Interview: Dee Char

mr-low-and-the-magic-of-borneoDee Char is the author of Mr Low and the Magic of Borneo, a children’s book set in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. It is an adventure story as well as the coming-of-age tale of Bibi, a Dusun child who must learn to deal with the unique gift she possesses as well as the changes and threats that her community is facing.

Dee (who is based in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah) and I met on Zoom as fellow writers and committee members of the Malaysian Writers Society. From our subsequent text- and video-conversations, it’s been evident how interested and passionate she is about Kadazandusun (the unification term and the collective name for more than 40 sub-tribes who are the native speakers of Dusunic languages and some non-Dusunic speaking tribes who call themselves Dusun or Kadazan) culture, and traditional arts and skills.

I interviewed Dee recently via email, about the experience of writing and publishing her first book, and how she hopes to write more stories that feature indigenous lore.Read More »

Interview: Tutu Dutta

TutuDutta1

Tutu Dutta retells Malaysian folktales and also creates original stories based on the myths and legends of the region and beyond. Her latest book is The Blood Prince of Langkasuka (Penguin Random House SEA), inspired by the Malaysian legend of the fanged king of the Bujang Valley. The following Q&A was done over email. For more of Tutu, visit her blog Betel, Banyan, Basil & Bamboo.Read More »

Overview: Mr Low and the Magic of Borneo by Dee Char

I enjoyed reading this tale set in Borneo, specifically the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. The focus is on an indigenous (the Kadazan-Dusun) community and the story is told from the perspective of a young Dusun girl called Bibi. It is 1851 and changes are coming to Borneo, with strangers threatening to disrupt the old ways of life.

Like me, you may be surprised to discover who ‘Mr Low’ refers to! I certainly didn’t expect it, but I enjoyed the way the author works this character into the tale.

I also like how the story provides a window into Kadazan-Dusun cultural and spiritual practices and beliefs. As the author is part Kadazan-Dusun, it is fitting that she has chosen to preserve these details by weaving them into an engaging story that will appeal to readers of all ages.

Review:Thunder Boy Junior by Sherman Alexie

First published in The Star on 11th November, 2016

str2_daphnethunderr_sharmilla_1_cover

Sherman Alexie, the author of the hilarious and heart-wrenching award-winning young adult fiction novel The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian, has published his first picture book.

Illustrated by Yuyi Morales, Thunder Boy Jr tells the story of a young boy struggling to come to terms with his name. Thunder Boy has been named after his dad who is known as “Big Thunder”. Unfortunately, this makes the little boy “Little Thunder”, a nickname that he thinks sounds like a “burp or a fart”.Read More »

Re-read: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

cover_of_fire_and_hemlockInspired by this Guardian blog post, I chose Fire and Hemlock as my third Diana Wynne Jones re-read.

This story is a Tam Lin re-telling, and although I am interested in the ballad and interpretations of it, and this book is one of my favourite DWJs, I’ve always felt uncomfortable about the relationship between Polly (Jones’s Janet) and Thomas Lynn.

OK, if you haven’t read Fire and Hemlock, there will be spoilers in this post, so click the Read More button at your own risk.Read More »

Re-read: Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones

This is the first in a series of posts about my re-reading of selected Diana Wynne Jones stories. I will not be reading them in order of publication, but purely according to what I feel like next. I will also not be reading every DWJ book I own (thirty seven in all).

My first DWJ re-read is Hexwood. I read my third copy of the novel. I left my first (paperback) copy on a chair in Amsterdam airport’s departure area while waiting for my connecting flight to Koln. My second copy (also a paperback) was lost somewhere in KL or PJ — I think it may have been in a post office or similar. The copy I have now is a hardback, ex-library edition, published by Methuen in 1993. I was living in England when Hexwood was first published, but I wasn’t aware of it. At that point I had only read The Time of the Ghost, which I had picked up at a flea market in Singapore. I do remember looking for DWJ’s books while living in England, but not finding any. Odd.

Anyway …Read More »

Book Review: Pax by Sara Pennypacker

paxFirst published on 18th June, 2016 in The Star

PAX

Author: Sara Pennypacker

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

THE reason I am leery of stories about pets, or in which humans and animals have close relationships, is because they invariably contain heart-breaking scenes featuring death, separation, cruelty or all three.

The heartbreak occurs early in Pax by Sara Pennypacker. In chapter one, Peter is made to abandon his pet fox, the book’s titular character, at the edge of a wood.

The method employed to distract and leave Pax behind is shockingly cruel, even more so because it is so familiar.

However, we learn that this is not a matter of human whim and fancy. With the country in the midst of war, Peter’s father has enlisted in the army and so, Peter must go live with his grandfather where there is no room for pets.

But Peter and Pax are pragmatic in the face of their separation. The boy sets out to walk the 300 miles back to where he left his pet, while Pax, steadfast in his belief that his human will return for him, just gets on with life.Read More »

Book Review: Pigeon Post by Gwen Smith

pigeon-postFirst published on 16th February, 2014 in The Star

PIGEON POST

Author: Gwen Smith

Publisher: Oyez!, 112 pages

WHEN I was about five, I received my first boxed set of books from my Godmother Evelyne. I still own three of the five books that were part of that set and still read them from time to time.

One of the books is Another Lucky Dip by Ruth Ainsworth, a collection of stories about the everyday lives of ordinary children. There are no mysteries, no amateur sleuthing. Some of the characters are young enough for a wander round the garden to be an awfully big adventure. One of them, Charles, features in several of the stories. Charles has a Useful Bag from which he produces wonderful objects, like notebooks and envelopes, jars and crayons, and sticky tape. He likes to be told stories about when he was ‘small as a pin’.

Then there is the story of a young boy and his precious matryoshka doll. Unlike other dolls of this type, she doesn’t have smaller dolls nested in her body, just a small, wooden red ball. I’ve loved matryoshka dolls since I first read this story, but I have yet to find one that hides a wooden red ball – I have not given up looking.

My favourite story is about three children who spend a day making surprises for their mother. Like the other stories, it’s a quiet tale, not obviously thrilling, although I remember being excited and inspired by the ingenuity of the children and the descriptions of the beautiful, simple, imperfectly perfect things they create for their mother.

The stories in Another Lucky Dip are about the mouth-watering delight of getting thoroughly lost in play that is driven and shaped solely by imagination. Not a lot happens in them, but the lives described are, nevertheless, full and rich, filled with the surprises and adventures ordinary life coughs up in the course of an ordinary day; the characters busy at the difficult, absorbing job of being children.Read More »

Purple Prose

uncle1Gosh, I can’t believe I forgot about this reprint of all six of J.P. Martin’s Uncle books.

We have Marcus Gipps to thank for this edition. Read more here. You can get your copy at Amazon

If you’re not familiar with His Purple Highness, here’s a a piece I wrote for my column:

First published on 8th February,  2009 in The Star

“UNCLE is an elephant. He is immensely rich, and he’s a B.A. He dresses well, generally in a purple dressing gown, and he often rides about on a traction engine, which he prefers to a car.

He lives in a house called Homeward, which is hard to describe, but try to think of about a hundred skyscrapers, all joined together and surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge over it, and you’ll get some idea of it.”Read More »

Book Reviews: The Day the Crayons Quit & If You Want to See a Whale

First published on 23nd September, 2013 in The Star

THIS week, two picture books published this year that are my favourites so far and seem unlikely to be beaten by any late contenders (it’s already September after all, and I rarely like Christmas books). The first is laugh-out-loud funny and plain adorable. The second is a quiet, gentle story that’s perfect for bedtime. Both are, partly, about a child’s capacity to imagine and dream.Read More »