THE INSIDER: YUSOF GAJAH
Joyce Koh talks to Yusof Gajah, acclaimed children’s book writer, illustrator and Malaysia’s foremost naïve art (child-like art) artist
How do you get your ideas for children’s titles? page numbers for reference purposes, that is a funny book. Like an art book, a good picture book has to be well designed and has a good sequence.
Did you read a lot as a kid? No, I daydreamed a lot. We don’t have what we have today. During my time back then, it takes a lot of effort to go to the library. That time, I made my own scrapbook, cutting and pasting articles from the Straits Times and Asian Magazine.
Have you worked with publishers who dictate what you write? There’s no point in going to publishers who are not interested in publishing children’s books. They think there’s no money. They think parents will not buy the books, because there are very little words in picture books. Theyy think it is not worth it.
But you can’t think like that. It’s like a dress. Or a present. Parents canan spend lots of money y to buy birthday cakes, presents or throw a birthday party for the kid, but they think a picture book is expensive. A cake around RM50-RM60, is that not expensive? But birthday parties are temporary. Giving a child a book is an investment for their lifetime. Every time you read it, it will change. At different ages, they will see different things.
Do you have any favourite bookstores in KL? I go to some in Petaling Street. There is one Chinese bookstore that’s very old. Although I don’t understand Chinese, I like to look at the illustrations. Those are very good.
How do you think we can get more people to read? There used to be a government campaign called ‘The Reading Programme’. However, the government has spent more money on the event launch than on books. They should instead use the money for grants to inspire people to read and write.
I met the director general of our education ministry at the
Visit Oyez!Books (www.oyezbookskids.com) for more information about where to buy Yusof Gajah’s work.
August - October 2015 children’s book fair in Bologna. We started talking, I worked with him, and now we have conducted educational workshops for more than 3,000 teachers to write and illustrate.
What do you think of the children’s book scene in KL compared to Singapore? Hmm. Compared to Singapore, we have so much local content. From North Malaysia to East Malaysia, there are so many cultures. Singapore is a small city, so the context is different. As an international jury, what we need now is someone who can write in their own style about local cont content.
W We are spending mor more money on tou tourism campaigns, but we forget about ou our stories. For Ma Malaysia tourism fa fairs overseas, th the tourism board b brings food, arts a and crafts, and c caricature artists to d draw the visitors. But they do not bring illustrators. Stories and illustrations are alsol a g greatt way to promote the country.
What do you think of happy endings in books? I don’t use the words ‘happy ending’. I think, in children’s books, there must be an answer. I have a book titled ‘The Red Ball’. There is a question, or a puzzle, and at the end, the mystery is solved. I write more children and toddler books. We have to start them early to love reading.
What are some up-and-coming writers we should know about? Jainal Amambing and Awang Fadilah. Jainal is from Sabah. They are both my students. Very creative. They have won major awards in Japan and Korea too.
You have won so many awards and exhibited in so many countries. What do you consider your greatest achievement? My greatest achievement is to see many new writers and illustrators in Malaysia, especially when they make it to international level. Through them, we will have more and more stories.
Eaton’s Books and Toys
Third floor, Centre Point Shopping Mall, Kota Kinabalu (08 823 7855). Home to a decent selection of books, games, stationery and puzzles, Eaton’s is worth checking out for the sake of the kids. Daily, 10am-10pm.
Ground and first floor, Wisma Anza, Jalan Haji Taha, Kuching (08 242 9157/www. my-bookstore.com.my). Still operating after more than 20 years, MyBookstore offers a wide range of titles for both kids and grownups. Mon-Sat, 9am-7.30pm; Sun, 9am-3pm.
Various locations nationwide (www.borders. com.my). No one will mind if you while away an entire afternoon at Borders; in fact, the employees encourage browsing and reading. Most Borders outlets house a Starbucks café for pick-me-ups.
Various locations nationwide (1 300 888 674/www.mphonline.com). Boasting multiple outlets throughout the country, MPH carries reading material for kids of all ages from toddlers to teens. In order to support the new generation of writers, the MPH Group organises writing contests for youth. Enrol your child in the MPH Kidz Club to enjoy a ten percent discount off children’s books plus a 15 percent discount at the bookstore café. Certain MPH branches hold storytelling sessions and kids’ activities every weekend.
Various locations nationwide (www.popular. com.my). Bestowed the title of the largest local bookstore chain by the Malaysian Book of Records, POPULAR has more than 70 outlets taking up 700,000 sq ft of retail space in total. The trilingual bookstore is frequented for its cheap school supplies, school textbooks and revision books, magazines and extensive CD section.
Various locations nationwide (www. timesbookstores.com.my). Populated by students shopping for school supplies and stationery, Times Bookstore offers great membership perks. Sign up and enjoy a 20 percent off welcome voucher, 25 percent off selected releases plus further deals on your birthday.