Jakarta. Moka is a little monkey. He is asked to deliver bananas to his sick grandmother. Along the way, he forgets the directions to her house. Other animals in the jungle offer to help Moka. Should Moka listen to the advice of animals who look different from him?
That's the moral of the story in "Prasangka Moka" (Moka’s Prejudice), a new storybook launched on Monday (02/04) to coincide with International Children’s Book Day.
Written by Los Angeles-based Indonesian writer Sekar Sosronegoro, with illustrations by Mira Tulaar, the book teaches children to avoid labeling and stereotyping people based on their physical appearances, race, ethnicity, religion or gender.
Prasangka Moka is the second book in "Seri Buku Toleransi" (Children's Books on Tolerance Series) published by Buah Hati.
The first title in the series was "Kitu: Kucing Kecil Bersuara Ganjil" (Kitu: A Kitten With an Odd Voice) released last year.
Sekar told the Jakarta Globe in an email that the idea for the series came about in 2009, but she kept putting it off, thinking she wasn't good enough of a writer to accomplish the task.
She finally gathered up enough courage to begin the project in 2016, hiring Mira as her illustrator and Siti Nur Andini as an editor.
Sekar said the focus of the series is to teach tolerance to children before they become adults, who can be so jaded with so many cases of intolerance happening around them that they start to turn a blind eye.
"That’s why we have to educate children about tolerance very early on. Parents play a key role. I want to create books that can spark conversations between parents and children," Sekar said.
She chose fables to convey her messages because children simply love animal characters.
"I chose a cat character for my first book because cats are the most common pets for Indonesian families. We see them everywhere. Children find it easier to relate to things that they see around them everyday," Sekar said.
The series is targeted at children aged 3-8. According to Harvard University psychologist Mahzarin Banaji in the Boston Globe, children as young as 3 can embrace an abstract concept like racism in just a matter of days without necessarily understanding why.
"The books in this series are especially useful for kids who are about to enter a new environment, like a kindergarten or an elementary school. That's where they start to meet new, different people," Sekar said.
"I want to introduce this big theme of tolerance gradually. The first step is to teach children about diversity. Then we'll learn about what prejudice is, how do we end up becoming suspicious of others just because they’re different?" Sekar said.
The first book in the series, Kitu, was well-received by readers, and Sekar said political momentum played a big part in it.
"It was released just a few months after the Jakarta gubernatorial election last year. That election was very divisive and people started to realize how important tolerance is in keeping us together," Sekar said.
Kitu sold quite well, though it didn't exactly fly off the shelf.
"This is a marathon, not a sprint. Sales is important but not everything. What we want most is sustaining a conversation about tolerance," Sekar said.
The new book Prasangka Moka has already received praise from journalist and National Reading Ambassador Najwa Shihab, film producer Anggia Kharisma and novelist Dee Lestari.
"The simple but entertaining and stimulating images in Prasangka Moka remind us to think positively about differences, how they can benefit us in life," Dee said in a statement.
The series’ creators work closely with parenting communities in Jakarta, releasing educational videos online and also hosting storytelling sessions, one of them taking place at Al Futuwwah Kindergarten in South Jakarta on Wednesday.
Prasangka Moka is available for Rp 55,000 ($4) from online stores tokobaca.com and bukukita.com. Brick and mortar bookstores will get their copies soon.
E-book versions of the two titles in the series are also available on Google Play Store.
The third title in the series is slated for an October launch.