from Tots to Teens, Star2 on Sunday, 18th September, 2011
I’VE been exchanging emails for the last couple of months with Deborah Ahenkorah, the young Ghanaian who co-founded the Golden Baobab Prize, a literary award that aims to inspire African writers to create African literature for African children.
Ahenkorah grew up reading British and American books and this made her sensitive to the lack of African children’s books. Malaysian readers can surely relate to that. Did any of us grow up reading Malaysian children’s books of good quality?
You would think there would be at least one definitive collection of local legends and myths published by, say, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) and kept in print for the entertainment and edification of Malaysian children through the ages.
Actually, the more I think of it, the more puzzled I am as to why DBP has not published such a collection, or, indeed, played a more active role in children’s publishing. Surely it would have access to the finest writers in the Malay language and surely, publishing good quality Malay language children’s books would be in keeping with its mission to promote the language and its usage in Malaysia.
Now, I know DBP publishes children’s books, or has done so in the past, but I’ve never noticed any effort to promote these books. Without promotion, it’s no surprise the books lack visibility and, I imagine, suffer from poor sales. Even if they sell well in the library and school markets, I don’t believe they are kept in print and will eventually cease to be available, no matter how good they are.
Why would a national body that wishes to champion the national language not put more effort into producing books in which the language is used in a creative and beautiful manner, and which would, in theory, encourage Malaysian children to read more in that language?
I have no answers, but I do continue to hope and dream that local publishers will someday see the need to produce good quality Malaysian children’s books.
From what I’ve observed (from browsing in bookstores, and the book stalls occasionally set up at the school my eight-year-old attends), it seems there is currently more interest in producing large quantities of mediocre material in the shortest time possible – whole series of badly-written, badly-drawn books produced in bulk on cheap paper.
It takes time and money to produce good books and these are not guaranteed to sell well especially as higher production costs also means higher prices.
I guess what we need is a publisher who is willing to take the risk, and one who believes in the importance of providing Malaysian children with good Malaysian literature. Until then, our children will have to live with books that are, by and large, boring, derivative and unmemorable, produced in a noticeably slip-shod fashion by people who just don’t give a damn.