New bilingual book series introduces children to traditional Malay culture

Pling! Pak! Pong! and Hadiah Istimewa/A Special Gift are for ages five and above. PHOTO: PUSTAKA ISLAMIYAH PTE LTD/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Freelance translator Nur-El-Hudaa Jaffar came up with the idea of introducing the artistic aspects of traditional Malay culture to young children through picture books in 2019.

Three years later, the 52-year-old has launched a bilingual picture book series in English and Malay which follows the adventures of a boy named Azim.

Azim is loosely based on her nephew Elhan Aazym Muhammad Helmy, who turns eight this year.

The first book, Pling! Pak! Pong!, follows Azim as he attempts to make his own musical instruments and features the kompang, a traditional Malay instrument similar to a tambourine.

The second book, Hadiah Istimewa/A Special Gift, explores Azim's quest for a unique gift for his grandmother, who is moving far away from him, and features batik painting.

The books are for ages five and above.

Speaking to The Straits Times at the launch of the books at Kamal Arts Gallery at Wisma Geylang Serai on May 29, Nur-El-Hudaa, who is also an editorial consultant, said the art forms featured in the stories play an important role in Azim's growth, be it by making music with his hands or coping with separation.

"I was inspired by the passion of arts practitioners, in particular, Mr Kamal Dollah, who runs his own batik art studio, and Mr Megat Muhammad Firdaus Mohd, a musician who is very active in promoting traditional Malay music," she added.

While conducting research for her books, she watched kompang videos and attended batik painting sessions. She wanted to ensure that she accurately depicted how the musical instruments are held.

The series, which has received support from the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism, shows how children tackle challenges even as they struggle to express themselves. For example, Hadiah Istimewa looks at how children experience separation from things they love, such as a family member, pet or object.

Nur-El-Hudaa also depicts how the adult characters in the books, such as Azim's family members, support his interests. When Azim feels sad, his grandmother helps him to accept and cope with his feelings.

The books include a guide for teachers and parents, with cues for conversations and follow-up activities.

The books are on sale for $12 each at bookshop Pustaka Islamiyah's online store in the Lazada mobile app.

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