Think Asia, Write Asia

I owe you part 2 of my Bookish Stops: Singapore post, but I know a lot of you have been waiting for the AFCC reportage, so here’s my article, published in the Manila Bulletin Students and Campuses section last Saturday (sorry, no online edition just yet!).

While all the time I spent at the AFCC I was thinking of how it would be great to have clones of myself to send to all the different sessions happening simultaneously, post-AFCC I found myself wading through a ton of notes of all the sessions I had actually attended, so it was challenging to sum up the whole experience in one article (went waaaay over 600 words). I have a couple more AFCC sessions I want to write up, and photos to show you, but for now, I hope I can take you all back to the AFCC with this post.

(first published in Manila Bulletin)

Think Asia, Write Asia

A picture book is about the child…


SINGAPORE — Attendees were in high spirits at the recent Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC), the annual gathering of the community of children’s content creators across Asia, seen to impact some 1.5 billion children and their parents, as well as the industries involved in their development.

Held at The Arts House at the Old Parliament last May 26-29, AFCC aims to develop the writing and illustration of children’s stories and content, to promote the publishing of Asian content, and to provide the world with access to Asian content.

Philippines, represent!

The Philippine booth at the AFCC

As a book blogger and reviewer, I was among the Filipinos invited to take part in the various panel discussions at the AFCC, along with author Russell Molina (“Madyik Silya ni Titoy,” “Sandosendang Kuya,” “Tuwing Sabado”), author illustrator Jomike Tejido (“Tagu-Taguan, ” “Dindo Pundido,” “Foldabots,”), internationally recognized author Candy Gourlay, (“Tall Story”), illustrator Isabel Roxas (“Araw sa Palengke”), and Singapore-based educator and book blogger Dr. Myra Garces-Bacsal.

Russell, Jomike, Candy and Isabel

In an all-Filipino panel, Molina and Tejido discussed trends in the local children’s book industry. Molina describes the Philippine children’s book industry as one huge community of co-creativity and collaboration. “When you open a Filipino children’s book, you find pieces of our culture – what we believe in, what we hold true – that we pass on to the next generation,” says Molina. “We love our characters and have a mastery of retelling and imagination. There is greater room for Young Adult [books], there is an emergence of the child as hero, challenging the traditional image of the Filipino child. We pluck themes from what is happening in the country, like the increase in number of OFW’s, and there is an open avenue for new themes once considered taboo.”

Tejido also discussed how illustrators are finding niches in different publishers’ “looks” and are also moving into digital media.

“Today’s Filipino story books have Filipino-looking characters, and illustration styles adjust to suit the story’s needs.”

Gourlay, who has been living in London for some time now, shared how she wrote and many stories before coming up with her young adult novel “Tall Story,” which has been shortlisted for 13 prizes.

“They say you should ‘Write what you know’; I discovered it’s really ‘Write who you are,’ ” Gourlay noted. “And if at first you don’t succeed, write
another novel!”

Roxas, who has upcoming picture books with Penguin (USA), shared how she faced a lot of challenges moving to New York. “I found my network reduced, so I had to take the aggressive approach. Competition is tough, and there is a lack of awareness of Filipino illustrators. Ultimately, you just have to get over it and send out your work.”

Roxas also noted the trends in US picture books. “There’s a rise in books about Asian language and culture, particularly Chinese. There’s excellent talent from South Korea, and an increase in stories catering to smaller, more specific audiences. Alongside e-books, there are more high-end books with special inks and printing techniques, as well as more tactile books.”

Noel Cabangon

Aside from the Filipino panelists, folk singer-songwriter Noel Cabangon also serenaded the AFCC participants with his distinctly Filipino music, while book blogger Tarie Sabido, NBDB executive director Andrea Pasion-Flores, and NBDB chair Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz served as facilitators for various sessions in the AFCC. A Philippine booth was also set up at the Media Mart and Rights Fair, showcasing Filipino children’s book offerings from various local publishers.

Food for thought
The AFCC experience was nothing short of extraordinary – not only were we representing the country, we were also within elbow-rubbing proximity to a host of luminaries in the children’s book industry!

Educator Dr. Chitra Shegor noted the prevalence of reluctant readers in Asian school children and presented the challenges for Asian schools. “Reading interests of Asian students need to be identified. Parents, teachers, students and stakeholders need to be educated and convinced about the importance of engaged reading.”

American children’s book historian and book critic Leonard Marcus (“Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon,” “Dear Genius,” “The Wand in the Word”) examined the two-fold function of children’s books for education and entertainment.

“Children’s books hover between these two functions, and finding the right balance depends on who the children are, what they need, and your relationship with them.”

Leonard Marcus

Translator Avery Fischer Udagawa (“J-Boys: Kazuo’s World”) emphasized the oft-overlooked importance of translations. “Translations eliminate barriers to understanding between people of different cultures, races, nations and languages. They promote communication between people of the world.”

On writing non-fiction picture books, author Mohana Gill (“Fruitastic,” “Vegemania”) states,“Write about subjects you are familiar and passionate about. Use storytelling techniques for writing non-fiction, with details that appeal to the senses.”

Australian picture book illustrator James Foley (“The Last Viking”) gives the following tips for authors and fellow illustrators: “Words and pictures work in harmony together. Your words and pictures do not have to be perfect, but should be truthful and playful, if possible.”

Novelist and book blogger Anu Kumar (“Atisa” adventure series) notes that historical fiction is becoming more and more popular. “Borders are disappearing and we are learning about heritage. Yesterday’s contemporary accounts are now historical fiction. The context is provided by the past and the period is defined by a character.”

Meanwhile, touching on gritty themes in young adult novels, novelist Julia Lawrinson (“Chess Nuts,” “Famous!”) says, “The point isn’t the material; it’s how you’re handling it.”

Julia Lawrinson with fellow Australian authors Norm Jorgensen and Diane Wolfer

Picture book artist Suzy Lee (“Wave,” “Mirror,” “Shadow”) best summarized the four days of camaraderie and learning at the AFCC in her keynote speech, where she talked about bridging the divide between child and grownup in her keynote speech. “A picture book is not about the artist, or the image, but the child. We can provide content for children by standing at the border of children and grownups.”

The four-day festival serves as a hub for the Asian Primary & Preschool Teachers Congress, the Asian Parents Forum, the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference, and the Asian Children’s Media Summit.

Aside from new children’s book awards and specialized language workshops, AFCC 2012 introduced a “global trek” to showcase Asia’s talents around the world, zeroing in on the Philippines as the first country focus.

Festival director R Ramachandran pronounced the AFCC 2012 as a resounding success. “We are very happy about this year’s AFCC – more than 500 people are coming in everyday. We hope that the AFCC inspires us all to collectively think about Asia, to write stories about Asia.”

The AFCC is an annual event organized by the National Book Development Council of Singapore in partnership with The Arts House.

Blooey Singson blogs about books on

UPDATE: Click on the thumbnails to see this article in print!

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*Students and Campuses is a daily section of the Manila Bulletin. The Saturday edition is devoted to books.

7 thoughts on “Think Asia, Write Asia”

    1. Thanks, Myra. There was so much I wanted to write — my notepad app is full of AFCC notes, not to mention my huge stash of photos!

  1. Terrific article, Blooey! it really was an extraordinary experience – it felt like we were standing on the edge of a new world. (Wish I knew about the article earlier – my mom would have been thrilled to see my picture in the Bulletin!)

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