Chickaboo is, without doubt, the most famous ostrich in the country. After her now-legendary run down the Federal Highway in the Klang Valley earlier this year was recorded on video and uploaded on social media, the ostrich has been made into many Internet jokes and memes, been featured in advertisements, and even been invited onto radio shows and to university open days!
She’s become the most well known big bird since … well, Big Bird. And now, Malaysia’s favourite flightless bird is poised to take the literary world by storm as the subject of a children’s picture book. (A “Chickabook”, perhaps? Sorry, couldn’t resist!)
Chickaboo The Ostrich, written by Heidi Shamsuddin, with illustrations by Lim Lay Koon, tells the story of the events leading up to Chickaboo’s adventure and why she might have decided to go for a run down the highway.
“I was actually on the Federal Highway on the way to my in-laws for buka puasa when I first saw the video. The image was so striking – the ostrich looked like she could have been running in the savannah but she wasn’t, she was running on our highway alongside the other cars!” Heidi says when contacted by e-mail.
“My first reaction was: picture book! An ostrich running down the Federal Highway is the perfect story for a picture book. My second reaction was: I hope no one knocks her over….”
A former marine lawyer and restaurateur, Heidi, 43, is a full-time author whose works include The Door Under The Stairs series. She has also been featured in Fixi Novo’s anthology PJ Confidential, and was the winner of the regional prize in the Eye Level Children’s Literature Award in 2012.
Lim is a self-taught illustrator who has published several books with her sister, Lay Har, including Atuk’s Amazing Sarong and the 2012 Calistro Prize-winning Master And Apprentice. Other awards Lim has won include the Samsung Kidstime Author’s Award 2015, and the DBP Picture Book Award 2012.
“On the Saturday after the incident, Lay Koon had painted a water colour of the ostrich, and put it on her Facebook page. I commented that I wrote a story about Chickaboo and jokingly suggested we do a book together. I guess we were both inspired by Chickaboo!” quips Heidi, who has worked with Lim before on her Door Under The Stairs series.
Writing the book, Heidi says, was a relatively fast experience. After hearing about the incident when it happened on June 16, the author let the story “marinate” in her head over the next two days, while taking notes from the many news articles about Chickaboo. After starting a quick draft on a Saturday, Heidi then sat in front of her laptop after sahur at 5am the next day, whipping up a story in an hour and a half. She then pitched it to her publisher, Oyez! Books, who loved the idea – talk about a productive weekend!
According to Heidi, Chickaboo The Ostrich will contain 34 pages, and is aimed at children aged four to eight – although older kids might enjoy it as well.
“I haven’t met Chickaboo yet, but plan to take my kids to see her after Hari Raya. I interviewed her owner, though, and got more detailed information about Chickaboo – funny little things like how she loves to snuggle up with one of his dogs at home!” Heidi says.
Asked about the potential for future Chickabooks, Heidi says it would depend on whether there are any interesting follow-up stories about the ostrich.
“My brain is always tuned towards stories, especially funny local stories. When I saw the video of Chickaboo racing down the road, I knew there must be a good story in there somewhere!” Heidi says.
Chickaboo The Ostrich, published by Oyez! Books, will be out early next year. It will be available at all major bookstores, and also online at the Oyez bookstore, oyezbookstore.com.