Hi Adibah, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Tell us about yourself, what you did before this?
Hi. Thank you so much for having me. I’m Adibah, a Biology graduate with a blend of experiences in teaching, training, research and conservation fields. I taught Biology at a public high school for five years, while completing a master’s degree in Education. A year after, I decided to further my study in Social Innovation, trying to figure out how to utilise this emerging field to solve the pressing issues we face especially in the social spheres.
I had a truly wonderful time being a full-time student, but it only lasted a year. I got pregnant just before entering my second year, and that changes a lot of things in my life, the way I never could imagine. So now I’m a stay at home mother taking care of my baby daughter while managing Sophia’s Little Library – an online bookshop selling picture books for kids.
What made you decide to open Sophia’s Little Library? What were you doing at the time and when did the idea become more than an idea for you?
It started as a personal quest for books to be read to my daughter, Sophia. For me, in choosing books, the illustration is as important, if not more, as the storyline. Great illustration tells stories on its own, it explains the storyline better, and it makes reading aloud so much fun because we can talk about different details that don’t appear in the text.
I also look for books with meaningful stories, the one that will fill a child’s heart with love and compassion toward others, including animals and nature surrounding us. And I realised we are lacking in books featuring Malaysia and Islam – the very things I want my daughter to embrace in her heart and be grateful about.
It was hard to find such books in common bookstores, especially outside Klang Valley. So, I decided to start an online bookshop to share our personally handpicked books with other parents out there.
Sophia’s Little Library is also a platform for me to promote reading aloud among fellow Malaysians. Reading aloud is essential to a child. It helps them build vast vocabulary and background knowledge, increase their ability to pay attention and concentrate, expand their capacity for empathy, among others. Also, it fosters that special bonding between parents and children which is crucial in this fast-paced digital era when the quality time between parents and the child is limited.
Do you do this full time? What do you enjoy most about being a bookseller?
Yes, I do this full time, in between taking care of my baby daughter. What I enjoy the most about being a bookseller is that I can browse through various books and choose which to sell in my bookshop. I enjoy promoting books written by Malaysian authors and illustrators, especially works that highlight our heritage, culture and nature.
For me, books aren’t just knowledge; it has emotion and culture embedded in it, and that typically tends to linger long in one’s heart. Thus, to be able to provide books that are close to our culture and belief is something that I cherish. I also love to share sneak peeks and reviews so parents can have some ideas about the book and decide if they should get one for their kids. I would say I find joy in both helping parents to choose books for their little ones and promoting great works, especially by local authors and illustrators.
What kind of reader does Sophia’s Little Library cater to?
I would say we cater for very young readers, most of them can’t even read yet but their wonderful parents read to them. Age-wise, we cater for young children age 0 – 8. And as we focus on books suitable for read-aloud, we sell mostly storybooks with gorgeous illustrations.
What are you reading at the moment? What book do you most want to read that you haven’t yet?
I read mostly non-fiction, except for children’s books of course. Currently reading Educational Philosophy and Practice of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, trying to understand the educational philosophy of a contemporary Muslim thinker. Yes, I’m still very much interested in education 😀
The book I most want to read? Ibn Batutta’s Rihla. I’ve always wanted to read the travelogue of the Muslim traveller back in the time when Islam was a great empire with multiracial multireligious people coexist harmoniously. Heard Rihla described the 14th-century Islamic world quite extensively.
What’s been the biggest surprise about running an online bookshop?
One of the many things I appreciate after starting Sophia’s Little Library is the relationship formed with publishers, authors and illustrators. I dreamt about becoming a writer when I was younger. Meeting such enthusiast personnel involved in this field has somehow revived the dream. They have been very helpful and encouraging.
I also appreciate the relationship built with fellow online booksellers – we discuss new books, ideas, and collaboration. It is a healthy environment especially for a start-up like me. And not to forget the many customers that have turned into friends through these past months. Running an online bookshop has introduced me to a whole new circle of people and meaningful experiences.
What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?
I’ve never really visited a bookstore back then. I was brought up in a rural kampung in Rembau with my four brothers and bookstore was quite out of reach, rather we frequented the small Perpustakaan Desa (public library) and stayed there with my father for as long as we wanted. My father kept a library too at home. And although most of the children books were the old collections of my cousins (they brought back a lot of books with them from the UK), we were more than happy to have them.
I remember spending time in our library with my siblings reading books, singing nursery rhymes, role-playing, drawing. Back in university days, I remember rereading The Jungle Book again and again because it connects me to home when home was thousands of miles away. My father used to tell us stories from The Jungle Books and we sang the scout’s song Mowgli Pergi Memburu together. Such memories remain, it warms the heart.
Last question, name at least 5 books that changed your life and why
a) Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher
The book that inspired me to learn more about sustainable development, beyond the environmental concern we used to discuss in Biology classes.
b) The Marvels of the Heart by Al-Ghazali
The book that helped deepen my view on the nature of human, nature of the heart and the internal war occurring in ourselves.
c) Menalar Makna Diri by Hasrizal Abdul Jamil
The book that made me ponder deeply on what I want, and what I want to do in life.
d) Tales of The Alhambra by Washington Irving
A beautiful book that sparked my interest in travelogue and travel journals.
e) Tarikh Sebenar Batu Bersurat Terengganu by Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas
The book that led me to other important works from the same author.