Society of
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AFCC 2020 Reflections

Two SCBWI Japan Members Share Highlights

Post by Holly Thompson

The annual Asian Festival of Children’s Content always draws speakers and participants from all over Asia and beyond. While usually held on site at the National Library of Singapore, due to COVID-19 concerns, the 2020 festival became AFCC’s first-ever Digital Symposium, held on October 3-4.

SCBWI Japan Co-Regional Advisor, the author and poet Mariko Nagai presented in The Power of Poetry, a panel that also featured poets Naomi Shihab Nye and Mark Nair, moderated by Loh Chin Ee. Here, she offers some reflections.

Mariko Nagai, Writer:

For SCBWI Japan members (and any kid lit lovers in Asia) who can’t make it to Los Angeles or New York to attend the SCBWI conferences, the next best thing is the annual Asian Festival of Children’s Content conferences hosted by Singapore Book Council that attract some top illustrators, authors and editors to speak and attend. But here’s a not-so-secret fact: it’s also a once-a-year get together for SCBWI Regional Team volunteers and members in Asia to meet up and socialize and, running into each other between sessions, to chat about everything to do with writing and illustrating for children’s literature while taking refuge from the Singaporean heat. Throughout the last decade or so of AFCC, we’ve always had at least one, if not two SCBWI Japan RTs attending the conference, either to speak, moderate, or judge. This year was supposed to be like other years… well, except for COVID-19. By March, AFCC let us know that the dates had been moved to October, and by May, they let us know that everything would be virtual. And in August, AFCC let me know that I would be on a panel titled “The Power of Poetry” with poets Naomi Shihab Nye (US) and Marc Nair (Singapore). We had all separately prepared short talks, but serendipitously, they echoed each other: from poems written for children to poems written by children, from songs children make up to the need to cultivate translators and good translation, all topics under the sky and more were discussed in the hour-long session. Though we couldn’t see the audience’s reaction, our fearless moderator, Professor Loh Chin Ee fielded the questions, all of them thought-provoking and fascinating. I left the Zoom session encouraged by the infinite possibilities of Zoom and poetry for children, all the while holding my now empty cup of tea, in my own home in Tokyo with the black-and-white stray cat looking into the room (as he usually does), and my cat perched on my shoulder. I was home, but I felt like I had gone on a journey and back.


AFCC Digital Symposium Panel: The Power of Poetry  (Photo courtesy of the Singapore Book Council)


SCBWI Japan Translator Assistant Andrew Wong attended a number of the AFCC Digital Symposium sessions, and here he shares takeaways from four of them.

Andrew Wong, Translator:

Four quick takeaways from me from AFCC’s first-ever digital symposium held earlier last month.

1. Children’s Books in the Time of Crisis and Change English readers have a rich trove of literature from which to glean ways to cope with the upheaval and our struggles that have resulted from the pandemic. Dr. Junko Yokota was on hand to draw on past and recent titles for children that cover unemployment and slavery, which offer lead-ins to deeper discussions on insecurity and racial discrimination. She also recommended Jason Reynold’s Stamped for diving deeper into the history behind the Black Lives Matter movement and its worldwide implications.

2.Building Resilience in Children during Crisis Dr. Myra Garces-Bacsal enthused how picture books can be a comforting enclave in these uncertain times. Sharing titles that deal with grief, isolation, hope, and outreach, she showed how picture books can help children and adults alike prepare for the pandemic’s eventual passing. That panelists spoke confidently about how the feel and quality of printed books will ensure that the medium remains cherished in spite of increasingly more digital content certainly left this picture book lover buzzing!

3. (New) Required Reading: Graphic Novels in Schools Graphic novel creators and advocates discussed how the genre faces unfair criticism for an apparent negative impact on young readers as they encouraged everyone to leave children to make their choices and see the genre as a different form of storytelling. Moderator Lim Cheng Tju also shared that the comics he snuck into school libraries were snapped up very quickly, which made the young comic reader in me smile. Good news for manga translators perhaps?

4. This is What I Read: Spotlight on Young Book Reviewers What would I do to hear from readers? It was really refreshing to hear four young reviewers, from elementary to high schoolers, share their favorite books and see them expertly handle Q&A in the real time. The love for their selections was apparent, and it was heartening to witness how cultivating a joy of reading eventually leads to more diverse reading choices and perspectives. 


Organized by Singapore RA David Liew, SCBWI RTs and members held a casual meet-up the evening of October 3, with participants from Singapore, Japan, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Switzerland and Australia. While it was not quite the same as the real deal at the National Library, it was so good to meet and reconnect over Zoom. 

SCBWI Zoom Meet-up during AFCC 2020 (Photo by David Liew)


We all hope to be able to meet up at AFCC in Singapore in the not-too-distant future.