Conferences and Events

Day One of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in Singapore

Venue of the Conference - one of my favorite places in Singapore: The Arts House

I can not even begin to describe how astounding the first day of the Asian Content for the World’s Children Conference had been. I’ve attended my fair share of conferences and apart from the Narrative Inquiry in Music Education (3rd International Music Conference) that I attended last year in Brisbane, this one has got to be one of the best I’ve attended in the past three years – it has exceeded my expectations (and last year’s conference so far) – and it’s only the first day.

The Programme!

The day started with a Welcome Note from The Man Himself – R. Ramachandran, Conference Director of Singapore. Here are some photos taken during the Welcome Note:

The Man Himself: R. Ramachandran, the Festival Director

The Keynote Address for today is entitled: “What is the Future of Children’s Publishing” as delivered by Stephen Mooser from the United States who happens to be the author of more than 60 books for children and is the co-founder of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Keynote address by Stephen Mooser

The next session I attended was entitled “It takes Two (or more) to Tango: Collaborating with an Illustrator, Musician, or Animator” by Christopher Cheng from Australia. I was the Facilitator for this session, and I took it upon myself to kind of take a quick peek around Chris’ website to describe him more accurately.

The Amazing Chris Cheng

During our introductions as we were getting to know each other, Chris mentioned that he was contemporaries and good friends with Shaun Tan and Jeannie Baker whose works we have featured here in GatheringBooks. I am simply in love with Australian authors/illustrators. And this session with Chris that I just facilitated has strengthened that commitment. I truly hope we can feature him one of these days here in GatheringBooks.

The very animated Chris Cheng

Essentially, Chris shared about the art of collaborating with illustrators, musicians, animators for three of his works: Sounds Spooky (a picture book), Pa’s Christmas Star (a musical), and an animation which at the moment is still untitled. Here are some more photos from his talk:

Oh yes. I am fascinated with Chris' long hair. I love it.
From his latest picture book "Sounds Spooky" - truly a privilege since this book is yet to be published. What a visual treat!
He was truly a livewire. Filled with energy.

The next session I attended was in the same room (the Gallery) entitled “Mythical Stories and Images of Asia” by Choi YangSook from Korea/USA. The facilitator for the session was YA author Holly Thompson from USA/Japan:

The facilitator for this session: the lovely Holly Thompson, a YA author herself
Choi YangSook from Korea who shared with us a fascinating array of mythical images.

I like how YangSook started with a tale about Singapore and as she pointed out the island was essentially discovered through oral storytelling. She went on to say that within every individual is a longing for a story that we can identify with, and in contrast to what the keynote speaker said, she claims that she writes a story that seems interesting to her, that she does not write for a global market. Here are a few of the mythical images that she shared with us earlier accompanied by their own unique, distinctive tales:

The nine-tailed fox, a purely evil creature which can transform to anything it desires
Korean goblins with a magic wand
Kintaro, the Sumo wrestler - a beloved figure in Japan

What was particularly interesting for me was when she shared this image which she referred to as the Filipino vampire. Wow, I didn’t even know about this. I know about tikbalang, kapre, duwende, manananggal, aswang, but this goat-like creature that sucks blood from a shadow and walks backward with his head between his hind legs and emits a disgusting smell is wow.. so new to me.

The Filipino Vampire - I didn't even know this existed - sucks blood from people's shadows.

What struck me most about this session was YangSook’s impassioned statement for the authors/writers in the room (whether novice storytellers or seasoned ones) to bring their gift of storytelling and share them to everyone because “the world needs to know your story.”  She recommended that it might be best to write everything from your heart first then modify the story later on after doing subsequent research to address potential cultural differences/variations.

I had lunch with several of the conference participants (Tarie, Corinne and Aline from Paper Tigers, Suzy Lee who graced us with her fabulous presence – among others):

Yummy lunch - my modest serving.

The next session was mine. I presented at the Screening Room and my talk was entitled “On Fairies (Diwata), Mousedeers (Sang Kancil), Merpeople, and Magic Spells: Threads that Bind Children’s Tales from Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.” The facilitator was the beautiful Pooja Makhijani from US/Singapore (who also gave a talk for NIE as we shared here) Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to ask some of my book-friends at the audience to take my picture, thus I have no photos to share. Suffice it to say that I think there were more than 40 people in the audience – it was a full house. The people who attended were fabulous and willingly shared their own thoughts, reflections, insights, recommendations – I smell collaborations in the air! I had a wonderful wonderful time.

The next session is what I would consider the highlight of today’s conference. It was by Liz Rosenberg from the United States entitled: “A Book Reviewer Speaks: Trends in Children’s Literature in America.”

Liz Rosenberg in the flesh.

She’s like the Mother of Book Reviewers and is author of more than 25 award-winning books for children – I can listen to her ALL DAY. She also writes a regular book review column on young people’s literature for The Boston Globe and is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Binghamton University in New York. To say that I am awed by her would be an understatement.

Sharp, witty, incisive, and lyrical - words that come to mind when I think about Liz Rosenberg.

What I loved about her talk was that it was fluid, spontaneous, peppered with quotations from various poets/writers such as Robert Frost and Maurice Sendak to name a few. I have a feeling she might have a photographic memory. I like how caustic she can be as she discusses what she calls ‘potato chip literature phenomenon’ as she refers to the vampire YA literature that is currently the trend on the market – this is in response to a question as to why this kind of literature sells even when it goes against the grain of what people know to be really great literature. Simple: potato chips aren’t good for you, yet you still eat them anyway. Couldn’t help but laugh at that statement.

She also shared quite a number of her favorite Asian-American children’s literature and YA fiction and even read passages from some of them. Now, I have more books to borrow from the library. She made mention of Maples from the Mist, a collection of Chinese poems for children, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden (an author whose works we have reviewed here a few times), Dear Juno a Korean picture book, A Thousand Cranes, and Shizuko’s Daughter by Kyoko Mori. Here is a video clip of Liz Rosenberg reading a passage from Shizuko’s Daughter:

The last session I attended was also powerful and moving and engendered quite a bit of lively and thoughtful discussion. It was by Pooja Makhijani from US/Singapore entitled: “More than Monkeys, Maharajahs and Mangoes: An Overview of South Asian Literature for Kids.” Her facilitator for this session was Christine Chen from Singapore.

Pooja and her polemical 'multicultural' issues as evident in children's literature and education across the globe

Pooja has taught writing and children’s literature at Western Connecticut State University and Middlesex County College and has conducted writing workshops and presentations in quite a number of colleges, libraries, and educational institutions all over the US. Her talk was extremely comprehensive and incisive and quite filled with a number of historical facts about the nature of South Asian Diaspora and Immigration particularly in the United States.

She also went on to share a very brief history of South Asia and Children’s Books and listed down some of the notable titles for picture books and YA fiction from 2008-2011. She also went on to discuss what the importance and impact is of children reading stories about other cultures, and children reading stories about their own culture – this was a take-off point as she further went into the nitty-gritty of what constitutes multicultural education where an animated discussion among the participants ensued.

Wow. This is just Day One. I was privileged enough to end the day with a light dinner somewhere near the Arts House at a restaurant called The Dome, pretty near The Fullerton Hotel with both Pooja and Suzy. 

Yup. We only had ice water for dinner. NOT!
My yummy quesadilla.

Watch out for Day Two! If I am unable to blog as extensively as this first day, I’d just fill it with pictures. =)

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

14 comments on “Day One of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in Singapore

  1. Pingback: Day One of the Asian Festival of Children's … – Gathering Books | Children Picture Book

  2. Thanks for your recap, Myra. Almost as good as being there. Almost.:)


    • myragarcesbacsal

      Awww. I met some of the people from Vibal Publishing. You should have joined them!


  3. myragarcesbacsal

    Hi Alfred, that sounds great! Hope to see you both next year. =)


  4. So sweet of you to write all this. You also made me feel as if I attended some of the talks I had to miss because ours overlapped. A few fewer photos of me in the flesh would be fine, however!!!! That was a seriously wonderful conference, I agree.


    • myragarcesbacsal

      Oh this is such a thrill having you come and visit our site and leave a comment Liz. I actually felt bad that I didn’t have MORE photos of you – the shawl was just the right touch of classy – you looked stunning! Impeccably so. =)


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