Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Event Wrap-Up: Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2015: Three Perspectives


An Illustrator's Perspective

by Naomi Kojima, Tokyo, Japan


I am a Japanese author and illustrator of children’s books, but that doesn’t mean my picture books have Asian elements. I have been conscious of this since I first attended the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in 2010. AFCC is a unique conference, aiming to promote and celebrate the creation, development and appreciation of quality Asian content for children, and every year at AFCC, I think about what it means to reflect Asian qualities in one’s work.


This year I participated as panelist, moderator and Chief Judge for the 2015 Scholastic Picture Book Award.


On the panel “What Defines Asian Illustration,” with Singapore illustrator Lak-Khee Tay-Audourard, we talked about the Asian and universal elements in illustrations. On the panel “The Hybrid Author—Author and Illustrator,” Australian author/illustrators Tania McCartney and Wendy Binks and I talked about our different backgrounds and experiences of writing and illustrating our own books. On the “First Look—Illustration Critique” panel with illustrator Amy Ng from Malaysia and Catarina Sobral from Portugal, we critiqued many sets of illustrations, which facilitator Kathleen Ahrens showed to us and the audience on the screen. Many illustrators came up after the session and told us how much they had learned, but we thought that we had learned just as much as they did from this intense session.



The First Look–Illustration Critique panel


This year the country of focus at AFCC was China. I attended the Children’s Literature Lecture by author Mei Zihan on the “Changing Landscape of Picture Books in China.” This was the first time AFCC had simultaneous interpretation. The lecture was conducted in Mandarin, and we used headphones to listen to the live interpretation in English.


Although there were many sessions I couldn’t attend, I was lucky to attend Suzanne Kamata’s panel with Reenita Malhotra Hora on “Writing YA Across Cultures.” Suzanne is also a longtime member of SCBWI Japan. It was wonderful to be at AFCC with Suzanne and Avery Fischer Udagawa, the SCBWI Japan Translator Coordinator and SCBWI International Translator Coordinator, currently based in Thailand.


This year, the first Scholastic Picture Book Award was presented on Awards Night at AFCC. I had the honor to serve on the judging panel with editor Sheri Tan of Singapore's Epigram Books and editor Tina Narang of Scholastic India.


The Scholastic Picture Book Award was established to encourage and inspire the creation of more Asian-themed picture books, and to stimulate public interest and support for picture books with Asian themes. The award is presented to an unpublished, outstanding picture book, with a distinct Asian theme, created by a writer and illustrator of Asian descent, living in Asia.


There were over 130 entries from Asia this year. The winner went to a writer and illustrator team from Vietnam, Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien, for their picture book The First Journey. The first runner up went to Ary Nilandari and Dewi Tri K. of Indonesia, and the second runner-up to Ichinnorov Ganbaatar and Bolormaa Baasansuren of Mongolia.


I think picture book awards are important because they offer incentive to writers and illustrators to strive and present their best work. I believe the Scholastic Picture Book Award will serve as a new platform to encourage, support and sustain the fine work of children’s books illustration and writing in Asia.


Next year, Japan is the Country of Focus. I have been working with Yuko Takesako and Michiko Matsukata of the Chihiro Art Museum to help organize the Japanese speakers and program for next year. There will be sessions by ten Japanese speakers, an exhibition of the history of Japanese children’s books, a display of 200 Japanese picture books and much more. The SCBWI Japan regional team will be there too. I hope many people will come to AFCC and celebrate Japan as the Country of Focus in 2016.  


When I come home from AFCC, I am a bit exhausted from the excitement and activities, but also refreshed and inspired by being with people who share the joy of creating children’s content. My picture books still do not have many Asian elements, but that is okay. My world stretches and broadens each year at AFCC.


Born in Japan, Naomi Kojima has divided her life between Japan and the United States. Her picture books have been published in the United States, Japan, France, and Sweden. Her new picture book, Tetsuko, will be published by Kaisei-sha in 2016. She is Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI Japan.



Naomi Kojima iillustrations at the BIG AFCC exhibition


A Writer's Perspective

by Suzanne Kamata, Japan


This year I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the Asian Festival of Children’s Content for the first time. Although I’d been to Singapore once before, about sixteen years ago, many new buildings have sprung up in the interim. In particular, I was dazzled by the architectural splendor of the Singaporean National Library.


First off at AFCC, I attended SCBWI member Candy Gourlay’s keynote, “Why Asia Needs More Writers for Children and Young People.” I’d just finished reading her award-winning debut Tall Story, and I was pleased to discover that she was as lively and bold in person as on paper. She reminded us of the educational benefits of reading for pleasure and the importance of children’s books with Asian content.


This year the focus country was China, so there were many events related to Chinese content for children, such as Ying Chang Compestine’s talk on “Children’s Books by the Asian Diaspora.” Compestine was raised in China and writes in her second language, English. Her books have won numerous awards. She spoke briefly about her most recent novel, which she co-wrote with her now-college-aged son. I’m still not sure how she persuaded her son, Vinson, to stick with the process through multiple revisions, but I came away impressed by her parenting as well as her commitment to craft. Additionally, scholar and writer Mei Zihan gave a fascinating lecture on the evolution of children’s picture books in China.


As moderator for Elaine Forrestal, I was also fortunate to learn about the research that went into her book Black Jack, about an African-American pirate in Australia. I also enjoyed A. J. Bett’s presentation about her YA novel, Zac & Mia, which was held in a room on the twelfth floor with a backdrop of Singapore’s twenty-first-century cityscape. On the final day of the Writers and Illustrators Conference, Indian writer Reenita Malhotra Hora and I spoke to a multicultural audience about “Writing YA Across Cultures.”



Talking about writing YA across cultures with Elaine Forrestal and Reenita Molhotra Hora


In between sessions, I was happy to nibble on Singaporean delicacies from the buffet, catch up with SCBWI friends such as Avery Fischer Udagawa, Naomi Kojima, and Jane Houng and meet new people.


Overall, I was impressed by the curiosity of the participants and their eagerness to reach readers beyond their own national borders. I heard at least one plea for more Japanese books with children’s content translated into English. I came home with a suitcase full of new books and renewed hope for the future of Asian books in English with children’s content.


American Suzanne Kamata has lived in Japan for the past twenty-six years. Her novel Gadget Girl was named the APALA Honor Book for YA last year and was designated a book of Outstanding Merit by Bank Street College. She is a lecturer at the University of Tokushima.


A Translator's Perspective 

by Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok, Thailand 


AFCC 2015 encouraged me as a Japanese > English translator. I connected with colleagues and friends; I heard statements in an important, long-running debate about how Asian stories can reach global readers. I learned of an initiative by Japanese, Chinese, and Korean publishers to create picture books about World War II. I also heard English > Chinese translator Chang Tzu-chang and Chinese > English translator Teng Qian Xi describe why and how they translate for children. This year’s China focus exposed me to lots of China-born texts and ideas. I look forward to AFCC 2016 with its focus on Japan!

Editor's note: Please see Avery's full post about her AFCC 2015 experience here at the SCBWI Japan Translation Group blog.