87. The 10th Asian Festival of Children’s Content – sparking new ideas

I’ve just returned from the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, in Singapore. It was the 10th AFCC, and my 1st time to the AFCC or Singapore. I’m so grateful to the Singapore Book Council – in particular William Phuan, Caroline Wan and Chloe Tong and their team – for inviting me (I gave a keynote, was on a panel, gave a lecture, and a masterclass). It was the friendliest, most international, thought-provoking and inspiring conference/festival I have ever been to. Each year the AFCC has a country of focus and a theme. This year the country was Myanmar, and the theme was diversity. There was also a very strong and positive approach to translation – in and out of all languages. It was such an honour to be invited to give the first keynote of the festival – on translation.


The 10th Asian Festival of Children’s Content

The AFCC programme, events, organisation, and food – everything – was beautifully thought through and presented. Every event and session I went to opened my mind to new possibilities and ways of seeing things – it was interesting and energizing. And there was a fantastic quantity and range of books! At the first panel session I went to – “Current Trends in the Children’s Book Market” with speakers Bijal VachharajaniAparna KapurTina NarangSara Sargent , moderated by Priti Sharma) – the table was spilling over with Pratham Books, and Tina Narang must have showed over a hundred book covers on her powerpoint. The AFCC took place in the National Library of Singapore (a superb venue for this festival), and Level 3 with the cafe, seats and pop-up bookshop became a natural meeting point. I must give a thumbs-up to Denise Tan of Closetful of Books, who, for a few days provided a treasure trove of Asian content. These books exist! But when do we ever get to see them on the other side of the world? Cue my usual rant about visibility and accessibility – that we have to search online for these books, then search for a bookseller/distributor, then, without being able to browse, pay (often as much for p&p as for the book itself), wait a few weeks for it to arrive, and then discover whether we like the content or not.

I left Singapore with my mind buzzing. On the plane on the way home, I happened to watch the movie 2040 – in which Damon Gameau makes a “journey to explore what the future could look like by the year 2040 if we simply embraced the best solutions already available to us.” The movie flips between the current state of the environment and those who are coming up with solutions and improvements, and what the world could be like in 2040, when his daughter will be 21. Instead of the tired dystopian approach, he offers a better world. I watched it twice, because I found so much in the movie that was relevant and parallel to increasing and improving diversity in/of children’s books. Gameau spends time with several individuals who are already finding solutions that work, often starting on a small scale and building/linking up. In my own events at the AFCC, I had talked about sowing seeds…

Then, at home, I chanced upon the UN Sustainable Development Goals Book Club  (#SDGBookClub #GlobalGoals). I hadn’t come across this United Nations project before.


Launched in April 2019, “the SDG Book Club will be based on a reading list of titles aimed at children age 6-12, to teach them about the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” There are 17 Goals:

1. No Poverty 无贫穷
2. Zero Hunger 零饥饿
3. Good Health and Well-Being 良好健康与福祉
4. Quality Education 优质教育
5. Gender Equality 性别平等
6. Clean Water and Sanitation 清洁饮水和卫生设施
7. Affordable and Clean Energy 经济适用的清洁能源
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 体面工作和经济增长
9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 产业、创新和基础设施
10. Reduced Inequalities 减少不平等
11. Sustainable Cities and Communities 可持续城市和社区
12. Responsible Consumption and Production 负责任消费和生产
13. Climate Action 气候行动
14. Life Below Water 水下生物
15. Life on Land 陆地生物
16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions 和平、正义与强大机构
17. Partnerships for the Goals 促进目标实现的伙伴关系

These were the themes of many of the books and projects I had seen at the AFCC! And in many different languages!

The UN SDG Book Club has been running five months now, and there are a selection of books on the website already – for readers of English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish. There are three on the Chinese language page – under Goal 5, Gender Equality:

  1. The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis – translated into Chinese 《养家之人》
  2. I Am Hua Mulan – Chinese original by Qin Wenjun, illustr. Yu Rong. 《我是花木兰》
  3. Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World – by Rachel Ignotofsky, translated into Chinese 《无所畏惧:影响世界历史的50位女科学家》

I was a bit disappointed to see two translated titles on the Chinese page, because there are some stunning books being produced in Chinese, many of which match the UN SDGs.

Disappointed, too, that while the About page states “Multilingualism is of essence in reaching a broad, global audience”, there is little or no mention of the translators. As I’ve said before (#namethetranslator), naming the translator(s) is not about glorifying the translators, but about drawing attention to translation – to the people and processes involved, to celebrating the good things, and working to improve the not-so-good things.

My reactions were probably heightened after being at the AFCC, which, although held in English, was a multilingual, multicultural environment, where most people spoke/read at least one of the UN languages (English, Chinese, Arabic, French, Russian, Spanish) – Singaporeans know at least two of the official languages (English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil) – and often several Asian languages as well.

So I hope this list of recommended books will grow. In its FAQ, the UN SDG Book Club says it has a team selecting the books, and does not seek recommendations from readers. But we’d be happy to have your recommendations!


85. The Moose of Ewenki

Älg 4When we think of China and Chinese culture we tend to think of paddy fields, bamboo, poetry, and other southern things – or perhaps of the Great Wall or the terracotta army in Xi’an. Few will think of snow and skiing and reindeer. But that too, is part of China. Continue reading

84. Exams, handwriting and school stories

Minjie recently published a very interesting post about crib sheets on the Cotsen blog titled Cheating in Examinations for Cheapskates? – A Centuries-Old Tip from the Chinese Collection of the Cotsen Children’s Library. This sparked off an email conversation between us…  Continue reading

83. Interview with Yangsze Choo, author of “The Ghost Bride”

One book leads to another… last November Lin Man-chiu and I were invited to talk about The Ventriloquist’s Daughter at an event at the LSE. The chair of the event, Prof Fang-long Shih, suggested that the story might be linked with ghost brides (on which she is an expert). Lin Man-chiu rejected this idea, but the discussion stuck in my mind, and when I saw Yangsze Choo’s novel The Ghost Bride, I was intrigued. Amy Matthewson devoured The Ventriloquist’s Daughter and Yangsze Choo’s two books The Ghost Bride (2013) and The Night Tiger (2019) in quick succession, and was thrilled when Yangsze Choo 朱洋熹 agreed to an interview. They discussed both of her books, but agreed that while The Ghost Bride is suitable (albeit scary) for young adults, The Night Tiger is more of an adult read. We are very grateful to Yangsze and Amy for this interview! – Helen  Continue reading

82. White Horse by Yan Ge

White Horse

White Horse (Hoperoad)

Last year, Yan Ge’s novel The Chili Bean Paste Clan 《我们家》was published in English, and now it’s time for her YA-novella White Horse 《白马》 (both works translated by the skilled Nicky Harman).

White Horse has been described as a “coming-of-age story”, but to an even higher degree, it’s a story about secrets and the terrible consequences they can have. The main character is Yun Yun, a ten year old girl, who together with her cousin Zhang Qing is trying on the attributes of adulthood, in the form of makeup and clothes. Puberty, and adolescent girls’ discovery of the female body is not an unusual topic for Yan Ge, who – in the same collection of stories where White Horse was first printed – also published the novella “The Demon-reflecting Mirror“, about a group of teenagers trying to understand themselves and their changing bodies with the help of a mirror. Continue reading

80. Translator Dong Haiya studies children’s literature at Reading

Dr Dong Haiya 董海雅 of Shanghai International Studies University 上海外国语大学 has recently been in the UK on a Chinese-government funded scholarship to research children’s literature. She generously spared some of her time to meet, and kindly answered some questions about her life and work. Continue reading

78. Childhood in a courtyard house

Siheyuan1In his lovely picture book Childhood in a courtyard house《四合院里的小时候》architect and illustrator Xie Xiaozhen 谢小振 presents the story of this classical building type, often associated with Beijing but common in many parts of China. For children and parents interested in architecture the book is a goldmine – not only are the illustrations marvellous, Xie shows us details in the construction of gates and roofs, talks about roof tiles, edge plates, door stops, door knockers, and “spirit walls” – the often richly decorated walls that make it possible to keep the outer gate open without letting people in the street see what’s going on inside the courtyard. Xie also describes other objects and decorations that are traditionally common in a courtyard of this kind: goldfish ponds, trees, trellises, and so on.
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77. Science Fiction for Children – selected by Liu Cixin and Han Song

The latest book in the “For Children” series is Science Fiction for Children, a collection of 15 short classics in the genre, selected and edited by Liu Cixin 刘慈欣 (The Three-Body Problem) and Han Song 韩松, and translated by Bao Shu and others. I saw an announcement in English about this new book in The China Daily (7 Dec 2018), and was curious to see which stories had been selected. It seems they were all originally written in Chinese or English. I’ve listed and translated the contents below, followed by a list and translation of the titles of the 11 books in the series (info taken from the Douban website).

sf for kids

Science Fiction for Children (image source: Douban)

Gei haizi de kehuan [Science fiction for children], selected and edited by LIU Cixin and HAN Song, tr. BAO Shu and others, For Children Series (Zhong Xin chubanshe jituan, 2018), 437 pp., RMB 52, ISBN: 9787508694757.  刘慈欣,韩松 选编; 宝树  等 译:《给孩子的科幻》 (中信出版集团: 给孩子系列, 2018年)  
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76. Children’s Literature from Hong Kong in English

Marija Todorova, a peace studies and translation studies scholar, is currently pursuing a Postdoctoral Fellowship at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University on “Children’s Literature in English Language Teaching for Primary Students in Hong Kong”. We’re delighted she agreed to tell us about herself and her research.

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