Last year in Singapore a new children’s literature conference was launched: The Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC). Organized by the National Book Development Council of Singapore and The Arts House, the mission of the AFCC was (and is) to foster excellence in the creation, production and publication of children’s materials with Asian content in all formats and to facilitate their distribution and access, first in Asia and then to children worldwide. The AFCC noted:
Over a billion children in Asia lack good resources, both for their education and entertainment. Those who have the means and the access, benefit from a wide selection of edutainment material available from the West. Asian material, even those available, is seldom promoted and is therefore left unexplored. Bringing quality Asian content to children is paramount as it would make children aware of Asia’s unique environment and cultural values, promote understanding of, and love for, the literary and visual arts. It will thereby lay the foundation for a good and all-round education. This will benefit parents, teachers, librarians and children in Asia as well as the world.
The inaugural AFCC festival was a huge success with over 400 participants from 17 countries attending, and dates were promptly set for the 2nd AFCC to be held 26 – 28 May 2011. Here at PaperTigers we were eager to attend the 2011 festival, especially when the opportunity arose to conduct an AFCC panel discussion with Tarie Sabido (Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind) and Dr. Myra Garces-Bacsal (Gathering Books.org). So on May 23rd I departed Vancouver, Canada and headed to Singapore, brimming with excitement and enthusiasm (and a wee bit of nervousness at the thought of my panel presentation) and eager to take part in all the AFCC had to offer. I was thrilled at the thought of this opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals all eager to discuss Asian children’s and young adult literature.
This was my first time visiting Singapore and I was immediately struck by how perfect a spot it was to hold a festival that focused on the gathering of people from Pacific Rim and South Asia countries. Singapore’s geographical location has resulted in the the country historically being a gathering spot for people of many ethnicities and religions. The majority of Singaporeans is of Chinese descent (74% according to the 2009 census); 13.4% are of Malay and 9.2% of Indian descent. There are four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil; and multiple religions are represented. The multicultural flavor of Singapore is represented in the distinct ethnic neighbourhoods – Chinatown, Little India and the Arab Quarter – as well as the large number of religious buildings, some of which have great historical significance. The Singapore government recognizes the importance of racial and religious harmony and, of course, this is something that we all would like to see promoted and reflected in children’s literature.
To be in such a multicultural city and then to have even more cultures represented, as attendees arrived for the AFCC from countries such as Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, India, Japan, Malaysia, USA, and Canada, was truly amazing. Each day of the Festival was jam-packed with activities and it was truly an incredible experience to be surrounded by people from all over the globe who shared such a passion for children’s literature. The venue, The Arts House, an almost-200-year-old building that was Singapore’s first Parliament House, was steeped in history and tradition and was the perfect spot to host the festival.
Needless to say, I took many photographs. As well as those of Singapore shown above, below are some of my favorites from the AFCC itself – and you can see more in an annotated slideshow here. And so, to answer Festival Director Dr. Rama’s question about whether the AFCC can be considered to be the Bologna of Asia, my answer is a resounding YES: and I certainly hope to be able to attend again in 2012!!!