With Deepavali just around the corner, husband and wife Mohd Khairul Azman Ismail and Razisatul Asyifah Ismail have published Deepavali Valthukkal, Owly!, the third in their Owly Celebrations series under their publication, OwlyBooks.
Written in Bahasa Malaysia, the book’s main character, Owly, visits a family celebrating Deepavali. Readers can follow Owly as he learns about customs observed during Deepavali and gets to try some delicious snacks commonly enjoyed during the Festival of Lights.
Illustrator Mohd Khairul and writer Asyifah, both 48, were inspired to create the books thanks to the fond memories they have of their childhoods, where they had many friends of various ethnicities.
“Back then, we had sincere friendships regardless of race, skin color or religion. It’s a joy to see children befriend each other through mutual understanding and respect for each other's culture and religious teachings – that is the Malaysia we should all aspire to,” said Mohd Khairul.
The pair are both primary school teachers based in Shah Alam, teaching Islamic Studies and Visual Art.
Books in the Owly Celebrations series include Selamat Hari Raya, Owly! and Gong Xi, Gong Xi, Owly!
According to Mohd Khairul, it takes them about a month or so to complete a book, starting from preparing the manuscript, storyboarding and creating the characters to writing out the text, sketching and illustrating.
“Luckily, it’s easy for us to work together, as we live under the same roof,” says Mohd Khairul with a laugh. “We’re constantly discussing and brainstorming ideas to improve the story until we’re happy with it.”
“We also make sure to share drafts with friends from relevant communities to ensure its accuracy and that the topic is approached with the right amount of sensitivity,” he adds.
Though their four children have long outgrown children’s books, the couple hopes that young readers will enjoy the stories, characters and adventures found in their books.
“At the same time, we also hope they will pick up the lessons and values shared in the book. We share this country together, so we must respect each other's cultures and beliefs.”
They added that they also hope that parents and guardians will read the books along with the children and continue to give their support to local publishers of children’s books, especially those aimed at educating readers about Malaysia’s multicultural traditions.
As for whether additional books are being planned for the series, Mohd Khairul says that our fellow Malaysians in East Malaysia will not be left out.
“We will be publishing books covering the festivals celebrated by the ethnic communities of Sabah dan Sarawak, namely Kaamatan and Gawai, so keep an eye out for our next books!”
You can buy Deepavali Valthukkal, Owly! and other books published by OwlyBooks by contacting Asyifah at 011-1185 2926 or at local booksellers, such as the Museum of Picture Book Art at GMBB.