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Photo: Epigram Books

Epigram Books illustrated handbooks on Singapore’s main races receives mixed responses online

Epigram Books came under the spotlight earlier this month for a series of illustrated handbooks released by the independent local publisher.

Authored by Edmund Wee, the founder of Epigram Books, 'The Understanding Singaporeans' series consists of four illustrated handbooks. Each handbook contains 20 questions, with answers as well as useful tips, to some of the most asked questions young Singaporeans have revolving around the country's four main races.

Photo: Epigram Books

According to Epigram, the four-book bundle, each representing one ethnic community within the country, was produced with one thought in mind - "How do we respond to the most awkward questions children ask?"

Readers on the publisher's Facebook page however, pointed out the misrepresentation between the races and its customs.

One netizen, Sharifah Husin, said, "The titles should be "Why do Hindus dot their foreheads?" and "Why do Muslims avoid Pork?". However, since the series is meant to focus on practices unique to each of the four races, a clear understanding of the difference between race and religion must be ensured before publishing the books. Incorrect information transmitted will mislead readers, especially children, who would like to learn more. For example, Non-Hindu Indians do not dot their foreheads, while Non-Muslim Malays do not don the Hijab."

While others appreciated the efforts put forth by Epigram Books on "opening a dialogue between races", some also echoed Sharifah's sentiments, pointing out that not all Indians are Hindus, and only Hindu women wear 'bindis' on their forehead.

Epigram Books was quick to issue a response, clearing the air and explaining their choice of words for the titles and questions asked from the four-series book.

Since the beginning of their promotions for the book series, Epigram has been receiving queries about their choice of titles, the publisher explained.

"To be honest, we had very much the same concerns while debating the merits of these titles. To alleviate those concerns, we made sure to run through the books’ content through various focus groups sourced from representative ethnic communities and associations to ensure that any sensitivities are adequately addressed," Epigram said, in a post.

Photo: Epigram Books

They had picked the titles that best represented "what our children can best relate to and most likely ask, not to mention that they would also grab the attention of adults enough to spark a much-needed conversation on race and religion".

Epigram agreed that the book, meant for children between 5- to 8-year-old, can only "scratch the surface of an otherwise complex topic" but they hope that it would be an opportunity for adults to address these "awkward" questions with more confidence.

"We’d like to ask that you see the Understanding Singaporeans series with the eyes, mind and innocence of a child, so that you can understand how children might come up with these questions in the first place," Epigram added.

The series of illustrated books can be purchased from Epigram Books website.