September 09, 2021The first International Literacy Day was inaugurated by UNESCO on 8 September 1967 to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to build a more sustainable society. This year, the anniversary shines a spotlight on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the learning of children and young people who have been prevented from attending school, especially those without access to technological tools for online education.
Mohd Yusof Ismail, also known as Yusof Gajah, is Malaysia’s foremost naive artist whose beloved children’s books stem from his belief that the best way to encourage learning is to make it fun.
With his ambassador, the ever-versatile elephant, Yusof’s picture books are layered explorations of subtle themes of human relationships and the environment, expressed through lively versions of the pachyderm.
Yusof has won numerous awards, including the Grand Prize of the prestigious Noma Concours for Picture Book Illustrations in Tokyo, Japan. Exploring art with children is also his passion and he has conducted many storytelling sessions and workshops to nurture a love of art in them and teach the young how to stretch their imagination.
The Big Book edition of Yusof’s award-winning The Real Elephant, is available now, as well as other titles in English and Bahasa Malaysia.Image Credit: Emila Yusof, Malaysiakini
Emila is the gifted illustrator behind many beautiful Malaysian children’s books. Her whimsical characters with their round faces and wide set eyes are instantly recognisable and much beloved by her many fans and followers.
Born in Raub, Pahang, Emilia started her career as a visual artist before starting to write her own children’s books in 2010. She drew on her own childhood experiences to write her popular Dina series which includes My Mother’s Kitchen, My Mother’s Garden, My Father’s Farm and Dina’s Art Class.
Among her more than 40 publications are also colouring books inspired by all things Malaysian. Uniquely multicultural, Emila’s latest title at Destination GOOD, Grandma’s Flowering Tea, won the Little Hakka Merit Award in Beijing, China.
Another naive artist on our list is Sabah native Awang Fadilah. Awang’s prolific body of work over the last 25 years is a long love letter to his home state as he draws inspiration from north Borneo culture and natural heritage.
Awang’s career began in the late 1990s after attending a workshop organised by Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka. His drawings and illustrations are often black & white, and full of tiny details for the viewer to return to and discover anew. When he applies colour, he does it to draw attention to the rich diversity of Sabah’s indigenous culture.
Among his titles, Land Below The Wind won runner-up honours at the Noma Concurs for Picture Book Illustrations awards, organised by the Asia-Pacific Cultural Center for UNESCO, in Tokyo.
To enjoy his beautiful illustrations, find his titles here. Also available are beautifully illustrated books by Jainal Amambing, another award-winning Sabahan artist.