Monday, May 9, 2011

Introducing Indonesia’s Storytelling Army

“Just go to the children’s section of any major bookstore and you’ll be amazed at how many of their so-called children’s books actually contain words and graphic pictures that you don’t want your kids to see,” said prolific Indonesian author Ali Muakhir.

Ali was referring to the fact that many of the children’s books in local stores are Western novels and Japanese comics that have been translated into Indonesian.

“They are not suitable for our children,” he said. “They don’t portray the values and lifestyles of Indonesian people.”

To improve the availability and quality of homegrown children’s books, Ali and 10 of his friends — including authors, editors and publishers — got together in 2005 and established Komunitas Penulis Bacaan Anak (Community of Children’s Book Authors) in Bandung.

Ali, who graduated from Universitas Islam Nusantara (National Islamic University) in Bandung, started writing seriously when he was only 15 years old and has published 346 religious and children’s books. In July 2009, he was recognized by the Indonesian Museum of Records (MURI) as the most prolific author in the country.

“Indonesian authors are very creative,” Ali said. “They’re actually capable of producing many good children’s books. But many of them don’t know how to start. They need a lot of coaching and encouragement.”

Rani Yulianty, manager of children’s and young adult books at Sygma Publishing in Bandung, said there were a lot of opportunities for children’s book authors in Indonesia. “Children’s books usually sell out,” she said. “They’re never on the shelves for very long.”

Rani said children’s books were generally grouped into four categories according to their target age group — toddlers under 3 years old, children between 3 and 6 years old, children between 6 and 9 years old, and children between 9 and 12 years old.

Each category has its own unique characteristics and requirements. Books for toddlers are called soft books. They’re usually made of soft plastic or cloth and are primarily designed to stimulate a love for reading from an early age.

Many of these books come with simple gimmicks, such as noisemakers that produce amusing sounds when the pages are turned.

“For those books, we have to make sure their bindings are excellent,” Rani said. “There should be no loose or sharp ends that may endanger the kids.”

Books for children between the ages of 3 and 6 are called board books. They have lots of colors and vibrant images designed to help children learn the alphabet, numbers and simple sentences.

“These books are also designed to train children’s basic motor skills,” Ali said. “Many of them have buttons, zippers or laces to help the children learn about buttoning and zipping their own clothes, as well as tying their own shoelaces.”

The books for children aged 6 to 9 years old are usually simple storybooks with lots of colorful pictures, while older children, between the ages of 9 and 12, graduate to comics or short novels.

According to Ali, making a good children’s book is simple. “As long as children enjoy reading it, it’s a good children’s book,” he said. “But it also needs to have a good moral. It shouldn’t contain any violent acts or derogatory words.”

Rani, however, said creating a best-selling children’s book required several more elements.

“It’s a combination of a well-written story, beautiful pictures and attractive packaging,” she said. “That’s why a good children’s book is a collaboration between the author, illustrator and publisher.”

A key feature of the Community of Children’s Book Authors is that everybody contributes their expertise. The authors share tips and information, the illustrators exhibit their artworks and the publishers talk about what sorts of stories they are interested in.

“We call ourselves pabers: pasukan bercerita [the storytelling army],” Ali said with a laugh.

Within six years, the community has grown to the point that there are now 1,500 people on its mailing list. The community holds gatherings twice a year in Jakarta and Bandung, during which members can meet the authors and attend literary discussions and workshops.

“Every member of the community will eventually feel confident enough to write their own book,” Ali said.

One of the group’s members is Firmanawaty Sutan, a housewife who joined in 2008 after she published her first book, “Matematika Melalui Permainan” (“Mathematics Through Games”).

“I’ve always loved writing,” she said. “It’s something that I can do while taking care of my young children. But I feel that I need a community that encourages my hobby and helps me to grow and become a better author.”

Firmanawaty said she had met a lot of new friends, as well as editors and publishers, through the community. The 40-year-old has written 10 children’s books to date.

Imran Laha, an editor at Ufuk Publishing House, also feels that the group has helped him in his work.

“There’s always a free flow of fresh ideas from the community,” Imran said. “I’ve found hundreds of new authors through the community. It creates a synergy between children’s book authors, editors and illustrators.”

“The community is like a salon for the makers of children’s books,” Ali said. “It’s where talented Indonesian authors, illustrators and publishers meet to produce good stories for Indonesian children.”
Report Sylviana Hamdani
Komunitas Penulis Bacaan Anak

(Community of Children’s Book Authors)

Facebook: Komunitas Penulis-Bacaan-Anak
Dikutip dari : thejakartaglobe.com

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