Night Lights by Inda Ahmad Zahri, illustrated by Leslie McGee and published by Little Pink Dog Books is an exquisite picture book that immerses the reader deep into a lush Malaysian tropical village and into the richness of all that illuminated the author’s magical childhood where she lived with her doting grandparents in Malaysia.

In this story, the reader is transported back to the author’s childhood home, its spellbinding sights, glorious scents, joy filled, carefree days playing and exploring. This story begins by showcasing the tropical verdant forest that served as the most enticing and thrilling playground to share with cousins. There are sturdy vines beckoning small hands to grip them and swing freely from tree to tree, branches enticingly invite climbers and acrobatic feats such as hanging upside down, animals choosing the right moment to come out from hiding and say hello; so many adventures to be had, laughs to be shared and precious memories to be made.

Once night falls a whole new glorious world opens, a world to be savoured, explored and shared with family. As the sun goes down the children return inside to a cosily lit home, where Tok-Bah takes the floor and captivates his grandchildren with thrilling stories about his work as a policeman. Outside the night sky is aglow with a skinny crescent moon and twinkly stars sparkling and shimmering. Once the generator stops working, Tok-Mak brings out the oil lamps and this portable light source casting a warm glow is the perfect impetus to explore the night lights in nature. Into the garden the family goes to be greeted by the most splendid of sights, a sea of fireflies flickering and floating through the plants illuminating the garden. There’s another animal to be discovered, an animal who has found a place where they feel secure at night, but unknowingly, commands the groups attention because of their eyes which can be spotted in the dark. This is Tompok the cat and the unexpected light source coming from the cat’s eyes has everyone startled, including Tompok. When everyone is settled again, they are rewarded with the sight of blue and green lights, these are glow-worm beetles lighting up patches of the garden.

After an adventure filled with dazzling light and love, it is time to return to the home. All the cousins spill into one large bed, sharing stories and excited chatter. Tok-Mah and Tok-Bak blow out the lamps and with this it’s like a spell of love is cast over the room as the children rest easy and dream sweetly as they are filled with peace and contentment.

The evocative, striking illustrations are arresting and full of life as well as exquisite details, revealing sumptuous plants, animals, foods, architectural details and cultural practices unique to Malaysia. They also deftly capture the palpable childhood joy, awe and wonder that comes with the freedom to play, explore and make precious memories with cousins and grandparents. The reader cannot help but get lost in the colourful double page spreads aglow with light and profound beauty.

This captivating story is a touching tribute to Inda’s grandparents and while personal, is a gorgeous and generous invitation to the reader to experience such light and love while being transported to another place and time. It highlights the diversity, riches and beauty the tropical village has to offer which can be truly appreciated when keenly observing the surrounds.  It is a celebration of wonder, family bonds, childhood memories and gifts to be found in nature; these are the gems, the treasure that can set your heart and mind alight and make your spirit glow. These childhood memories serve as gifts, the brightest to be savoured and relived when lovingly shared.

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