Everybody loves a good adventure. The upcoming Stories+Art=Picture Books, a festival that opens on June 18 at GMBB in Kuala Lumpur to celebrate stories and art in picture books, might be an ambitious month-long event, but the passionate group of people pulling it together are certain that visitors won’t run out of fun experiences to write home about.
In the last few months, there have been many book, art and literary events springing up all over Kuala Lumpur.
However, the Stories+Art=Picture Books festival promises something unique and different, especially with its family-friendly approach and line-up of storytellers, illustrators, artists, writers, designers, researchers and children’s book historians.
“The festival is not exactly a book fair and it’s not an art fair. It is what it says it is: Stories and Art and Picture Books,” says Linda Lingard, managing director of the Museum of Picture Book Art, who has assembled a cast of established and emerging names in the Malaysian children’s book community to light up the festival’s inaugural edition.
The Museum of Picture Book Art, which opened amid the pandemic at the GMBB mall last March, has emerged as a one-stop for picture books and art in the Klang Valley.
It is also building a Malaysian picture book archive, while also offering public programmes and storytelling sessions. Not to forget the art exhibitions and in-house publishing support (Oyez!Books).
The Stories+Art=Picture Books festival is a natural extension of the community-based networking that is seen regularly at the Museum of Picture Book Art and other spillover events at GMBB. The festival is also the creative mall's first month-long arts event.
“It’s really what we do and the festival pulls it all together – working with illustrators, doing book-related activities such as storytelling, art and craft, featuring the best of Malaysian picture books and conducting workshops for children and adults,” says Lingard.
“We are privileged to work closely with illustrators so we thought this is a good opportunity for the public to see the original illustrations and the behind the scene creation of picture books. We hope the festival will be an immersive experience for visitors into the world of stories and art which made up the picture book,” she adds.
Gathering the talent
The colourful festival, which will make its home on Level 3A of GMBB, will have more than 20 Malaysian illustrators taking part with their own booths/spaces. Art exhibitions, author sessions and workshops are also in the activity list.
“There is an existing pool of known storytellers, authors and illustrators but one of the purposes of the festival is certainly to discover new talents and to network with commercial entities such as publishers and licensees,” says Lingard.
For the browsing masses, there will be an official festival bookstore that will stock a wide variety of children’s books, especially picture books, both local and international. A number of new local picture books will also be launched at the festival, including books flown in from Sabah and Sarawak.
New books scheduled for release over the coming weeks include Sir Red Owl by Quek Sue Yian with illustrations by Khairul Azmir Shoib, Umaral by Tuah Sujana with illustrations by Emila Yusof, Spoonie’s Journey by Emila Yusof, This Is My Home by Shalyn Yuen and Tan Su En, The Ocean Wanderer by Nor Azhar Ishak, Left In Silence by Razisyatul Asyifa Ismail and Mohd Khairul Azman Ismail and Lili Dan Nenek, Hari Minggu, Hujan Rintik-Rintik by Aizan Shah with illustrations by Hamdan Ali.
The festival is also reissuing selected titles, including a hardcover version of Men From The River by Basari Mat Yasit.
For a month-long festival ahead, Lingard shares how her team and the participants have planned a programme to attract the public and keep the festival momentum going, especially on social media.
“It is extremely challenging. But we have a lot of enthusiastic support from the participating illustrators. They are specially invited because they have published books and can commit to the event. They are each planning their own units to create a great experience for their fans,” says Lingard.
“Apart from that, we have different curators for the different sections – the children’s art exhibition is run by Artzland, a children’s art studio; Emila Yusof is curating the new illustrators exhibition; and we have three literati for the rare books and history section,” she adds.
A series of workshops and masterclasses will also be held. These workshops will cover subjects such as writing and illustrating for children, using picture books in the classroom, producing children’s picture books, making pop up books, book marketing, licensing and more.
Sakura Color Malaysia, one of the sponsors, will host a series of art demonstrations.
A festival for all-ages
In the last few days, a “book tree” teaser has been sighted as one of the festival’s destination points for young visitors. The festival has loads of playful elements to ensure the entire family is part of the action.
“The festival is planned to be an immersive experience of picture books – a sort of step into the magical world of stories and art, as our tagline says. Each unit will have its own theme, from the garden, the rainforest to underwater,” reveals Lingard.
The past two pandemic years have been tough for many people in the local book industry, and participating artist Emila is glad that this festival is making its debut, giving creators a chance to reconnect with the masses and also look for opportunities to widen their horizons.
“I see the festival being a source of inspiration and excitement. I really hope it will continue annually so that local creators (both authors and illustrators) have the platform to showcase their picture books to local readers,” says Emila.
“As a professional storyteller, I have always been passionate about stories mostly in the form of oral traditions. I joined the festival because I love its focus on the celebration of stories in a visual form, in particular picture books.
“It is not only timely but is an admirable effort to bring forward the wonderful work and appreciation in picture books,” says Nor Azhar Ishak, participating author/illustrator/storyteller.
At the Stories+Art=Picture Books festival, the multi-lingual fare is part of its inclusive focus, while translations are also embraced.
“As a country we are still some way from producing a great variety of picture books although I see that growing especially with self publishers. We plan for this festival to be an annual event although it may not last one month in future. To be commercial, we need greater awareness from the public to appreciate and to buy books that are not just for school purposes,” says Lingard.
Another highlight of the festival is the exhibition on rare and out-of-print Malaysian children’s books, which will interest book lovers and scholars. The exhibition is being curated by a three-women team who have worked in public libraries and Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
“This part of the festival is very meaningful and educational for those interested in children’s literary works and art (from the past). It’s also a space where writers, illustrators, storytellers, publishers and lovers of picture books can gather for discussions, workshops and research,” says Mahaya Mohd Yassin, educator, writer and poet, who is one of the curators for the exhibit on vintage local children’s books.
Two contests are being held pre-festival. One is a children’s art exhibition with the theme: “Save The World” where young participants need to draw how they can save the world from pandemics, extinction, pollution and food insecurity.
The Stories & Art Illustration Award is open to adults and art students. The Malaysia Book Council has committed to exhibit the work of the first three winners at the Malaysia stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair this October.
The Stories+Art=Picture Books festival runs at GMBB in KL from June 18 to July 17. Free admission.
More info here.