World Book Day: some great ideas for Malaysian children’s books

World Book Day was initiated by the UNESCO to help change children’s lives by making reading together and reading for pleasure a habit for life. It falls on 23 April each year. The theme for this year’s World Book Day is ‘You Are A Reader’, with a focus on reaching children from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Reading for pleasure is said to be the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success – more than their family circumstances, their parents’ educational background or their income.

World Book Day is also a time when authors, illustrators, books, and reading can be appreciated and celebrated in over 100 countries around the world. Learn more about World Book Day from this website here and by watching this video.

World Book Day

In conjunction with this meaningful annual celebration of books, I would like to share with you some great children’s books set in Malaysia, that showcase the diversity of our country as well as the various ethnicities and cultures living here.

The books featured are in English, Mandarin, Bahasa Malaysia (Malay language) or are bilingual. If you have young learners of local languages other than English at home, you may like to use these as additional resources for your children to be immersed in their second language, and to learn these in a meaningful and fun way. All it takes is a little effort and the help of Google Translate or a nifty tool like this dictionary pen.

Books on growing up in Peninsular Malaysia

The Kampung Boy and Town Boy by Lat, in English

We love gifting these two iconic comic books to firs time visitors and families to Malaysia, as they capture the essence and nuances of growing up in Malaysia (specifically rural Perak) in the 1950s. These books are an autobiographical account of the artist’s life, telling of his adventures in the jungles and tin mines, his circumcision, family, and school life. It is narrated in English, with a smattering of Malay.

Book Day 2 - Happy Go KL

The Kampung Boy book made Lat an international figure and a highly regarded cartoonist in Malaysia. It won several awards when released in the United States, such as Outstanding International Book for 2007 and the Children’s Book Council and Booklist Editor’s Choice for 2006. The sequel Town Boy, that follows the protagonist in his teenage years in the city, was published in 1981. Highly recommended but please note that ‘The Kampung Boy’ is different from ‘Kampung Boy: Yesterday and Today’ which has different content.

Book Day - Happy Go KL

The Door Under The Stairs Series for Middle Grade readers, in English

Book Day 6 - Happy Go KL

My kids and I have not finished reading the six books we purchased from Heidi Shamsuddin’s “The Door Under the Stairs” series, but we love what we have read so far. It is a fun way for young readers to learn a little more about Malaysian history. The series features three Malaysian kids, who find a magic door under the stairs at their school (a Sekolah Kebangsaan or National School of course!). The door takes them back in time where they encounter our country’s heroes.

In the first book, The Mystery of the Missing National Anthem, they meet Malaysia’s first Prime Minister and help him solve a mystery where the national anthem goes missing. They also meet other heroes like Malaysian director cum movie star P. Ramlee and legendary footballer Mokhtar Dahari, and even go back in time to when Singapore was a British colonial port. Eight books have been planned for the series, with six already published.

Books on Bornean culture

Oftentimes, those of us living in Peninsular Malaysia know very little about our cousins and counterparts across the South China Sea in Borneo. Below are some books that can help enlighten us about the Bornean people and their culture as well as the wildlife, trees and plants found in that area.

Indahnya Pulau Sipadan (How Beautiful Sipadan Island Is) by Nor Azhar Ishak (or Uncle NAI), in Malay

Book Day 5 - Happy Go KL

Amarul goes on a holiday with his dad to Sipadan Island in Sabah. He wants to snorkel, but has a fear of swimming in the open sea. A friendly sea turtle takes Amarul and introduces him to the beautiful marine life living under the South China Sea. This helps Amarul overcome his fears and to have a fun holiday at the island. Check out Uncle NAI’s (an award winning storyteller and author-illustrator) other books on his Facebook page here and Instagram here.

Anak Murid Yang Memakai Kain Cawat (Pupils Who Wear Loin Cloths) written by Jong Pui San and illustrated by Ammi Leong, in Mandarin and Malay

Book Day 3 - Happy Go KL

Through this book, kids will learn about the unique culture and lives of a group of young pupils from the Kelabit community in the Bario highlands of North Sarawak, who wear traditional loin cloths (cawat cloths). Set in the 1950s, the story tells of these resilient children who, unaccompanied by adults, trekked long distances (7 hours across forest areas) to return home after a term at school, breaking their long journey overnight at a village longhouse. The book shares that for the 6 years of their primary school life, each pupil from this community will walk a total distance of 100,000 kilometres for this journey to and from school.

I Belong to the Forest by Ammi Leong, in Mandarin and English

Book Day 4 - Happy Go KL

Learn about the Bornean Sun Bear (the smallest bear in the world) and the wonderful work of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). Author-illustrator Ammi Leong also shares her Borneo field trip experiences to the BSBCC, photos, research and sketches that culminated in her beautiful illustrations of Sun Bears for this bilingual picture book. Find out more about Ammi and her work here.

May books enrich your life and lead you to discover more about Malaysia and the world around you. Happy World Book Day everyone!

Would you like to take the family to some great kid-friendly book stores in KL? Have a look at our listicle here.

Book Day 2 copy - Happy Go KL

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