, so I read a lot. I was happiest when I was sitting with a book.

Can you tell us your favourite children’s books?

My daughters’ favourite books were Goodbye Moon, The Snowman (Raymond Briggs) and Where The Wild Things Are.


Shamini Flint

Picture: Shamini Flint

Shamini Flint started her writing career by publishing her own children’s books, a series of adventures based on her own daughter Sasha. Previously a lawyer, this mother of two then worked on her crime fiction series Inspector Singh Investigates. Inspector Singh Investigates is now published in many languages around the world, and is currently on its seventh series.

Did you have a bedtime routine of reading stories with your kids?

My kids are a bit older now but we still have a sort of routine in that I expect them to read for a while before lights out at night. My son is currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird (slowly!) and my daughter who has become interested in politics recently is reading What Happened by Hillary Clinton. When they were toddlers and young children, we read a bunch of stories every night and in fact, that was the genesis of the Sasha series of picture books which began my writing career. It was making me insane that there were so few quality books featuring Asian kids or Asian environments.

 What were your favourite books when you were a kid?

Growing up in Kuantan, without a library or a bookshop, my choice was limited so I read everything I could get my hands on. Aside from the usual Enid Blyton and classics like Heidi, my favourite book when I was a child was The Hobbit. Before that, I don’t think I had conceived of the possibility of such complete worlds of the imagination.

Can you tell us your favourite children’s books?

Boy Overboard – Morris Gleitzman

The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll


Heidi Shamsuddin

Picture from: heidishamsuddin.com

A former lawyer and restaurant owner, Heidi Shamsuddin is an award-winning author of both adult and children’s books. She won the Eye Level Children’s Literature award in 2012 and her children’s books – a series called The Door Under The Stairs – weaves tales rich with Malaysian’s historical figures and personalities. She also recently completed a YA novel set on Mt Kinabalu and is working on her second novel inspired by the folktales of this country.

Did you have a bedtime routine of reading stories with your kids?

Yes, with all my kids I started reading them stories ever since they were babies. This started literally on the first day we took them home from the hospital. I usually read a story or I make one up and tell it to them just before bedtime.

 What were your favourite books when you were a kid?

I loved fairy tales of course and we had a big beautiful book of fairy tales which my father gave to us when I was around six-years- old. When I was a bit older my favourite book was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I also enjoyed reading the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery.

Can you tell us your favourite children’s books?

For very young children (under the age of five) I would recommend picture books by Oliver Jeffers which are funny and entertaining with beautiful illustrations. I also love ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak.

For middle-grade readers (ages 8 -12 years old), I would recommend the Narnia books by C.S Lewis and all the books by Roald Dahl. If they are interested in Malaysian stories, I would of course recommend my books, ‘The Door Under the Stairs Series’ which is about three time-travelling Malaysian kids.

For slightly older kids, I would recommend ‘Fire and Hemlock’ by Diana Wynne Jones. I love this coming of age story because of the deep layers built into the story which incorporates fairy tales and legends. It’s also quite a personal story about the relationship we have with our family. It’s a beautifully written book which has much to offer.


Lydia Teh

Picture: Lydia Teh

Lydia Teh is a household name in the local writing scene. Many would know her through her regular theSun’s column, Tete-a-Tete, and her famous book, Honk! If You’re Malaysian, and more recently, How I Wrote 10 Books. She wrote her first book at the age of 39, while raising 4 kids, and now runs an English language center on top of writing for the newspaper and local magazines.

Did you have a bedtime routine of reading stories with your kids?

Yes. After they have brushed their teeth and changed into their PJs, we would snuggle down in bed to read. We read children’s books and bible stories. They also liked to listen to stories such as the Three Little Pigs which were retold with watermelons, papayas and durians as building materials.

What were your favourite books when you were a kid?

Anything by Enid Blyton. The book which started it off was The Naughtiest Girl in School. I enjoyed the Famous Five and Secret Seven series.

Can you tell us your favourite children’s books?

I discovered Roald Dahl as an adult and introduced them to my children. Two of my favourites are James and the Giant Peach and The Big Friendly Giant.

 

Nadia Nizamudin wears many hats - cyclist, artist, engineer, yogi, writer - but the toughest role so far is mothering her two wonderful girls. She is an advocate for mental health, self-care and also forgiving yourself frequently as you parent.