What is it?
A series of picture books retelling some folk tales from the South-East Asian region. There are three titles so far:
- The Attack of the Swordfish – A Singaporean folk tale
- Old is Gold – A Malaysian folk tale
- Keong Emas, Princess of the Golden Conch – An Indonesian folk tale
Who is it by?
Retold and illustrated by Teoh Choon Ean, and published by MPH Publishing.
What is it about?
These are South-East Asian folk tales. True to the name of the series, Grandmother Stories, you really do see a grandmother telling the story in the first page of each book.
The Attack of the Swordfish is a story that we’re all familiar with. In fact, of the three books, this is the only story that I knew.
Set in Temasek (now known as Singapore), it tells of a time when swordfish used to attack the island. They would even jump quite high out of the water and attack fishermen in their boats. This made it tough for the fishermen to earn a living.
The sultan commands his soldiers to go to the beach with their spears to kill the swordfish. But the swordfish are huge and fierce and many soldiers are injured or killed.
A boy and his grandmother have an idea – to place chopped down banana trees along the beach so that the swordfish would get stuck when they launched an attack.
The plan works and everyone is happy, except for the sultan who orders the boy to be killed for fear of him becoming powerful when he grows up.
Old is Gold tells of a time of drought when food runs out and animals die of thirst. Desperate, the headman sends the old people away, thinking the kampung’s food consumption would then be less.
Usop, who lives with his grandmother, cannot bear to part with her and decides to hide her at the back of the house.
One day, a warrior from another village challenges the village headman to solve a puzzle. If he can solve the puzzle, the warrior will give the village lots of food and leave the villagers in peace. However, if the headman cannot solve the puzzle, the warrior will take over the village.
Nobody knows how to solve the puzzle except for Usop’s grandmother.
Keong Emas is about Princess Dewi who accidentally steps on a snail and breaks its shell. The snail is actually a witch. She curses Princess Dewi and transforms her into a snail with a golden conch shell.
A young man named Panji finds the golden conch snail and takes it home. Panji and his grandmother find out that the snail is magical and manage to break the witch’s spell.
What can your child learn from it?
This is a good series to get kids interested in regional folk tales. Children will learn different values from each book.
The Attack of the Swordfish teaches kids to appreciate brains over brawn.
Old is Gold teaches kids to respect older people.
Keong Emas teaches children the value of kindness – to be kind to all creatures and that good begets good.
What did I like about it?
I love that author / illustrator Teoh is tackling some forgotten regional folk tales. I think you can never get enough of local (and regional) folk tales, especially in this day and age when we are bombarded with everything Disney and other heavily-merchandised characters and stories.
Having authored many books, Teoh is multi-talented and an inspiration to local authors.
She has done an admirable job illustrating and designing this series. Kudos to her for not taking the easy way out by oversimplifying the illustrations. By making the characters and backgrounds in her drawings more detailed, she has given the books the appropriate feel of old folk tales.
At the back of each book is a page which encourages children to think about the value taught in the book. A nice addition to make children think about the story they have read.
These books don’t just tell interesting stories; they also teach values and make children aware of what those values are.
Where to get it?
Should you get it?