My paternal grandparents were based in Malaysia in the mid-1970s around the time I was born. I don’t remember them talking much about their life there when I was little. But I do remember thinking that Malaysia sounded like an exciting, exotic place, so different to the UK in which I was growing up. I wonder whether these early memories planted the seed for my lifelong love of travel, language and culture …
So, I am thrilled to have ‘landed’ in Malaysia on my picture book adventure. What first struck me about this country is the huge variety of languages spoken: 136 according to Ethnologue, although two of these are now extinct. Still 134 is some total! The official language of Malaysia is Bahasa Malaysia (Malay), but English and Mandarin Chinese are also widely spoken, along with a variety of other Asian and indigenous languages.
Malaysia is a multicultural melting pot with literary traditions and literature that reflect and originate from each cultural group, I read in this fascinating paper by a team at the University of Malaya. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, all the titles I discovered when I was researching picture books for this project were originally written in English. This tradition dates from British colonial times: books were brought out from England for use in schools, but often referred to a world that was far removed from Malaysian culture and traditions.
In recent years, there has been a move towards publishing books with a clearly defined Malaysian identity. The two titles I have chosen from Malaysia reflect this tendency. The first is Puteri* Tioman: The Green Turtle (Oyez!Books, 2011; this edition 2016) by writer/illustrator duo Rossiti Aishah Rashidi and Farrah Ashiela Samsuri. It tells the story of a turtle making her way back to Tioman Island off the coast of Malaysia to lay her eggs. The second is Legendary Princesses of Malaysia (Oyez!Books, 2013), a series of short stories about mythical fairy princesses and real historical figures, by Raman, illustrated by Emila Yusof.
The third title I have selected for the Malaysian leg of our travels is Phoenix Song (2015) from UK publishing house Lantana Publishing who specialise in cross-cultural collaborations. This picture book is about a young Malaysian boy who is given a magical Chinese flute for his birthday. It is written by Tutu Dutta, who was born in India and grew up in Malaysia, and illustrated by Martina Peluso from Italy.
I hope you enjoy these three titles as much as I do.
*I recently discovered that the Malay word ‘Puteri’ translates as ‘princess’ in English. There really are a lot of princesses in my Malaysian picture book selection![Image: Pattern of “tengkolok” (National Library of Malaysia) by vil.sandi made available under a creative commons licence; Source: flickr.com]