Prepare to commit
bet with his father: they will both enter the contest, and if Kow Kee wins with his kueh lapis, Kee Huat will become his apprentice.
It’s an interesting, amusing story, although I wonder if the average young reader will be as entertained as I was, especially as none of the book’s characters are children. Would a child be able to identify with or relate to old Kow Kee and understand his worries and fears? The youngest character in this book is Kee Huat, who is 28, again much older than the target readers (given the simplicity of the plot and language).
I don’t think the protagonists of children’s books always need to be children themselves, but I do think children need to be able to connect with these characters on some level. Many favourite children’s stories have central characters who are animals, which, for some reason, kids seem to easily identify and sympathise with.
Fairytales, myths and legends often have characters who are adults, but these stories usually contain magical elements, or fantastic plots that capture the imagination.
I can’t be totally certain that Kow Kee’s story isn’t going to appeal to children, but I suspect that it might not be one that kids will naturally be drawn to. I do think that it could work if actively shared by an adult – the storyteller would then be the link between the story and the child, perhaps using the book to explore the differences in past and present ways of life, including the kinds of foods enjoyed by people then and now, the ways of preparation, etc. Lim Lay Koon’s illustrations are what I like the best about this book, especially her literal depictions of devil’s food cake and the idiomatic expression “fish out of water”. I also love her detailed drawing of the interior of an old-style, small town sundry shop, and her “long shot” of a roadside stall – aspects of Malaysia and Malaysian life that are fast disappearing, and which are already alien to many urban children.
I congratulate the Lim sisters on the publication of their winning entry. However, I would like to urge the organisers of the Calistro Prize to pay closer attention to the work that they produce. Work that is submitted for the contest still needs to be edited before it is published. It does not do the Prize, the authors/illustrators and the works justice to publish books before they are developed to their full potential. It’s my opinion as an editor that Master & Apprentice is not the book it could and should be.
The Calistro Prize aims to “promote the creation” of Malaysian stories for teens and children, and it also wishes to “reward excellence” in content. Those who work in publishing will know that excellence is not something that is achieved at first, second or even third draft. Excellence requires guidance and hard work and time. The Calistro Prize, if it is sincere in its efforts to produce excellent Malaysian work for young Malaysian readers, must be ready to commit, and not just in monetary terms.
Daphne Lee is a writer, editor, book reviewer and teacher. She runs a Facebook group called The Places You Will Go for lovers of all kinds of literature. Write to her at star2@ thestar.com.my.
The Putrajaya International Book Fair will take place from March 19 to 23 at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre. For more information, go to mphonline.com.