Some call it the ‘silver lining’ of the pandemic: we have been spoilt for choice with an array of digital events from around the world. Attending festivals, panel debates, readings and performances in far-away locations has become a new version of armchair travel. This year’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) is another opportunity to take part in a major professional gathering from anywhere in the world.
The last time World Kid Lit reported on AFCC was in a 2018 interview with one of its contributors, Avery Fischer Udagawa, who looked back at how the festival had developed since its launch. In the meantime, AFCC celebrated its tenth anniversary and is now stepping into a second decade. Set up by the Singapore Book Council (SBC) in 2010 with the aim of encouraging creation and publishing of local children’s content, it represented a ‘push back’ against the widespread consumption of books imported from the UK and US. This doesn’t mean that the festival does not engage beyond the region, on the contrary, one of its ambitions is to connect with the global children’s books scene: “Since its inception, the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) has sought to showcase the best of Asian children’s literature to the world,” says William Phuan, Executive Director of the Singapore Book Council.
With a rich programme of panels, seminars, workshops, master classes and pitching sessions, and with one of the Asian countries in focus every year, much like the guest of honour institution at book fairs, the AFCC is more a professional gathering than a festival. As Avery Udagawa observed, the format reminds her of the annual Los Angeles conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Designed as a forum for Asian children’s writers, illustrators and publishers, the event provides them with an opportunity to become part of a community, “share their challenges and achievements, develop new stories and explore the possibilities of marketing their publications both regionally and globally”.
Director of the SBC William Phuan explains: “We believe that there are many more discoveries to be made in the realm of children’s literature in Asia and Southeast Asia. Through the festival’s programmes, particularly the Country of Focus track, we have been able to fulfil this aim in highlighting and sharing the rich and diverse literary culture and history of Asia with our audiences, from all over the world, including Europe. During these challenging times, we believe it is even more critical to promote the intercultural exchanges among writers, translators, illustrators, publishers, educators and industry professionals.”
The theme of AFCC 2020 is Voyages, “particularly apt at a time when we can only travel in our imagination, and the festival invites participants to envision a world filled with possibilities in the digital space to traverse boundaries, redefine narratives and discover new truths, as it seeks new avenues of sharing Asian stories for children and young adults”.
AFCC 2020 will feature more than forty local and international speakers, mostly from Asia and the English-speaking world, including well-known writers Mariko Nagai, Minh Lê and Trevor Lai, illustrator Robert Alejandro, educators Dr Junko Yokota and Rushton Hurley, and key figures in the media content and literary industry such as Dexter Ong, Head of Wattpad Studios Asia, Peter Florence, Director and Founder of the Hay Festival of Arts and Literature, and Jochen Weber who is responsible for the ‘White Ravens’ recommended international children’s book list.
Many sessions address topics relevant to the pandemic and look for digital solutions, including the use of digital tools in schools and communities, as well as examining the impact of digitisation on the literary industry and live events such as festivals and book fairs in a post-COVID world. A key feature of the festival is the Book Illustrators Gallery showcasing artwork from picture books, comics and graphic novels by artists and illustrators from Asia and the Asian diaspora.
This year’s programme will kick off with a day of workshops, masterclasses and pitching sessions on 2nd October, and will follow with the two-day digital symposium on 3rd and 4th October.