Anushka Ravishankar: Work and Play at the AFCC, Singapore

It’s been a few days since I got back from the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, 2013, in Singapore. This is my third time at the festival, and it grows bigger and better every year.

There’s always so much to do and see at the AFCC, that I spend the three days in a state of anxious indecision: which of the concurrent sessions should I attend? Will the one on how to sell Asian books to the west be more exciting? Or should I go to the one on creating picture books? Or maybe the one on humour or the one on changing the world with children’s books? I’ve never appreciated Hermione Granger more.

Then there are the bigger moral questions: should one be good and go to the official dinner, or should one play hooky with a bunch of other bad girls and boys and go out drinking and eating at the famous hawkers streets of Singapore. Well, some dilemmas are easy to resolve … unless you have an overly developed conscience.

Because one of the greatest pleasures of the AFCC is meeting authors, academics and reviewers from all over the world: some old friends and some new.

This time there was an added dimension to the trip: as the new RA for SCBWI India I met a lot of other SCBWI members, and attended an RA meeting. After talking to the RAs from Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and other Asian countries, I’m all the more convinced that we need to get SCBWI going in India. There’s such a lovely sense of camaraderie amongst the members; it would be wonderful for writers and illustrators in India to have that sense of belonging to a group of likeminded people.

I moderated a session by Naomi Kojiyama, who had lovingly put together a presentation of work by Asian artists. She had chosen One, Two, Tree! as a sample of Durga Bai’s work. That was a lovely coincidence, and Naomi, one of the most gracious presenters I have encountered, asked me to come up and talk about Durga Bai. Naomi herself has illustrated some beautiful books, but she left herself out of the presentation. Such self-effacement is very rare, and so generous.

My session as speaker was called Asian Themes in Children’s Literature. My co-presenters were Daphne Lee and Marjorie Coughlan. Lisa T Yun was the moderator. Daphne, an editor, reviewer and writer, spoke about Malaysia; Marjorie, who works with the review website Paper Tigers, who focus on multicultural books, gave us a macro view of things and I spoke about India, but also about the need for themes to be universal. We all agreed that one of the reasons Asian books don’t sell is that they are often too self-consciously Asian and sometimes just not good enough.

We’d all decided to keep the talk short, and leave more time for questions and interaction. The session warmed up slowly, and it turned out to be a blast. There were animated arguments, interesting observations and insightful comments. But the best moment of the session came when Candy Gourlay, author of Tall Story, commented that Asians don’t like to be criticised or corrected, which might be why Asian writers don’t take kindly to editing. Daphne, no-nonsense editor that she is, said briskly that the writers would just have to suck it up.

After that the session got more entertaining by the minute. I like sessions where things are democratic. Dialogue and discussion is always so much more rewarding than lecturing is. Malavika, the illustrator from Pondicherry, and Candy sat on the first row and participated so animatedly that at one point, we offered to exchange places with them. It was all very friendly and happy and funny. A lot of the others in the audience had things to say as well, and that always makes for an exciting session. The three of us had a blast, and several of the people who attended told us that it was the best session they’d been to. They were probably being polite, but we were pleased, nevertheless.

(Daphne was later castigated gently for her language (wonder how word gets around!) but we’ve advised her to tell all objectors to suck it up!)

For more on the AFCC visit Nury Vittachi:

and Chris Cheng:


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