A Fable to Help Build a Nation

There are children’s books, and then there are children’s books that make a difference. The Boy and the Crocodile tells the story about East Timor’s national origins that doubles as a fable about the importance of human kindness. The book’s illustrations will be provided by children from the Familia Hope orphanage in East Timor, to which all proceeds will be directed. The orphanage is located an hour from the capital Dili in the village of Gleno, the centre of the Ermera district, one of the country’s least developed of its 13 districts. Many of its kids were orphaned during East Timor’s struggle for independence.

The book is being published by Melbourne independent publisher Affirm Press. Affirm Press publisher Martin Hughes, who recently visited East Timor, says the project isn’t charity so much as ‘profit for purpose’. “We don’t just want to raise funds for the orphanage,” says Hughes. “We want to create books in Tetum [East Timor’s de facto national language]. There’s a dearth of education materials for kids in East Timor. We want to give them their story back.” In addition, Hughes says, it’s hoped the book will have other, flow-on effects: “If we can give them these high quality, flexi-bound copies of this book of their own legend, it’ll not only give them a sense of appreciation for books, but hopefully it’ll also give them a sense of national identity that they need so much.”

It follows the success of the From Little Things, Big Things Grow project, also by Affirm Press, where remote-community Gurindji kids illustrated the lyrics to the song by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody. The project raised $120,000 to build an art centre for Gurindji youth in the Northern Territory. The Boy and the Crocodile is due to be released in November, but can be pre-purchased from the website until July. It’s intended that everyone who pre-purchases the book will have their name printed in the book.

The Wheeler Centre is hosting an event on East Timor - Human Rights and East Timor: Remembering East Timor’s Political Prisoners - on June 23.

Related posts