Malaysian authors and illustrators at the 38th IBBY Congress

Sophie Hallam introduces us to some of the Malaysian educators, reading promotors, authors, and illustrators featured at the 38th IBBY World Congress in Putrajaya, Malaysia, in September 2022

By Sophie Hallam

The Power of Malaysian Stories

One of the most exciting things about the IBBY Congress is finding out about new books, authors and illustrators as well as different projects that support children from around the world. Over the four days of the congress in September 2022, I was lucky enough to be introduced to many educators, reading promotors, authors and illustrators from Malaysia.

The following three speakers gave presentations in the plenary event ‘The Power of Malaysian Stories‘, which you can see in the video below (in English). Sharifah Aishah Osman’s presentation was entitled ‘Bridging Divides, Healing Wounds: Diversity and Inclusivity Through Child Agency in Malaysian Youth Literature’; Heidi Shamsuddin spoke about ‘The many faces of Si Tanggang: A case study of a travelling tale and its powerful hold over all of us’; and Tutu Dutta’s talk was called ‘A Writers Journey Through Malaysian and Asian Folktales’. The plenary discussion was chaired by Jamilah Mustafa of MBBY (IBBY Malaysia).

Dr Sharifah Aishah Osman is Senior Lecturer at the Department of English, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Her research focuses on the intersection between feminism and literature for Malaysia children and young adults. She is currently working on several projects, one of which is a book-length study on feminist folktales and folktale adaptations in Malaysian youth literature.

Her presentation focused on the importance of multicultural literature in the Malaysian context as well as broader discussions on constructions of national identity, diversity & inclusivity. You can listen to her speak about these topics on Malaysian radio here.

Heidi Shamsuddin, a folktale enthusiast and author, shared the many versions of Si Tanggang, a story of a mother who turns her son to stone after he disowns her. This travelling tale manifests itself in both cultural memory as well as geographical landscapes and can be seen in books, film, animation and theatre demonstrating that the subject of filial piety is still strong in Malaysian culture.

Tutu Dutta is an Indian-born Malaysian author who has written many children’s books. In her talk at the congress, Tutu reflected on the importance of Malaysian literature for children, having grown up with largely European stories. She also spoke about her experience of writing The Phoenix Song (Lantana Publishing) and the gothic tales of Malaysia.

38th IBBY CONGRESS 2022 | PLENARY 1: “The Power of Malaysian Stories”

The Best of Malaysian Illustration

There was also an event at the IBBY congress in 2022 introducing two much-loved Malaysian illustrators for children.

Yusof bin Ismail (1954-2022), best known as Yusof Gajah (‘Gajah’ means ‘elephant’), was one of Malaysia’s most beloved children’s illustrators celebrated by all for his engaging, playful illustrative style infused with elephants! He was a passionate advocate of animal conservation and believed anyone could be an artist – always encouraging the children and people he met to be creative and think outside of the box.

His publisher, Linda Tan, recalled a story of one of his workshops which encapsulates his attitude and character. Before the creative session in a story tent, Yusof would mess up all the paper and crayons. Linda would admonish the helpers and have them tidy it up. As soon as she returned to check up on event, the room would be a mess again. Gajah was the culprit! He wanted the children to feel welcome and not to feel intimidated about getting messy and creative!

Mohammad Nor bin Mohammad Khalid, more commonly known as Lat, is an award-winning cartoonist, social commentator and is widely celebrated as representing the ‘cultural consciousness’ of Malaysia. He started illustrating cartoons at just 13 years old and later became a full-time cartoonist at the New Straits Times, beginning with a series called Scenes of Malaysia Life.

He has now published over 20 volumes of cartoons that reflect Malaysia’s cultural and political life. His cartoons can be found in newspapers, graphic novels, cartoons, and even on postage stamps and airplanes. Lat’s best-known work The Kampung Boy (The Village Boy) has been translated into 14 language and is also an animation.

In a country of such diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, LAT is lauded for his ability to speak to all Malaysians – uniting the national collective through the power of humour. Lat won the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2002 and was presented with the prestigious Merdeka Award in 2014.

38th IBBY CONGRESS | A celebration of Malaysian illustration: Best works of LAT and Yusof Gajah

More about the 38th IBBY Congress in Malaysia

  • All recordings of plenary session presentations, including opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the gala dinner and award presentation ceremonies have been uploaded on the MBBY YouTube Channel. You can view individual videos or the full playlist here.
  • The virtual exhibition in conjunction with the Congress has been extended and you can re-visit the platform here: Power of Stories Virtual Exhibition – IBBY Congress 2022.
  • Visit the congress website:


Sophie Hallam has over 15 years’ experience in children’s publishing and reading promotion. Sophie attended Goldsmiths College on the BA Media and Communications course from 2002– 2006, specialising in book illustration. She later completed a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature and a postgraduate certificate in English Education at the University of Roehampton in 2012. Sophie has worked for various publishers throughout her career including Quarto, Tiny Owl, Walker Books, Puffin and is now Head of Templar, an imprint of Bonnier Books UK. Sophie has also been a member of IBBY UK’s committee since 2014 and was elected as a member of IBBY International’s Executive Committee in August 2018, serving two terms until September 2022.