Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

2019 Asian Festival of Children’s Content

Four SCBWI Japan Members Share Highlights

post by SCBWI Japan

The Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) is held annually in Singapore at the National Library. This year’s festival was September 5th to 8th. Here, we present the voices of four SCBWI Japan member attendees and presenters at the Writers and Illustrators Track of the festival.


Avery Fischer Udagawa, Translator

AFCC 2019 (theme: diversity) confirmed the importance of representation—of everyone from everywhere!—in books for children. Co-keynote speaker Mary George spoke movingly of how ethnic Indian children relish a single illustration, of a boy who looks like them in the U.S. picture book Amazing Grace (the scene where Grace raises her hand to play Peter Pan). Scholar Philip Nel pointed out the harm in depicting only, or mainly, majority characters in books—it “perpetuates failures of the imagination” and normalizes excluding minorities.

Avery Fischer Udagawa, Lisa Charleyboy, Emily X.R. Pan, and Philip Nel after diversity panel at AFCC 2019

Translator Helen Wang urged that diverse books from around the world must be browsable in bookstores, just as they were in the AFCC bookstore. On a personal note, seeing Helen and speaking in sessions helped me to feel affirmed in my craft, which can be isolating and discouraging. English-language publishing continues to resist translations, but I’m determined to keep translating stories by and about people who deserve representation!


Hitomi Otani, Author/Illustrator

My first day at AFCC was kick-started by the panel “Advocating for Diverse Books,” featuring Philip Nel, Emily X.R. Pan and Lisa Charleyboy and moderated by Avery Fischer Udagawa. Each panelist’s engaging words extended my awareness of diversity and cultural authenticity in children’s literature. Another informative session was “Creating and Using Wordless Picture Books” by Josef Lee. With the illustrations from his books such as Wake Me Up At HappyLand, Lee discussed how he utilized the elements of character, composition, color, compare and contrast, and symbolism to magnify the effect of visual storytelling. In “Insider Insight: Is Your Illustration Helping or Hurting the Story,” Naomi Kojima shared the craft of her upcoming book Tetsuko-pu fusen ni natta onnanoko (テツコ・プーふうせんになった女の子). Years ago, she taught us a dummy making process by using this story at an SCBWI Japan event. Seeing a page of the final colored illustration work on the screen provided a moving and inspiring moment.

Finding the illustrator of Ida, Always–Charles Santoso–as one of the panelists was also exciting. Holding the book Bright Landscapes written by my editor, Daphne Lee, I was glad to be back at AFCC. It was an honor to be surrounded by all the professionals from Asia who share a love of children’s literature and work toward the same goal. Thank you, AFCC!

Bright Landscapes by Daphne Lee; Ida, Always by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso


Suzanne Kamata, Writer

Earlier this month, I had the honor of participating in the 10th annual Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore. This year the theme was Diversity, a topic which has always been of interest to SCBWI members in Japan. I was on a panel concerning Portrayal of Special Needs in YA and Children’s Books, along with Malaysian writer Hanna Alkaf and Singaporean scholar Sarinajit Kaur. We had an excellent turnout, perhaps due to Alkaf’s local popularity.

As an audience member, I especially enjoyed Philip Nel’s provocative keynote speech on “Why Adults Refuse to Admit Racist Content in the Children’s Books They Love,” as well as a workshop on creating appealing nonfiction books for digital natives with Canadian writer Lisa Charleyboy, and an evening of Burmese dance and food in honor of the focus country, Myanmar. It was also great to meet up with fellow SCBWI-Japan members. This was my second time to attend the festival. I was excited by new additions such as the chance to pitch to media professionals and the GIF competition (students created GIFs inspired by writing by AFCC participants). I returned to Japan feeling enriched and inspired.

SCBWI Japan members Suzanne Kamata, Hitomi Otani, Avery Fischer Udagawa, Naomi Kojima

Naomi Kojima, Author/Illustrator

My comments will focus on the Scholastic Picture Book Award (SPBA), an award presented biennially at AFCC. On September 5, the first night of the AFCC, international and local conference speakers and delegates gathered for a special evening event Celebrating Our Stars to celebrate the announcement and prize ceremony for the 2019 SPBA.

The SPBA is a joint initiative between the Singapore Book Council and Scholastic Asia. The award is presented biennially to an unpublished picture book with a distinct Asian content, created by a writer and illustrator team of Asian descent living in Asia. For the SPBA, Asia comprises 50 countries, spanning from Iran to Japan.

The writer and illustrator need to submit 1) a full manuscript, 2) the book’s first six illustrations, and 3) a storyboard depicting the complete story. Submissions must be in English, but works in languages other than English are considered with an English translation. Yes, that’s a lot of work! Preparation for the submission will take you through the steps of making a picture book, and when you are ready to submit, you will have a well thought out picture book.

I had the honor to be on the 2019 SPBA judging panel with Charlene Lai, picture book reviewer and Scholastic Asia Picture Book Ambassador from Taiwan, and Patrick Yee, picture book author and illustrator from Singapore. The three of us worked hard, our emails crisscrossing Taiwan, Singapore and Japan. From the eighty-eight entries, we chose seven titles for the shortlist–picture books from Turkey, Vietnam, South Korea, India, the Philippines, and Singapore. We were excited to meet at AFCC, and we were delighted when we found out that most of the nominees were present for the ceremony. The SPBA award went to The Girl on the Roof and the Boy on the Beach by Vu Thuy
Ngoc Ha (Vietnam). The 1st runner up was Orang & Hutan by Low Joo Hong (Singapore), and the 2nd runner up was My Grandfather’s Rojak by Emily Lim-Leh and Alycia Teo (Singapore)


Scholastic Picture Book Award 2019 Winners


Award winners, shortlisted nominees, Executive Director William Phuan (far right), and SPBA judges

Scholastic Asia had a display of published  SPBA award books at the ceremony. I was so pleased to find two picture books, The First Journey by Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien, and Janggan Dragon Kite by Shoba Dewey Chugani and Eugenia Gina. The two books are from the 2015 SPBA. I served on the SPBA judging panel that year, and from time to time I had wondered if the books had been published. It was wonderful to see these beautiful stories published, and to be able to touch the books and turn the pages, and also see them sold at the AFCC bookstore Closet Full of Books.

The First Journey by Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien, winner of 2015 SPBA




Janggan Dragon Kite by Shoba Dewey Chugani and Eugenia Gina, 2015 SPBA

I have learned so much about Asia from reading the 2019 SPBA submissions–stories and illustrations of folklore, festivals, animals, history, food, everyday life, and of identity, compassion, courage, humor and hope. May many stories of Asia reach the world!

The next SPBA contest will be in 2021.

Thank you AFCC!