Prior to this discussion, my impression of non-fiction books written specifically for children had been decidedly myopic. As a child, the only non-fiction books I owned were a bunch of Childcraft Encyclopedias (which were excellent, by the way) and, well, textbooks. Given the increasing availability of knowledge on the World Wide Web in this digital society, it had seemed ludicrous to assume that non-fiction children books are even viable now.
Well, it was assumed, anyway. Datin Rossiti Rashidi and Mrs Mohana Gill evidently either did not think so, or did not care one bit, being established non-fiction authors in their own rights. Mdm Rossiti had stepped up to deliver a sobering story about the acts of cruelty to animals she has vowed to oppose, and driven with anger and desperation she turned to the medium of writing children’s books to, in her words, “save nature from us”. It is admittedly a genius idea, using non-fiction as a didactic function to educate children about animal cruelty. As children are young and impressionable, it is crucial to impart good moral ideals from young. Her first book, Manja the Orang-Utan, was a labor of intensity and dedication, and was fully funded and distributed by HSBC. Turns out multinational banking corporations want to help animals too.
Manja the Orang-Utan gained traction and recognition amongst educators who realized its value, and was circulated to almost all elementary schools in the whole of Malaysia. The Zoo Negara – for fear of public retaliation or genuine concern, or perhaps realizing the ape’s popularity – also commissioned several Manja the Orang-Utan posters to be put up around its compound, and sold copies of the book too. Rossiti has completed her third book, Siti the Elephant (also based on an animal from the Zoo Negara), and the book will be launched on May 28th at the AFCC.
Mrs. Mohana Gill adopts a slightly different tack, choosing to write on subjects such as food, cooking, and health. She stresses the important of depth and specifics in the topics one cares to write about in non-fiction books, and I liken this act to distilling the most relevant information one may find off the internet or off books, and reapplying this content into physical books, meant for children. From the age of 7 till nearly 13, before the advent of any good search engine, I acquired most of my youthful knowledge through reading my set of children’s encyclopedias at home. This arguably serves as a viable alternative to kids from relatively unsafe, unrestricted access to the internet.
Her book, as pictured above, is available at the Media Fair.
The world may be becoming more and more digitalized, but it is evident that actual physical copies of books are still crucial at this point of time, especially educational non-fictional literature, as they are easier distributed in a place where infrastructure still lacks uniformity throughout its regions. One may argue that non-fiction literature may fill the gap in places where the internet has not penetrated to full capacity yet, by presenting themselves as bite-sized anecdotal pieces of moral and factual information that can be shared easily and cheaply amongst the young.