The Power of Stories: Reflections on the IBBY Congress 2022 – part 2

by | Oct 3, 2022 | Blog

Evelyn Arizpe
Evelyn Arizpe

Author Tutu Dutta sharing a range of Malaysia stories

Evelyn Arizpe

Yusof Gajah with one of his many elephant themed paintings.

Evelyn Arizpe

Renowned illustrator LAT discussing his work

The Power of Malaysian Stories

One of the most exciting things about the 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, I was lucky enough to be introduced to many educators, reading promotors, authors and illustrators from Malaysia. Here are just a few:

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 talk on Malaysian radio here.

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

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.

“Once a couple had a son they adored. But when their son grew up, he wanted to find his fortune out at sea. He promised he would return but he never did. Many years later when he was rich, and his wife was pregnant with child, he returned. But he was shocked to see the state of his parents, old and destitute, and therefore he disowned them. “You are not my mother!” he said as she tried to reach him. “If thou art my son, may you be changed into stone,” she cried. Milk fell from her breast and all the people turned to stone.” Paraphrased from the version in Malay Magic by WW Skeat


The Best of Malaysian Illustration


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 starting 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.

For more information:

  • All recordings of plenary session presentations, including opening and closing ceremonies, as well as gala dinner and award presentation ceremonies have been uploaded on the MBBY YouTube Channel. You can view sessions you may have missed, and revisit those you wish to see again. These can be accessed 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 attended the 38th IBBY World Congress in Putrajaya, Malaysia, from 4-9 September. In this series of blogs, she shares her experience at the congress and reflections on her final term on IBBY’s Executive Committee (EC), after serving two consecutive terms.