Saturday, January 31, 2009

The island of the gods beckons again ...

2009 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

A FRAGMENT of wonderful news from Janet De Neefe, the festival director of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. The literary goddess of Ubud has announced a tentative line-up of 80 authors for 2009, including Adelaide-based Booker Prize-winner and Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee (Disgrace, Life & Times of Michael K); Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka (You Must Set Forth at Dawn), the first African to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature; Vikas Swarup (Slumdog Millionaire, Six Suspects); Hari Kunzru (My Revolutions, Transmission, The Impressionist); Mohammed Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes); Ed Husain (The Islamist); 2007 Orange Prize-winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (The Thing Around Your Neck, Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus); Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate); Nuruddin Farah (Knots, Links, Sweet and Sour Milk, From a Crooked Rib); Lloyd Jones (Mister Pip, Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance, The Book of Fame, Biografi); and Australian novelists Geraldine Brooks (People of the Book, March, Year of Wonders); Kate Grenville (The Lieutenant, The Secret River, The Idea of Perfection, Dark Places), Michelle de Kretser (The Lost Dog, The Hamilton Case, The Rose Grower) and Christos Tsolkias (The Slap, Dead Europe).

Now in its sixth year, the festival will run from October 7-11, 2009, with the theme Sorrow and Joy, examining the strength of the human spirit in triumphing over adversity and other impossible odds.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Aravind ADIGA

Thursday, January 29, 2009

An Indian Love Affair


You can fall in love with a country, its people, culture and idiosyncracies through its writers as Abby Wong discovered when she delved into modern Indian fiction

I HAVE A PECULIAR reading habit. From time to time, I get besotted by a country and all I want to read are books about it; all other books become oddly uninteresting.

So when India became my obsession, I devoured Indian literature and history for more than a year. I even travelled to Mumbai, only to find myself lost in the crowded streets that were as chaotic and wretched as they were depicted in A Fine Balance, the book that got me started on this tempestuous Indian love affair.

Voted recently as one of The Australian’s Top 100 Books of All Time, A Fine Balance is a classic Indian novel written by Rohinton Mistry. Master of palpable descriptions, Mistry was likely to have moved the Australians with his portrayal of the lives of four hapless Indians who struggle in a society of injustice and hardship.

The sounds, smells and people of Mumbai must have evoked every emotion and conjured up images of destitution unheard of in modern times. Mistry is the only Asian author to appear on the list.

However, of all the Indian fiction that I have read so far, V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas remains closest to my heart, although it is not set in India. I was captivated by this tragic-comic story of Mohun Biswas, an ethnic Indian born on the Caribbean island of Trinidad.

Declared at birth as a bad omen by a Hindu pundit and devoid of opportunity his whole life, Biswas suffers belittlement as a result of his marriage into a wealthy and domineering Tulsi family. His dogged attempt to achieve autonomy and respect by owning a house ends up disastrously, no thanks to an incompetent carpenter.

Naipaul is flawless as a storyteller. So mesmerised was I by his lyrical prose that I often felt as if I was being read to by the poignant Biswas. As shocking as it was riveting, my first encounter with the Indian caste system through this book forced me to delve deeper into the culture of Mother India.

Naipaul deservingly received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.

Other Indian authors have also managed to emerge in the crowded international market with critical acclaim.

My favourite award-winning novel is Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, a fantastic collection of nine short stories that focus on intercultural miscommunication and conflict that are often quite familiar to us.

These stories are extraordinary because of Lahiri’s consummate story-telling skills and her elegantly simple prose.The most intriguing is the title story in which the young Das family, second-generation Indian-Americans, go on a day-tour in India guided by 46-year-old Mr Kapasi. Slightly annoyed at first by the peevish Mrs Das, Kapasi finds himself later beguiled by her seductive and flamboyant demeanour.

An appealing and unique aspect of modern Indian literature is the nonchalance of its characters, despite being put through the wringer by unjust or horrific conditions. This aspect is best exemplified in Vikas Swarup’s Q&A [also published as Slumdog Millionaire], an inventive début about Ram Mohammad Thomas, an 18-year-old orphan who was given Indian, Muslim and Christian names because no one knew who his parents were.

Ram wins a billion rupees on a TV quiz show, but is unjustly sent to jail by the organisers who cannot believe he won without cheating. What they do not know is that Ram had drawn from his store of street wisdom and trivia to help him win not only the show but also life itself.

My admiration for Indian fiction waned half-way into Vikram Seth’s magnum opus, A Suitable Boy. To me, Seth’s prose seems less sophisticated than the likes of Salman Rushdie and Naipaul. Furthermore, it was a chore to read an epic so long and filled so excessively with voluble dialogue that was mundane and inane at times.

But I must concede, as I persevered until the last page, A Suitable Boy was a great panoramic representation of Indian culture because social frailties such as caste, gender discrimination, arranged marriages and incest were eloquently dealt with. It made Indian culture more accessible to non-native readers.

As I continued on my subcontinental adventure, Story-Wallah landed on my table. It was the most wonderful gift as it contained diasporic short stories written by some of the finest Indian writers, Rushdie, Bharati Mukherjee and Hanif Kureshi.

A humble book, Story-Wallah does what books do best—tell stories that are simple yet extraordinarily moving.

I particularly loved Bharati Mukherjee’s piece titled “The Management of Grief,” which dealt with the sorrows of the grief-stricken Shaila Bhave who loses her sons and husband in a plane crash. While managing her pain, she finds solace in writing her late husband a love poem.

Rushdie’s prose is uncustomarily simple and playful in his story about an Indian family who emigrate to London. New in a foreign land, they encounter a number of challenges, one being the language barrier. “Yes, fleas,” their old nanny replies when asked if she would like to have tea.

It has been years since I finally made my way out of this Indian spell but the books I had the pleasure to read have remained with me.

Since then I have gone on to explore other lands via the written word. Recently, I happened to choose the beautiful, hardcover Cairo Trilogy. My subsequent Arabian adventure which married ancient fantasy with modern truths is another story.

Reproduced from the The Sunday Star of January 25, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John UPDIKE (1932-2009)

John Updike is the winner of two Pulitzers and two National Book Awards.
“My subject is the American Protestant small-town middle class.
I like middles. It is in middles that extremes clash,
where ambiguity restlessly rules.”
In a 1966 interview with Jane Howard for Life magazine.
A collection of stories, My Father’s Tears and Other Stories (Alfred A. Knopf), will be released in June 2009.
Read Michiko Kakutani’s excellent appraisal of John Updike’s life and work in The New York Times.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Secret's Out

Sebastian Barry has won the 2008 Costa Book of the Year Award with his Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, The Secret Scripture (Faber & Faber/Viking Penguin, 2008).

Monday, January 26, 2009

Neil GAIMAN wins the Newbery

BRITISH AUTHOR Neil Gaiman, the author of American Gods (2001) and Coraline (2002), has been awarded the American Library Association’s 2008 John Newbery Medal, which is considered to be the most prestigious honour in American children’s literature, on Monday, January 25, 2009. Gaiman, 48, was honoured for The Graveyard Book (with illustrations by Dave McKean for the U.S. edition and by Chris Riddell for the U.K. edition) (HarperCollins, September 2008), a story about an orphaned toddler who is raised by ghosts in a graveyard.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

2008 National Book Critics Circle Awards

THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE announced the finalists for its 2008 awards in New York on Saturday, January 23, 2009. Here is the list of finalists in the fiction and poetry categories:

1. 2666 (trans. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008) / Roberto Bolaño
2. The Lazarus Project (Riverhead, 2008) / Aleksandar Hemon
3. Home (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008) / Marilynne Robinson
4. Olive Kitteridge (Random House, 2008) / Elizabeth Strout
5. The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart (West Virginia University Press, 2008) / M. Glenn Taylor

1. Half the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2008) / Juan Felipe Herrera
2. Sources (Turtle Point Press, 2008) / Devin Johnston
3. Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008) / August Kleinzahler
4. The Landscapist: Selected Poems (trans. from the French by John Ashbery) (The Sheep Meadow Press, 2008) / Pierre Martory
5. Human Dark with Sugar (Copper Canyon Press, 2008) / Brenda Shaughnessy

Saturday, January 24, 2009


LANSELL TAUDEVIN reflects on the world’s most confusing language

LAST TUESDAY I was chatting with an American bookseller over the Internet.

She: “You live in Malaysia?”
Me: “Yes!”
She: “But you speak English?”
Me: “Yes.”
She: “Well, that is a surprise!”
Me: “Why?”
She: “I thought most South Americans spoke Spanish.”
Me: (Silence.)

We moved on to other topics. Why would she not stock my books? Come to think of it, that’s a topic I touch on with most booksellers, including MPH Bookstores! I mean, you have these recently de-nappied Malaysian writers like Tash Aw and Tan Twan Eng writing books that are nominated for literary prizes—and all because they are alleged to have some literary merit. Since when has literary merit been a criteria for best-sellers? Just ask Dan Brown or Barbara Cartland.

But I digress. From its writers to (most of) its taxi drivers, many Malaysians speak good English. Of course side splitters occur, but after 40 years in Asia, Malaysians—India, selectively, aside—speak the best English in Asia. Of course, the Brits gave it a head start. Thailand and Cambodia had no chance. Indonesians? Apa? Singaporeans? What talking you? Vietnam was bombarded by the French and the Americans. I love the French touch, but ...

Amongst the exceptions in Malaysia, even literary circles sometimes sin. Are bookshops bastions of bibliophilic propriety? Consider this in a bookshop at The Summit in Subang Jaya: “Childrens Book’s.” But the exception proves the rule. After all, I have seen similar signs in Australia. I am a member of the CIA—Crush Incorrect Apostrophes.

Foreigners often speak English better than the English. Go to a cocktail party in Delhi and you will know what I mean. Then go to one in Brixton, or Brisbane’s southern suburbs. You expect better where it is supposed to be spoken real good! Come to Asia, and prepare to be pleased and surprised, if you are prepared to see language as a living and growing thing that seeks to simplify and sensify. (You see ... a new word. Is it wrong? Strictly speaking, yes. Can you understand it? Yes! I’ll bet Scrabulous accepts it, but it accepts anything, except zen!)

Every language adapts and is adapted. Singlish, now legitimised in the downloadable Coxford Dictionary of Singlish, is a case in point. But even in Malaysia where its sister dialect Manglish shines, expressions which are not ‘the Queen’s English’ jar at first. You think about them and realise they make sense.

Consider: “on the light,” “stupid driver, horn him!”, and the best of all: “how can? Can, can,” which is not actually a French dance. Concise. Understandable.

If you speak English fluently as a second language, I take my hat off to you. Consider these snippets and tell me that English is not confusing.

The case of the sewer who fell into a sewer
The sewer fell into a sewer. In one fell blow, he fell on a saw and saw that he was sore. He did object to the object he found there. In the mist, he almost missed it. He felt bolder after climbing out on a boulder. As he kneaded his knee, he knew he needed new treatment. In dire straits, he staggered straight home. Round the wound he wound a bandage. His stepfather took his ward towards the ward. The doctor show great patience with his patients. He had to subject the subject to tests. After a number of injections his leg got number. The doctor had to pare off some skin, then offered him a pair of pears for being brave. The hospital suite was sweet as he considered whether it would suit him to take a suit action. It took time for his heel to heal. He sought some sort of insurance, but for some reason, the sum of it was that as an invalid his claim was considered invalid. He became a sceptic, his wounds turned septic, and after he dyed his hair, he died. His friends spent the morning mourning.

Where the beans had been
Farmer Jones was known to produce fine produce. He and his heir erred ere they e’er aired their concerns over goings-on in their are. Jones would readily cite the sights on his site. When he and his son rose with the sun, by its rays he would raise his eyes and check what had been razed. Due to the dew, there was often lots to do. He took a bale and a bail to his sow who helped sow the fields. He tried training the boar, but it was a boor and soon got bored. The sow worked for four years before Jones realised that a lot of refuse resulted but he would refuse to dump it. Pest damage? Troublesome hares made his hairs rise. It does not matter that the does did most damage while he dozed, and ate eight acres despite the caws caused by the crows. Each gnu knew new pasture when they saw it. Daily, where they could find it, they would wear away his wares. They would beat him to his beet.  He would cede them some seed, but where the beans had been, he would patch up the patch they destroyed. Following their scent, he had sense and sent them away without a cent. Whenever Jones’s sheep break in, he put a brake on it! What to do? He sent the ewe back under the ewe tree. He needed bait to bate their attacks. He needed peace so he took a piece of timber to make a scarecrow.  He scared birds off to the highest peek where they would peek back in a fit of pique. When they made a tear in his clothes he shed a tear. It was a new phase that fazed him.

The dove who dove into the bushes
John was in love. He was far from idle in creating an idyll for his idol. Since there was no time like the present, it was time to present a present of a dove to his fiancée, He went to fetch it, but it waived a wave, and the dove dove into a beech on the beach opposite. John knew he needed a new strategy. He decided to row over but had a row with his friend. The wind was too strong for the two men to wind up the sail too. He jumped into a dingy dinghy. He pulled on the oar and was in awe at the speed he reached. The oars creaked across the creek. John, suffering flu from a draught in the flue, was annoyed when the dove flew further away. How could he intimate this loss to his most intimate friend? Despite his pleas he could not please her. He joined the foreign legion, which, of course, was a coarse course to follow. He decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

Let’s face it: English is confusing. How make easy? Can! Turn the English language over to those Malaysians whose malaise is not too overpowering. Make it more logical. Like Malay. Then we’ll sell more books. Maybe even one of mine?

LANSELL TAUDEVIN is an Australian composer and writer who visits Kuala Lumpur regularly, having decided after almost 40 years of living in Asia that Malaysia is a top spot! An author of several children’s books under the pseudonym Arfa King, he is now working on a series of children’s books with a Malaysian flavour. Taudevin, who also has several nonfiction books to his credit, is now semi-retired and spends his time travelling.

Reproduced from the January-March 2009 issue of Quill magazine

Friday, January 23, 2009

Urban Odysseys Launch Invitation

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Every city has a story to tell ...

Are you a writer or interested in writing?
Do you want to develop your ideas and writing skills?

If the answer is Yes! Yes! Yes! then sign up for City Stories, a series of creative writing workshops organised by the British Council Malaysia in partnership with MPH Bookstores and London-based Spread the Word from 11-20 February 2009.

Everyone loves a good story and these sessions will help writers hone their storytelling skills inspired by real lives and our urban setting. Whether you’re a first-time writer or a published author, there’ll be a workshop for you!

These workshops will be facilitated by Sarah Butler and Jeremy Sheldon.

Check out the workshop descriptions, timetable and registration details at

There are limited spaces, so register early to avoid disappointment!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


The Indifference Engine

IN 1999, journalists at The Mirror put Bernice Rubens’s The Elected Member, the Booker Prize-winning novel of 1970, back into manuscript form and sent it to 17 publishers, all of whom rejected it. Little, Brown, who’d printed the novel eight times, said, “It would be a hard one to sell.” Seventy years before that, the Cambridge literary critic I.A. Richards handed out a selection of poems to his students minus any information about authorship. He asked them to decide which poems were by “the greats” and which were by unknowns. Most of his students got it completely wrong.

What both these cases suggest is that the criteria for judging excellence in culture is far from fixed, essential and objective. What is it really that makes us buy or download music, films, books, etc.? Some yearning of the soul? Or is it more superficial than that? The hype? The glam? This is the age of the Supranational Media Engine driving what it deems ‘cool’ directly into our television (“the drug of the nation”) but mostly onto our computer screens. If we complain, like Theodore Sturgeon, author of More Than Human, that 90 per cent of everything is crud, the Engine-runners use the excuse that they’re only pandering to public taste. We’ll keep feeding it while you keep eating it.

But that’s a gross simplification. All too often, devotion to the green bottom line means fear of producing anything risqué or innovative. The legendary director Terry Gilliam talks about “The censorship of the marketplace ... If [a film] doesn’t make billions of dollars it doesn’t get made ... The people making the decisions are only interested in money—they’ve no cultural remit or interest in anything other than that.”

For the Engine, the ideal consumer (for we are all consumers now and certainly not music lovers, readers or movie buffs) has a one-minute attention span, can only appreciate tiny variations of tried and trusted formulae and can’t handle any issues or ideas beyond his or her personal experience. But it’s worth bearing in mind that when the Engine assumes more intelligence in the public and takes a risk it can (literally) pay off. In early 2008, the film, No Country for Old Men (based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel), achieved huge critical acclaim and commercial success despite breaking all the formal rules of a dead-cert commercial film. Its characters were largely unsympathetic, its ending was ambiguous and elliptical, its nagging atmosphere of dread hardly made for a tie-in deal with Disney. The No Country for Old Men experience isn’t a one-off, not in film or in any other art form. But the bigotry of big business means that such projects can struggle to even happen, if they don’t slip under the radar altogether. More likely the studios will play it safe and remake what are essentially the same three or four movies—The Inane Teen Comedy (in which a student almost always suffers an accident to his penis), The Bodybuilder Rampage, The Overly Contrived Torture-Horror, and so on.

This homogeneity shouldn’t be a surprise when we look at the economics of the Engine. Although downloading is wrecking the old cartels, a lot of cultural power is still invested in the hands of tiny elites whose values are usually conformist and conservative. In the 1980s, Noam Chomsky wrote about how the U.S. media was so dominated by corporate imperatives that the fair and accurate reporting of news had been seriously compromised. A major problem was, and still is, conglomeration, where what appears to be a broad range of media outlets are in fact owned by just a few massive businesses. We can be thankful for exceptions like The Guardian, which is run by a charitable trust in an effort to preserve editorial independence.

So, to return to the original question, how much of all this affects what we like and why we like them? The answer might lie in the tactics used by advertising and PR, to appeal to people’s most basic, irrational urges, sex being the primal one. In pop music, the visual was always as important as the aural, and became more so with the advent of MTV. Thus a cult of personality to rival Stalin’s was created. I have an old Elvis Presley vinyl where the King is interviewed by Pathé newsmen who all appear to have been scripted the first question by Colonel Tom Parker himself: “Well, you’re a mighty fine handsome young man, ain’t ya?” We then find out what junior high school Presley went to and what he likes for his dinner—this being the days before he binge-ate deep-fried piglets. The Colonel recognised the value of building an intimate if virtual relationship between the fans and ‘the product,’ and the product’s sex appeal was crucial.

The strategy worked then and the strategy works now: buy a Flake and get it on with Joss Stone. Cynics, often the wisest breed, will say that these days beauty far outweighs talent. People tend not to go to a Robbie Williams gig because they are looking for some acute paradigm shift in the grand narrative of artistic progress, some exploration of the fundamental truths at the core of the human condition. Which is shocking news to all of us.

But again, aren’t we simplifying things? Call me an old-school hippy purist (don’t, because I’ll be offended, I’m just a sensitive flower, really), but shouldn’t art be groping towards something a bit more profound than the gorgeous symmetry of a movie star’s cheekbones? Aren’t there bigger questions about ourselves and the world we inhabit that art should be addressing, bigger than the dreary diktats of the greenback? You decide.

TOM SYKES was born in 1979 and educated at the University of East Anglia. He is the co-editor of the travel book, No Such Thing As A Free Ride?, which was serialised in the London Times and named Observer Travel Book of the Week. A North American version of the book came out in June 2008 and an Australasian edition has been planned for 2009. He has published short fiction and articles in the U.K., U.S., Canada and Southeast Asia, as well as in international anthologies such as Small Voices, Big Confessions. His novella, The Blank Space, will be published by Pendragon Press in 2009.

Reproduced from the January-March 2009 issue of Quill magazine

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Before kids have even mastered the alphabets, they are already able to understand stories through pictures. Here, DAPHNE LEE talks about the wonders of picture books and how we must never underestimate their value

I CAME to picture books late. They were not a staple of my childhood. Illustrated books, sure, but not picture books, where text and illustrations share equally in the task of telling a story. I don’t think I even came across any picture books when I was little. I was never given any and don’t remember seeing them in the bookshops where I grew up.

My first up close and personal encounter with a picture book took place in England. I used to babysit for a colleague, and his five-year-old daughter loved Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea. I must have read that book a hundred times and, needless to say, I fell in love with the tiger who is so thirsty he drinks all the water in the tap. I adored the absurdity and humour of it all, and I was besotted by the gentlemanly, rather dapper-looking beast who wore his fur like a bespoke suit.

From that time on I read picture books, and I bought them. When I had children of my own I shared the books with them. Now I continue to buy picture books for myself and, sometimes, I buy them for my kids, too.

Several years after I became a journalist, I persuaded my editor that I should write a column about children’s books. This was only partly about getting paid to read picture books (a dream job!). I really, sincerely, wanted to spread the word about them.

I still write that column and now I also run a community library that has a large collection of picture books. Because I love them and because it’s part of my job, I read a great many picture books, and I am constantly amazed by the depth and variety shown by the writers and illustrators who choose to tell stories in this way.

I read The Tiger Who Came to Tea when I was 23, but there’s no reason for anyone to wait that long, although, of course, it’s really never too late. I do think the sooner the better, though.

Picture books are the perfect entry point to the lifetime of wonder and insight literature brings. I think they are the best way to introduce children to books and reading. Long before a child has learnt to read, he can already understand and appreciate pictures. It’s wonderful to offer children the gift of the delicious sensation of being read to. You can even do that using a book that comprises solely text. But how precious if you also provide the child with a book that is filled with pictures, that he can enjoy it with you, as well as by himself.

I feel that one of the best things about liking to read is knowing that you need never be bored—so long as you have a book, you’re set! A picture book reveals this to a child from a very young age, from the moment he is able to hold a book in his hands and focus on the pictures.

And no, books aren’t just for those who can read. I’ve met parents who won’t buy books for their babies and toddlers as “they can’t read yet.” “You’re supposed to read to them,” I say, and am met with varying degrees of incredulity and confusion. The concept of sharing a book with a child is one that is new to many people. I was always read to at bedtime, and for a long time I assumed that everyone enjoyed this treat. Now I realise that bedtime stories are the exception rather than the rule. The regular emails I receive from parents are encouraging though. A frequently asked question is what books they should read to their babies and toddlers, so habits are changing.

I have favourite picture books that I recommend to parents. The list keeps growing as each year sees the publication of new books. And, because the range of subject matter, and writing and illustrating styles is constantly widening, I do not see these books as being only for very young children. Yes, picture books are an excellent introduction to literature, but they are also an important literary medium for readers of all ages.

It’s a common assumption that children’s books are of little or even no literary merit. Perhaps picture books get sidelined even more than children’s novels because some people believe that books that use illustrations to help tell a story are an insult to their intelligence. That, however, is a subject for a whole separate discussion. Suffice to say that the standards of picture books vary, just as they do for books written for adult readers.

As I’ve already pointed out, most picture books use text and pictures to tell stories. In a good picture book neither trumps the other. As author and book critic Karla Kuskin put it, in an article for American literary journal The Horn Book, “A picture book is a complicated form of collaborative art. When it is very well done, it is an artistic achievement worthy of respectful examination and honor.”

Good illustrations are not just a literal translation of words into pictures. A skilful illustrator encourages the reader to explore the various and possible meanings of the author’s words. He doesn’t make assumptions about a child’s level of knowledge, understanding or thought processes. He plants ideas and questions in minds, and provokes discussion.

In We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by children’s laureate Michael Rosen and illustrator Helen Oxenbury, the text ends with the children safe at home, having slammed the door on the bear. But Oxenbury adds to the tale by drawing the bear walking home with its head hanging. Suddenly, the reader sees another side to the ravenous wild beast. The bear could be dragging his feet because he’s missed out on a good meal of children. But maybe, just maybe he’s lonely and disappointed because he wanted to play. We’ll never know, but it’s so much fun to speculate!

Even when targeting a particular age group or introducing a basic concept, like letters or colours, what sets an exceptional illustrator apart from an ordinary one is the former’s ability to craft a book that appeals on several levels. An outstanding picture book must be interesting to the child it’s meant for as well as the adult who will be reading or introducing it to the child. After all, it’s Mum, and not Little Soraya, who controls the book budget.

And then there are textless picture books. These rely solely on illustrations to tell a story and it’s entirely up to the “reader” to interpret the pictures.

Like picture books with text, wordless picture books explore a wide variety of subjects and themes. All three of Barbara Lehman’s textless books (The Red Book, Museum Trip and Rainstorm) are exciting adventures. The first and third are also about friendship and the solace it offers. Two of David Weisner’s three Caldecott Medals were won by textless books which feature ordinary animals in fantastical settings. Jan Omerod’s Sunshine and Moonlight depict the loving relationship a little girl has with her parents. And Shaun Tan’s The Arrival is a massive 128-page textless picture book that deals with loneliness, alienation and oppression, as well as friendship and love as a bridge between physical and cultural distances.

If you’re interested in picture books for your children, I think you should give them the best you can find. While I believe in letting children make their own choices, I also believe in guided choice. Offer your children the best picture books and then let them choose. Give them good picture books—books that stimulate their imagination and stir their senses; books that make them laugh and squeal and shout; books that turn them into dinosaurs and fairies, giants and princesses; books that make them dream of being different and dare to be themselves; books that take them on journeys ... to faraway places and ... deep inside themselves; books that are fun, fun, fun.

Give your children picture books that will make them love books.

Reproduced from the January-March 2009 issue of Quill magazine

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in its many, many incarnations.