Ms Claire Chiang’s Speech to SCBWI Japan

2 Dec 2015 // Filed under Children’s

The Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC) Board of Advisors recently took a trip to Tokyo, Japan, to meet with various friends and partners who will be appearing and helping out at AFCC 2016. They toured the city and its suburbs and solidified plans for the event. During an AFCC Get-Together at the Tokyo Women's University co-hosted by the Japanese chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), AFCC Board of Advisors Chairperson Ms Claire Chiang gave a speech expounding on the virtues of AFCC and exhorting those gathered to attend. Her speech is reproduced below in its entirety.

 

Good evening and thank you all for taking the time to join us today. I’ve come to Japan with a team from the Singapore Book Council and the Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC) as we prepare to feature Japan as our Country of Focus in 2016. We are enjoying our visit during this cool season – perhaps the best season for visiting Japan -  as well as the warmth of our distinguished hosts.

My own involvement with the Book Council and AFCC began in 2010, through the persistence of Rama, whom some of you have met before. He initiated the Asian Children’s Writers and illustrators Conference (ACWIC) in 2000. By 2010, ACWIC has grown bigger and morphed into AFCC.  Today ACWIC has developed into a bigger event that brings together the entire chain of people involved in children’s content, from the creators, all the way to the end users. The grand vison is to gradually develop AFCC as the “Bologna Book Fair of the East”. 

To accomplish this goal, AFCC hosts annually 4 different conferences, a rights exchange, a media mart and book fair, and a book illustrator’s gallery. All these events provide a platform for authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, animators, TV production people, distributors, booksellers, librarians, teachers, parents and children to mingle, share, learn, to collaborate, publish, produce and find distributors for their creative content.

What makes AFCC truly unique is our focus on Asian content. In many Asian countries, particularly in South East Asia, children’s books have for a long time been mainly imported from the US or UK. While we’ve all enjoyed reading those books at one time or another, we think that it is important for children in Asia today to see and read about characters and situations that they can relate to and resonate with.

We also strongly believe Children the rest of world need to be exposed to books from Asia as well, so that they have a better understanding of our culture, tradition and way of life. As we become globalized the need for books from each of the Asian countries to be readily and easily available in and beyond Asia becomes increasingly important.

One of the main objectives of AFCC is to encourage Asian writers and illustrators to create new and innovative content and to understand the market and the end users better.

To bring this about we invite speakers from the Asia-Pacific, as well as US and Europe, to come and present over 100 sessions at the 4 different conferences: Teachers Congress, Media Summit, Writers and Illustrators Conference, and Parents Forum. Next year we have invited a well-known African Literary Administrator, Deborah Ahenkorah from Ghana, to help us update and understand what is happening in the Children’s content in the African Continent just like in the previous year we had hosted Fatima Sharafeddine from Lebanon to present on the literary tradition and developments in the Middle East. 

Needless to say, the writers in the West have mastered the art of writing and illustrating for Children. We in Asia love our children but do not fully know how to communicate with them effectively. We talk and write for them as we do adults. Hence, AFCC provides a leaning opportunity for our aspiring writers and illustrators of Children to learn the art of reaching out to the hearts and minds of our children. Accordingly we organise a series of in-depth Masterclasses on a variety of topics related to Children’s books and the publishing industry.

For the first time this year we organised a 4-day AFCC Writers Retreat. The retreat was very well attended with 22 participants from 10 countries. We will continue to organise the Retreat next year as well. Holly Thompson who lives in Japan is going to be one of the retreat leaders in 2016. Hopefully the AFCC Retreat would become Asia’s training ground for aspiring Children’s writers in the region.

Since 2012 we have been showcasing a Country of Focus at each AFCC.  We introduced this feature because we believe that we don’t know very much about each other’s books and content though   within Asia there are about 1.5 billion children (let alone the rest of the world). Starting with the Philippines in 2012, then Malaysia, India, and most recently China at AFCC 2015, we’ve tried to bring some of the best creators and their content to AFCC.  We have since introduced some of the better known writers from the Philippines, Malaysia, India and China to the rest of Asia.

And of course in 2016, Japan will be the Country of Focus. Japan is slightly different, as you have been very successful in exporting Japanese books, manga, and films around the world! When you come to AFCC, we hope you will share with us your experience of reaching out to the rest of the world.

Authors, illustrators and publishers from across Asia come to AFCC from Kyrgyzstan to Korea, from Beirut to Bombay, from Sydney to Singapore. We welcome you to take advantage of the ample opportunities during AFCC to meet them in the conference and social settings in a way no other meeting offers in any other part of the world. Visiting authors are also welcome to launch their books or have book signings at AFCC.

Some of the children’s authors, for instance, Rukhsana Khan from Canada, John Mckenzie from New Zealand have subsequently been able to leverage on the contacts made at AFCC into speaking invitations at other events and schools in the region.

One important development that emerged out of AFCC is the publication of works with the cooperation of different professionals in the different countries.

  1. For instance earlier this year, we launched a book called, “The Magic Bird” written by Ken Spillman, an Australian, illustrated by Malavika from India, and published by a Malaysian publisher. They all first met at AFCC 2013, and this book is the culmination of that meeting.
  2. Two years ago another book called Grandma’s Persimmons was launched at AFCC, that also had a Malaysian publisher, Singaporean author and a South African illustrator who had met at AFCC 2012
  3. Some years ago our BOA member from the USA, a well- known figure at AFCC, Shirley Lim (who is here with us today) was inspired to write a Children’s Book “Princess Shawl”. This book was published in Malaysia.
  4. Ethos Books Singapore, published, “Ice Ball” which is a collaboration between a writer from America and another from Singapore. The illustrator is from Singapore as well.
  5. We also published a book entitled, ‘Water’. The text is written by an Australian and the illustrator is a Singaporean

Last year we embarked on a publishing programme with China which was the Country of Focus. We published, ‘Lion’s Heart, painted thoughts: Children’s literature from Singapore and China” – a collection of stories from authors from Singapore and China. With Japan next year we hope to do the same and a publication would be one of the collaborations we will undertake from each of our focus countries. We hope that AFCC will develop into a natural gathering place for this kind of cross country collaboration of writers and publishers.

Another development that has resulted as a consequence of AFCC is the establishment of a closer relationship with the literary organisations of the various countries.

The AFCC has been instrumental in developing closer ties with the National Book Development Board in Philippines, Kota Buku in Malaysia. National Book Trust in India and the Hunan Publishing House in China.  With the Western Australian (WA) literary organization, Writing WA, the relationship has gone further. The Book Council has informally agreed that annually Western Australia would send at least 5 writers to AFCC. The participation of WA writers at AFCC would be jointly subsidised by both the organisations concerned. This has increased the contact between the writers of both states through regular visits to their respective schools and participation in their Festivals.

As a result of this closeness both organisations published, “Near and dear” – a collection of stories by Singapore and Western Australian Writers. The editor of this collection was none other than Dr. Ken Spillman.

We do hope a similar agreement could be worked out with the Japanese cultural organisations.

Talking about publications I must mention the annual publication of some of the key papers delivered at AFCC. This publication was first issued in 2013 and has since become an important review of Children’s book and Literature trends in the region. We have brought copies of the latest edition for your perusal.   

One of the most important features of AFCC is the opportunity it offers for illustrators to display their works in the Book Illustrators Gallery or B.I.G. We welcome you to send in both published and unpublished work for exhibition during AFCC 2016. Several publishers have been spotted checking out the exhibition and taking down contact details of the illustrators. Ultimately we would like the Illustrators Gallery to also develop into a retail space for Illustrators, where prints can be sold to the public.  This would be the beginning of a market for book illustrators in Asia. Such a vibrant market for book illustrators exists in the West as well as in Japan and Korea while in other parts of Asia the potential of book illustrations has been hitherto neglected.  

Authors and publishers would be delighted to notice that there is a lot of interest in their work within Asia, especially in neighbouring countries, for translations and rights sales. In Singapore, our authors and illustrators have benefitted too, with some titles being sold to Indonesia, China, Korea, India, and Turkey.

AFCC was also able to facilitate the rights sales of a book written by Singapore’s former President S R Nathan “50 Stories from my Life” to India for translation into Hindi and Tamil. We see the success of many Japanese books like Toto Chan, Moribito, manga by Osamu Tezuka and many others in the international market as the gold standard to aim for.

AFCC has a special interest in Translation with an annual track spearheaded by Avery Udagawa. We strongly believe that Translation will continue to become more important as the demand for cross cultural exchange inevitably grows. We hope that Asian popular stories published in one language would be simultaneously translated into one or two other Asian languages in the same way popular English books published in New York and London are translated to French, German and Spanish.

Most of you would also have heard of the Asia-wide awards that we present at AFCC including the Scholastic Asian Book Award for chapter books and Young Adult books, and the Scholastic Picture Book Award. The winning entrees of these awards have been published and these collectively have helped in bringing quality stories on Asian themes to be published and distributed worldwide. Some of the books published by Scholastic are:

  1. Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami
  2. The Girl Mechanic of Wanzhou by Marjorie Sayer
  3. The Mudskipper by Ovidia Yu
  4. Bungee Cord Hair by Ching Yeung Russell
  5. Not in the Stars by Pauline Loh
  6. Hidden in Plain Sight by Su-Lin Ang

We will be announcing the launch of a new award at AFCC 2016, but you will have to come to Singapore to find out the details!

Recently, to my great delight, I became a grandmother. This has made me look at children’s books again with renewed interest and vision. I have been busy collecting books in my travels as I want my grandchild to grow up surrounded by a diverse collection of fantastic books, with amazing stories from every culture and every corner of the world.

On one of my trips to New York, I came across this book “Ruby’s Wish” written by Shirin Yim Bridges. I was really moved by the story which is about a young girl in China during the late Qing dynasty who sees her male relatives going to school and wonders why she is not allowed to. By the end of the story, she secures her grandfather’s approval to study. Subsequently we invited Shirin who is both a publisher and an author to speak at AFCC. One question struck me, “Why wasn’t Shirin’s book available in Singapore.” I am sure this book was not available in other Asian countries as well.

We hope that AFCC would facilitate the distribution of books with Asian themes worldwide. We should be able to have the best books on Asian themes known and available to us, wherever they are published, in our own countries. If this happens the market for Asian books would be considerably increased.

Our mission is to serve the community of professionals and be the platform for them to network, train and collaborate, to achieve global recognition.

Thank you all for coming today, I want to  thank especially Yuko Takesako-san and Michiko Matsukata- san of the Chihiro Museum as well as the well-known author and illustrator, Naomi Kojima-san who have helped us greatly and generously to plan this visit to Japan. They have also jointly put in a lot of painstaking hours in planning and organising the programmes for Japan as Country of Focus for AFCC next year. All of you should not miss to witness the efforts of their work in Singapore.  See you all at AFCC 2016.

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