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AFCC 2016 Part 2: SCBWI Japan Wrap-up

May 25-29, 2016

Posted by Holly Thompson

At the 2016 Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) held in Singapore May 25-29, Japan was the featured Country of Focus, and SCBWI Japan participated mightily!

SCBWI Japan Regional Team members Mariko Nagai, Naomi Kojima, Holly Thompson, and Avery Udagawa all attended and presented multiple sessions each at AFCC 2016. In addition, members Trevor Kew and Cathy Hirano presented. Cathy Hirano and Kazumi Wilds are the translator and illustrator respectively of the two bilingual picture books that were published by the AFCC and launched at AFCC 2016 in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of Singapore and Japan bilateral relations. Naomi Kojima served on the Japan Preparatory Team to organize the AFCC 2016 Country of Focus: Japan. Member Hitomi Otani, whose illustration work was featured in the Book Illustrators Gallery (BIG) also attended, and translation group participant Andrew Wong volunteered in the festival’s Japan booth.

Following are individual reports from SCBWI Japan, some containing links to more AFCC-related write-ups. We hope you enjoy this vicarious visit to AFCC 2016 and that you, too, may attend AFCC in the future.

Mariko Nagai, SCBWI Japan Regional Advisor

This year’s AFCC was a special one, given that the Country of Focus was Japan. Though I wasn’t part of the planning team, I was there when Mr. Ramachandran first approached Naomi Kojima, our amazing Illustrator Coordinator, and later watched with admiration as Naomi, with Yuko Takesako and Michiko Matsukata, both of the Chihiro Art Museum, planned and coordinated the event for two years. As a presenter and a panelist (and a moderator), my job was easy—all I had to do was to write the presentation and show up. As was the case with AFCC 2014, every panel I attended or participated in was meaningful and pleasurable—and, in many ways, I felt a strong sense of homecoming because this is one of very few festivals that focus on children’s books in Asia for Asian children.  My presentation “Children and Poetry” (moderated by Naomi Kojima) discussed the importance of poetry in children’s lives; neither academic nor hands-on, I talked, earnestly (I hope), about how, without really knowing, children are born speaking poetically, and often in a poetic syntax. From there, I talked about the universality and the mnemonic nature of poetry in children’s books in general, and picture books specifically.

The panel sessions I did were   “#WeNeedDiverseBooks. Really!” (moderated by Melanie Lee, with Deborah Ahenkorah, Jenny Murray, and Daphne Lee) and “Adult Content in YA and Children’s Books” (moderated by Nury Vittachi, with Cynthia Leitich-Smith and Julia Lawrinson), and I moderated  Tadahiko Motoyoshi and Chihoko Tanaka’s presentation, “Supporting Children’s Reading Activities,” which introduced the International Library of Children’s Literature (link: and the activities and missions of the institution. It was such a pleasure to meet everyone in the Japan Delegation, and to meet old friends and make new ones from all over Asia and beyond. 

Holly Thompson, SCBWI Japan Regional Advisor

I have attended AFCC several times before, but this AFCC, with Japan as the Country of Focus, was particularly meaningful for those of us from SCBWI Japan. I am so grateful to Naomi Kojima, Yuko Takesako and Michiko Matsukata for their tireless work in preparing to spotlight Japanese children’s literature at AFCC. As for my role at the festival, I presented the three sessions: Tackling Novel Revision; Penning for the Preteen; and Verse Novels Crossing Borders. I served on the First Pages Critiques panel with Cynthia Leitich Smith (Cynsations) and Andrea Pasion-Flores (Jacaranda Literary Agency), and I moderated a session presented by Iranian scholar Ramineh Rezazadeh on the Gilgamesh Legend and Modern Encounters. I also presented a launch reading and discussion event for my verse novel Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth. Throughout the festival, I attended as many of the Japan Focus events as I could, explored and purchased books at the bookstore, and enjoyed talking, listening and laughing with so many Asian children’s content folks. The gala Japan Night celebrations at the aquarium were unforgettably full of splash. For more details and photos, see my “Country of Focus: Japan” blog post. As for AFCC 2016 highlights? The entire AFCC festival was a highlight—full of deepening friendships, new connections, and excitement about possibilities going forward with Asian children’s content.

Naomi Kojima, SCBWI Japan Illustrator Coordinator

I have been attending the AFCC since 2010, but I will remember AFCC 2016 as the most special AFCC of all, the year Japan was invited to be the Country of Focus. I have been working with Yuko Takesako and Michiko Matsukata of the Chihiro Art Museum since 2014, planning and organizing the Country of Focus: Japan program with the AFCC. Thirty-six people participated from Japan this year, including the twenty Country of Focus speakers. Please read this overview of the 2016 AFCC Country of Focus: Japan.

My brain circuit was running two programs during the AFCC: thinking of the Country of Focus speakers and their sessions, the exhibition, and the Japan booth, and thinking about my own sessions. I presented three sessions at AFCC. My presentation for the Country of Focus was “A Child’s World in Japanese Picture Books” where I introduced Japanese picture books ranging from classics to new picture books. I had two sessions under the Writers and Illustrators Conference, “A Portfolio Review” and a panel, “First Look: Illustration Critique” (moderated by Chris Cheng, with Calef Brown, David Liew, and Kyle Hughes Odgers). The “Portfolio Review” was a two hour session, with illustrators (Chris Nixon–Australia, David Liew—Singapore, Evi Shelvia—Malaysia, Gabriel Evans–Australia, Kyle Hughes-Odgers–Australia, Naomi Kojima–Japan, Otto Fong–Singapore, and Soefara Jafney–Singapore) meeting with each participant for a fifteen-minute one-on-one consultation. It was a pleasure and a challenge looking at the illustrations and picture book dummies and discussing the work with each illustrator at the “Portfolio Review” and the “First Look: Illustration Critique.”

I moderated Mariko Nagai’s Country of Focus session on “Children and Poetry: Thoughts and Words” and Akiko Beppu’s session on “Editing Books for Children.” I attended Country of Focus sessions “Totto-chan and Chihiro Iwasaki” by Michiko Matsukata, “Sing-along Concert with Japanese Stars” with Satoko Yamano and Toshihiko Shinzawa, “The History of Japanese Picture Books: From Einga-kyo to the Family of Fourteen” by Yuko Takesako, “Bookstart—Share Books with your Baby!” by Tetsu Shirai and Izumi Satou, “The Japanese Manga Scene and Manga vs. Picture Books” by Miki Yamamoto, and “Japanese Children’s Books: The Present and the Future” by Yumiko Sakuma. I also attended Miki Yamamoto’s mini Manga workshop at the Japan booth, which I enjoyed very much. This year I was in Singapore for nine days, and it was exciting to participate in the setting up and closing of the festival. I enjoyed meeting old friends and new people, and it was wonderful to be with friends from SCBWI Japan at AFCC. Congratulations to Mr. Ramachandran, Kenneth Quek and the hardworking AFCC team for another successful AFCC!

Avery Fischer Udagawa, SCBWI Japan Translator Coordinator

This was my fifth year to attend AFCC and my third year to present. I offered two solo sessions: one about Japanese children's books available in English, and another about the business of translation. I also moderated four sessions: by translator Cathy Hirano, manga artist Miki Yamamoto, critic Yumiko Sakuma, and singers Tomihiko Shinzawa and Satoko Yamano. A special memory is hearing conference-goers sing the song "Rainbow" (Niji) with them! I also treasure the memory of Kazuo Iwamura, author of the Family of Fourteen series, making birdcalls and tender cow sounds, based on his years observing nature. I brought home a list of books to read and many notes from info-packed sessions. Please read more in my post "AFCC 2016 (Part 3): Slideshow Afterglow" at the SCBWI Japan Translation Group blog.

Cathy Hirano, SCBWI Japan Member Translator

AFCC 2016 offered another very full and stimulating program of lectures and workshops. The panel on “Where are the Parents” was an eye-opener for me. In Japanese and English-language stories it is quite common for one or both parents to be absent for one reason or another or to be a little unreliable. This allows children in the stories to have adventures or develop. There are also stories of alternative families. I learned from my fellow panelists from Singapore and the Philippines, however, that in their countries policies from boards of education, library associations and, in the case of the Philippines, the Church, mean that the parents portrayed in the majority of children’s stories are almost always orthodox (1 male, 1 female), and are present in an active, instructive and supportive role, which makes it harder to reflect the reality of other children.

Other highlights for me included Michiko Matsukata’s presentation on how Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s Totto-chan: The Little Girl by the Window came to be illustrated by the deceased Chihiro Iwasaki, and Mariko Nagai’s lively and provocative presentation on poetry. Some of my favorite lines from the latter include “Poetry invites white space… poetry is dangerous, deviant and subversive… Poetry offers new ways of looking at things… bridges gaps between peoples and species.” And I’ll never forget singing Doraemon and Niji with Satoko Yamano and Toshihiko Shinzawa!

Every session I attended during the two very short days I was there was informative, stimulating and inspiring, and of value in my work. And then there was the bonus of all the opportunities to meet and be inspired by others in the field and the warm and welcoming atmosphere. The organizers and volunteer staff deserve a huge round of applause!

As a translator, I would love to see a bit more content aimed specifically for translators. The purpose of AFCC is to bring Asian content to the world, and translation is one vehicle that facilitates that process. I attended Holly Thompson’s session on Novel Revision and part of the First Pages: Writing Critique. These offered a wealth of tips for authors, which gave me insight into how they approach their work. They also made me realize that some of my needs as a translator are different from theirs. It would be helpful, for example, to have a few sessions or workshops that are specifically aimed at helping translators improve their line-by-line writing skills and to edit their own work to make it flow more smoothly. The First Pages session, for example, could be for first pages of a translation with the same kind of critique. Inviting translators to pitch a book during the Speed Pitching session might also be helpful. And finally, if a little more translation content were added, perhaps the name could be changed to the Writers, Illustrators and Translators Conference!

Editors' note: A new picture book in Cathy Hirano's translation—Monster Day on Tabletop Hill by Japanese author Akiko Sueyoshi, illustratored by Singaporean artist David Liew—was launched at AFCC 2016 in a special way. Please see the write-up under "AFCC 2016 (Part 1)" by Singapore-based translator Malavika Nataraj on the SCBWI Japan Translation Group blog

Hitomi Otani, SCBWI Japan Member Illustrator

This was my first experience at AFCC. As an illustrator I participated for three days, and I’m glad that I made the choice to fly to Singapore.

My first day started with Calef Brown’s “Whimsical and Nonsensical World of Illustrations.” Learning about his creative process and listening to the words in his poems was such inspiration. “Graphic Design Tricks and Techniques for Picture Books” was another informative session by author/illustrator Kylie Howarth and illustrator/designer Soefara Jafney. They discussed design skills in compositions, color theory and typography and shared their unique graphic design techniques. Daniel Palma Tayona, illustrator from the Philippines, whose beautiful works were exhibited at the Book Illustrators Gallery (BIG) shared his book design skills and his experiences as a book cover designer. 

Needless to say, all the Japan sessions including the Japanese picture books exhibition were such a success that not only the attendees from the other countries but also I myself learned more about Japan’s picture books in Singapore. By attending “A Child’s World in Japanese Picture Books” by Naomi Kojima, I realized that there were many more picture books in Japan that I didn’t know of and that I want to hold and read.

When a little break was needed from the sessions, the AFCC Book Fair was waiting in the lobby with shelves full of books in which to get totally absorbed. From the morning to the night there was no time to be wasted at AFCC–surrounded by books, among people gathered from around the world in one location with a passion toward one purpose. There are not many festivals where we can grab that unique enthusiastic vibe. I can’t wait to be there next year to feel that vibe again.

Andrew Wong, SCBWI Japan Translation Group participant and Country of Focus: Japan Volunteer

Volunteering at my first AFCC 2016 was great fun! Please see my write up on the SCBWI Japan Translation Group blog, "AFCC 2016 (Part 2): A Harvest of Knowledge About Japanese Children's Content," here. Besides manning the Japan: Country of Focus Booth at AFCC, making new friends, and meeting the people who create the content enjoyed across many generations in Japan, the insights that Yumiko Sakuma offered in her closing session proved immensely inspiring.

Trevor Kew, SCBWI Japan Member Writer

This year’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) was particularly special for me, as Japan, the Country of Focus is the place where I have lived and worked for the past eight years. Living in Japan, learning Japanese, and reading Japanese literature have all been transformative experiences in my life and so it was a great thrill to see the AFCC provide an international showcase for some of the best in Japanese children’s literature (and music!). I was certainly pleasantly surprised by the levels of enthusiasm and interest that the audience showed toward Japanese culture, history and literature. Congratulations to my SCBWI Japan and other Japanese colleagues on so many thought-provoking and inspiring presentations at the conference. For more information, please feel free to check out my full write-up of the AFCC 2016.

Kazumi Wilds, SCBWI Japan/US Member Illustrator

What I attended at AFCC 2016 and my comments:

May 25 (Wed)

The-not-so-normal, Whimsical and Nonsense World of Illustrations (Calef Brown)

On Translation (Cathy Hirano)

Understanding the Business of Translation (Avery Udagawa)

#WeNeedDiverseBooks. Really! Panel (Deborah Ahenkorah, Mariko Nagai, Jenny Murray, Daphne Lee)

Japanese Children`s Books in Translation (Avery Udagawa)

Sing-along Concert with Japanese Stars

First Pages: Writing Critique Panel (Holly Thompson, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Andrea Pasion-Flores)

Each session was interesting on the first day though I could only attend Mariko`s Panel discussion and Avery`s Japanese Children`s books in Translation half each because they were at the same time. Listening to Avery`s and Cathy`s talks, I noticed the serious situation of the translators and the fact that so few Japanese children`s books have been translated into other languages, especially English. Great Japanese children`s and YA books should be introduced to the world!

The Tree House kids’ room of the National Library was the best. There the activity of sing-along concert with Japanese stars was so much fun to join. Panel discussion First page was interesting even to illustrators. Not all panelists were gentle, but listeners understood the critical points and I thought creating attractive an first page which makes readers go on reading must not be so easy.

May 26 (Thu)

Totto-chan and Chihiro Iwasaki (Michiko Matsukata)

Graphic Design Tricks and Techniques for Picture Books (Kylie Howarth, Soefara Jafney, Moderator: Daniel Palma Tayona)

Lessons to be Learnt: Complex Issues in Children`s Books (Sarah Odedina)

Book Launch, Falling into the Dragon`s Mouth (Holly Thompson)

Conversation with Shaun Tan (Shaun Tan via Skype with Moderators: Ken Spillman, Adeline Foo, David Liew)

First Look Panel: Illustration Critique (Calef Brown, David Liew, Kyle Hughes-Odgers, Naomi Kojima)

The History of Japanese Picture Books: From Einga-kyou to The 14 Forest Mice (Yuko Takesako/ Moderator)

Japan Night

Because I love both the story of Totto-chan, by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, and Chihiro Iwasaki`s pictures, it was wonderful to listen to Michiko Matsukata. The great thing was we could see Chihiro Iwasaki`s paintings in the same building before and after the session. In the Q&A, I loved that even those questioners who seemed shy spoke up because they had loved the book Totto-chan for such a long time. I felt their love. Totto-chan 328802

Holly's Book Launch, Falling into the Dragon`s Mouth had great photos and poetry that made great images, some of which made me feel nostalgia. Throughout the conference I saw Holly giving advice to people who asked her questions—that was so nice of her. The panel discussion, “First Look: Illustration Critique” revealed good quality in the applied works, and the atmosphere of panelist illustrators were not unified—in a good way! I enjoyed the artists’ discussions. The History of Japanese Picture Books was a lecture through which we felt Yuko Takesako’s good nature. I think Ms. Takesako, who never let people see her tiredness and always tried to cheer up people, should get a distinguished service award! 

The Japan night party was super with deluxe food, music, dance, and entertainment at that magnificent aquarium. We had the book launch of our two bilingual picture books which were published by AFCC publications to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Japan. What a show it was!

 I never had such a book launch in my life, and I'll never forget! It was great to meet Emily Lim-Leh and Yumiko Fukumoto with whom I worked on the blingual picture book. 

May 27 ( Fri )

A Child's World in Japanese Picture Books (Naomi Kojima)

My Works: On Picture Books and Nature (Kazuo Iwamura)

Supporting Children`s Reading Activities (Tadahiko Motoyoshi and Chihoko Tanaka)

Crossing Borders: Kamishibai Culture and Its Universal Appeals (Kyoko Sakai)

Editing Books for Children (Akiko Beppu)

The Japanese Manga Scene and Manga vs. Picture Books (Miki Yamamoto)

Children's Literature Lecture (Yumiko Sakuma)

Naomi's “A Child`s World in Japanese Picture Books” was great chance to introduce good Japanese picture books to the participants. “My Works: On Picture Books and Nature” by Kazuo Iwamura was fun for me to listen to because his life in the countryside was similar to mine in the mountains in Shimane prefecture, and I sympathized with his lifestyle as an artist.

“Editing Books for Children” had me feel Akiko Beppu's editor's spirit. “Supporting Children's Reading Activities” was a speech by Tadahiko Motoyoshi, the director of International Library of Children's Literature, and a performance by Chihoko Tanaka. 

It made me interested in the library, and I visited there after I came back to Tokyo. They guided me through the whole fantastic buildings and history of the library. I really met nice people in Singapore! 


Thank you, AFCC, from SCBWI Japan!