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Arleen Amidjaja: Writing with children in mind

A. Kurniawan Ulung

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, March 6, 2017  /  01:57 pm
Arleen Amidjaja: Writing with children in mind

Author Arleen Amidjaja believes a book should be a child’s first love. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

Arleen Amidjaja has published more than 250 bilingual children’s books at home and abroad since she started writing in 2004. “After publishing five books, I thought I would stop, but I couldn’t, because I am addicted to writing,” the 42-year-old laughed.

Back in 2006, her publishing company printed a book of hers, Kodi Si Kodok Bernyanyi (Kodi the Singing Frog), in an oversized format of 3 by 3 meters in Surakarta, Central Java, making it the country’s largest book according to the Indonesian Museum of Records.

“I have a photo of President Joko [“Jokowi”] Widodo reading that book. At the time, he was still the mayor of Surakarta. It is still on display at a museum there,” Arleen said.

Her works can also be found abroad, such as in Malaysia, Vietnam, India and Saudi Arabia, after overseas publishing houses, ranging from Riyadh-based Jarir Bookstore to New York-based Sterling Publishing, bought the rights to 45 of her books, such as I Love You, Mom.

Arleen said she met those publishers at international book events, such as the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy in March 2015 and the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany in October 2015, where book rights were traded.

Read also: The case of reading and preserving Indonesian literature

The author said she had never dreamed she would become a writer until she became a mother and faced problems getting bilingual books for her children.

At that time, in the early 2000s, bilingual children’s books were rare. Imported books were around but expensive. That motivated her to start writing bilingual children’s books in 2004.

Books by Arleen Amidjaja (Arleen Amidjaja /File)

For the mother of two, bilingual books matter, because she wants to make children familiar with other languages as early as possible.

“According to parenting books I read, children are smart, because they can master up to six languages. I think it does not matter if children are exposed to other languages from a young age,” said the graduate of Santa Clara University in California, the United States. Her first children’s book, Marrie Si Putri Duyung (Marrie the Mermaid Princess), was warmly welcomed at home, and being a bilingual work made it all the more attractive.

“My books contain universal values, such as parents’ love and friendship,” she said. Virtue, she said, is also something that must exist in her books, such as, Segunung Rumput (The Mountain of Grass) and Toilet Sedang Diperbaiki (The Toilet is Closed for Repair), both of which foster a spirit against corruption.

For Arleen, being a children’s book writer is not just about publicity, but about children discovering their love for books.

“If their first experience is good, they might grow up as a person who likes reading, and vice versa. Children’s books are the first door for children to enter the world of literature,” she said.

Arleen, who has teamed up with nearly 100 illustrators since 2004, likes to write children’s books, because she wants to create new readers.

She also believes that whether parents like to read or not influences children’s passion for reading.

Read also: Study: Nearly 60 percent of children like reading for fun

“Your children watch you all the time. We have to be a good role model. It will be difficult to make them like reading if they see that we do not read,” said Arleen, who finishes at least one book every week. For her, reading, like eating, is a habit people should develop from a young age. Noting that there were now many children’s book writers in the country, she expressed her hope that the number would continue to rise. She said a writer needed to have passion, especially since a publisher could be a hard nut to crack. New writers, she said, should read many books from different publishers to learn what kind of books each of them liked to publish. Passion would also empower writers not to easily give up.

“Even now, my books are still often rejected [by publishers],” she said. “If you want to be a writer, you have to be ready to face rejection.” Arleen said that when a publisher rejected a script of hers, she would send it to another publisher. Citing an example, she revealed that the script of Kumpulan Dongeng Kerajaan (Kingdom Tales Collection) had been rejected by a publisher because her previous books had been hard to sell at the time. She later offered the script to another publisher who accepted it, and eventually she was surprised that it became her first best-selling book.

“If you are rejected, don’t focus on the rejection. We have to believe that each script finds its own way,” she said. “I even collect all rejection letters I get.”

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