Good Company

Published on 26 May 2017

Credits: Helang Books

Helang Books publisher Hidayah Amin, writer and editor Lee Seow Ser, as well as illustrator Tan Ai Khim create picture books for children with special needs.

By MELANIE LEE

After Hidayah Amin self-published her first book, Gedung Kuning: Memories of a Malay Childhood, she set up Helang Books in 2012 as an imprint of her research consultancy business Archipelago Consultancy.

Helang means eagle in Malay. I used to talk to two stone eagles ‘guarding’ the gates of my childhood home and later, when I stayed in a Native American reservation while I was in the United States, I was given the Native American name of Soaring Eagle,” explains Hidayah.

It was during a public reading of Gedung Kuning that Hidayah met Lee Seow Ser, who was then practising law. “We became friends as we had many common interests, and while catching up with Hidayah over lunch in 2014, I shared with her how I wanted to write children’s books that could be converted to Braille so blind kids could read them,” Lee recounts.

Hidayah, who had envisioned Helang as a publisher of “high-quality books that matter and are memorable reads”, was on board with the idea. She worked with Lee and the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped to create 30 Braille copies of her award-winning children’s picture book, The Mango Tree.

A newspaper article on Helang Books caught the attention of design lecturer Tan Ai Khim, who wrote in to them, suggesting Braille flash cards to facilitate creative thinking among visually impaired children. Hidayah and Lee roped in Tan to become the illustrator and designer of a new picture book they were working on at the time — Hang Nadim and the Garfish — a local folktale about a boy who saved Singapore from a fish attack. Not only does this book have Braille dots for the blind, it also features a dyslexia-friendly font, and embossed tactile elements suitable for readers on the autism spectrum.

“This opportunity made me realise I can do more than just design, I could illustrate as well. I never imagined myself as an illustrator of books catered for children with different needs!” says Tan.

After Hang Nadim was published in 2015, the trio went on to publish another Asian folktale with similar inclusive features — Si Ma Guang and the Giant Jar — in 2016. This book was the first Singaporean book to be selected as one of the 50 best books for young people with disabilities by the International Board on Books for Young People in Canada. There are plans to publish two more of such books.

“Every child should be given access to books. Thankfully, we are aligned in our mission, vision and goals. By helping others, we are also bettering ourselves,” says Hidayah.

For more on Helang Books, visit archipelago-consultancy.com/helang-books.

Credits: Helang Books
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