Pre­pare to com­mit

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS -

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.

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