Yusof Gajah on philosophy of life: Illustrated in Elephabet art


Released in 2009, Elephabet, is a treasure trove of advice on life from the deepest mind of one of the masters of naive paintings; Yusof Gajah.

Besides his words of wisdom, what made Yusof Gajah a force of nature is his complex elephant art that is morphed in an abstract way in relation to humans.

Yusof Gajah has a deep and abiding love for children’s books and working with children. While a busy artist, he has managed to write and illustrate a number of books for children and have won the National Book Council Award for best picture book and the Noma Concours (ACCU) award for best illustrations. His popular picture book, ‘The Real Elephant’ was first published in Malay and has been translated into Japanese. Its enduring qualities have enabled an English publication in 2010.

I sieved through Yusof Gajah’s Elephabet for some of his life’s philosophy; Common Sense, Knowledge, Respect; and try to interpret/discuss the juxtaposition of his advice and illustration that can make sense to us; or at least to me personally. But I will be sure to compare his own interpretation and mine if I see him and update this review.


Yusof Gajah on Common Sense: “It is a paradox that we have access to so much information today and yet lose sight of common sense. Common sense is the best source of guidance I know.”

In the C Elephabet, there’s an image of a cup. My interpretation: the cup could be half empty or half full.  This is a common expression, used rhetorically to indicate that a particular situation could be a cause for optimism (half full) or pessimism (half empty)[1].  When you hear/read something (information), make sure it makes good sense, and then try it. If it works, use it. If it doesn’t, abandon it. COMMON SENSE.


Yusof Gajah on Knowledge: “The beginning of knowledge is when we discover something we do not understand. This makes us search for understanding and the knowledge gained empowers us.”

In the K Elephabet, there’s a kite and hands images. My interpretation: Grasping a learning moment is a lot like flying a kite. Benjamin Franklin flew a kite with purpose to uncover unknown facts about the nature of lightning and electricity[2]; in other words—he flew it to gain KNOWLEDGE.


Yusof Gajah on Respect: “If elephants can respect each other then why can’t human? So, if you want to be respected, look at yourself for reasons why you would not respect yourself.”

In the R Elephabet, there’s an image of a rainbow. My interpretation: It is the unity of multiple colours that creates a rainbow. In relation to humans, people come from different cultures and religions and RESPECTing those differences can lead to unity.

The rest of the other Elephabet I leave for you to interpret. You can get this interesting art book for RM40 at Kinokuniya, MPH, Silverfish Bookstore and Scallywags Bookshop, Bangsar Puteri.

Overall, it was a pure joy to read this book. It inspires me a lot to wake up from slumber and make some books again. I am now up and about and already on the first stage of creating my next picture book; write a storyline. I end with a quote by Yusof Gajah on Inspiration:

“It’s wonderful to be inspired but one can’t always wait for inspiration to come before starting something. Work on what you want to do and develop it. Many times, inspiration does not generate action but action may generate inspiration.” ~ Yusof Gajah.

Description of book:
Title: Elephabet
Author/Illustrator: Yusof Gajah
ISBN: 978-967-5250-38-5
Cover: Soft cover
Category: Art Book
Suitable age: 12 and above
Publisher: Oyez!Books

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is_the_glass_half_empty_or_half_full%3F
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki?curid=31444778

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Khairul Azmir’s Phantasmagorical Illustrations in Tulip-The Dog that Ate Nightmares

I recently read Tulip-The Dog that Ate Nightmares and the first thing I did was look at the illustrations by Khairul Azmir Shoib.

I met Khairul Azmir four years ago while doing a group picture-book exhibition at Petronas Gallery and followed his art progress since then. His phantasmagorical art style quickly got my attention as it is both sinister and childlike, with characters and surreal scenes that inspired by Tim Burton and Edward Gorey’s works.



Tulip-The Dog that Ate Nightmares is written by Quek Sue Yian in a narrative form of a girl who tells about her dog named Tulip. The girl describes how Tulip eats all day long; from the time she wakes up to the time when she reaches home from school and doing her homework. Even though Tulip looks like a balloon, she will still be eating and the best thing is, Tulip helps her deal with bad nightmares by gobbling it up.

In this book, Khairul Azmir brings Quek Sue’s texts to life in gorgeous pen, watercolour and collage illustrations, transforming the 18-page story into a breathtaking art picture book. His clever play of characters and surreal scene compositions does not only harmonise with the story, but it also enriches it with uncommon dimension; a world on its own.

Khairul Azmir took about a year to complete all illustrations because he paid attention to the little details as well as the effectiveness of every element in his illustrations.

A Lecturer of Arts at PJCAD , Petaling Jaya, Khairul Azmir obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts, Hons., UiTM, Shah Alam in 2000 and to date, he has illustrated three picture books; We Saved the Moon (2010), Kailash (2011) and Tulip-The Dog that Ate Nightmares (2014). Other than Burton and Gorey, this award-winning artist/illustrator also finds inspiration in his favourite artists namely Anselm Kiefer. Dave Mckean, Audrey Neffinegger and Jimmy Liao (Taiwan).

More info about him here and if you like to follow him on FaceBook, you can do so here.

Published by Oyez!Books, Tulip-The Dog Who Ate Nightmares can be bought (RM40) at Scallywags Bookshop, Lobby, Bangsar Puteri and Silverfish Bookstore.

Description of books:
Title: Tulip-The Dog Who Ate Nightmares
ISBN: 978-967-0481-16-6
Cover: Hardcover
Category: Art Picture Book
Suitable age: 10 and above

Pictures credit: Oyez!Books

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Fly, Pigeon, Fly: Sweet illustrated picture story about unusual friendship


I got this book as a gift from fellow illustrator, Mazni, in conjunction with International Book Giving Day 2014.

Fly, Pigeon, Fly is about a boy, John, who found and nursed a pigeon that he called Percy. Although he did not imprison the bird in a cage (he lets Percy out from his window in the morning and Percy will come home later for food), his father thought that Percy should be building nest and raising a family.

John finally takes Percy to a beach and let him fly. Percy would come back twice a week, then once a week, then once a month and finally stop coming back. John misses Percy badly but is happy to think that Percy is out there somewhere enjoying its freedom.

I love the story and very much agree with the moral of letting birds out and free in the wild. I do not believe in imprisoning birds or animals.

The writers tell the story in a first-person (a boy) narrative mode. The boy has no name so I thought I named him John (one of the writers). The illustrator uses pen/marker and acrylic to interpret the story in a sweet and beautiful way.

Writer: John Henderson & Julia Donaldson
Illustrator: Thomas Docherty
Publisher: Little Tiger Press

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Book review: Mr. Peek and the Misunderstanding at the Zoo by Kevin Waldron

Mr. Peek and the Misunderstanding at the ZooMr. Peek and the Misunderstanding at the Zoo by Kevin Waldron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because I like the illustrations. My son likes the illustrations too but thought that the text fonts and they way they were arranged are a bit confusing and distracting. To me it is ok.

Nonetheless, on personal note, I think the story is quirky and hilarious! It is about a zookeeper, Mr. Peek, who has mistakenly dressed in his son’s small jacket. He thought he is getting fat and mumbles about it while walking pass a hippo. The hippo thought the remark is intended for her and feels sad. And then Mr. Peek goes on mumbling out loud about the food he ate, his wrinkles, etc which the animals thought are intended for them. They become sad altogether.

Mr. Peek finds out that he was wearing his son’s jacket when he met him at the zoo. They switched jacket and Mr. Peek managed to restore the animals happiness as he goes on walking back pass the animals muttering happy remarks; totally the opposite of what he had said earlier.

* Suitable for children aged 7 and above. Of course, adults can read it too.


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Book review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this book is brilliant! The journey of a special boy, Christopher, is very interesting and the way he thought of everything (and explained them) makes this book very special and one of a kind. Now I understand more about autistic kids and their level of intelligence.

*Boy, that was short haha! I try to write long review next time 🙂

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