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.

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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.

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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!

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81. Justine Laismith and Secrets of the Great Fire Tree

Justine Laismith is a UK-based scientist and author of her children’s books. Her new book Secrets of the Great Fire Tree will be published in May this year. We are delighted she agreed to an interview with us!  Continue reading

47. CFP: Asian Festival of Children’s Content

Call For Papers: for the 9th Asian Festival of Children’s Content 亚洲少儿读物节 , to be held in Singapore, 5-9 September 2018 (details here). Deadline: 15 September 2017. Continue reading