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By The Book: AFCC 2021 highlights diversity, inclusivity and mental well-being

Screenshot 2021-04-28 at 7.39.18 PM
AFCC 2021 key visual by Kampanart Sangsorn

The Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) wrapped up its second digital edition on 30th May 2021, drawing more than 3,000 cumulative views over its four-day run. AFCC would continue with its VOD offerings until 30th June.

Originally planned as a hybrid festival, the organisers Singapore Book Council had to turn it fully virtual after a surge of COVID-19 infection cases in Singapore. Festival attendees had over 70 sessions to choose from 27th to 30th May, which featured more than 100 local and international speakers. The festival invited the attendees to look into the future of children’s content, and delve into a range of topics, including the benefits of reading; accessibility; mental health; translation; and the environment.

The festival also launched a Co-Translation Project with Thailand, as part of its Country of Focus: Thailand showcase. In partnership with the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (PUBAT), the project would translate two selected children’s book titles from each country into Thai or English. The books would be made available to the children in each country free through their local reading initiatives.

The festival opened with an examination of its theme “Reimagine. Rebuild and Reignite.” POPS worldwide CEO Esther Nguyen reminded children’s content creators that while “COVID-19 has accelerated the acceptance of…different forms and mediums, there are always two audiences [in children’s content]; the parents and children”. Either audience should not be excluded in edutainment for children.

Speakers at AFCC also touched on diverse representation in books, translation, inclusivity and mental health for children. Australian-based Filipino writer Kristyn Maslog-Levis shared that “one way to build empathy in the minds of children is to show them the lives outside of their own,” reinforcing the importance of ethnic and cultural representation in children’s books.

Literary translator Lawrence Schimel also debunked Anglocentrism: “Children live in the world, and anything that is in the world is something that children can understand”. There were also discussions revolving around children’s mental health.

Psychiatrist Dr Ong Say How supported reading as a vital activity for children during the pandemic, stating: “[Reading] reduces stress levels and makes [children] feel empowered to learn…from reading. It causes depressive symptoms to go away as well. Reading keeps the brain active and prevents cognitive decline as well.”

The Book Illustrators Gallery (BIG), a favourite at AFCC, returned for its second online exhibition. 2021’s edition saw a new record of 370 submissions for the gallery, aided by the digitalisation of the gallery. 124 illustrations by 34 artists from 12 countries are featured in this year’s edition of BIG. BIG also features over 40 illustrations from Thailand, including the works of award-winning illustrator Kampanart Sangsorn, who was commissioned to design the festival’s key visual this year. The digital exhibition is available to the public and can be visited here.

The public were also invited to participate in the GIF + Comic Cover Challenge, a collaboration between Puttnam School of Film & Animation (LASALLE College of the Arts) and Singapore Book Council. The participants took challenges to create an animated GIF or illustrate a comic cover inspired by AFCC speakers’ books.

An open call for submissions to the Scholastic Asian Book Award (SABA) 2022 was also announced during the festival. SABA is a joint initiative between the Singapore Book Council (SBC) and Scholastic Asia, which recognises children’s literature of Asian origins.

“At a time where children are unable to travel to discover the world and social connections are so limited, we believe story books play a critical role in giving them an outlet for imagination and a window to the world,” shared Selina Lee, Vice President of Scholastic Asia. “Children’s literature is vital in bringing to life the richness of different cultures, anecdotes and experiences, and SABA continues to be the platform for Asian authors to keep the Asian heritage alive. Through this flagship initiative, we hope to continue our commitment in promoting diversity and inclusiveness by championing more Asian voices in children’s literature.”

Joel Donato Ching Jacob’s Wing of the Locust emerged as the winner among
78 submissions from 11 countries for the last iteration of SABA. The winner of the
award, who will be announced in AFCC 2022, will win a prize of S$10,000 and
a plaque, along with an opportunity to have their manuscript published by Scholastic Asia.

From 28 June to 27 August 2021, an open call for submissions for the Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award (HABA) 2022 will also take place. HABA recognises excellence in children’s literature written by a Singapore citizen or Permanent Resident.

AFCC 2021 took place from 27th to 30th May 2021, with video on demand available until 30th June. Visit the AFCC website to find out more. 

The next edition of AFCC is scheduled to take place from 26th to 29th May 2022. Participants who are interested in being featured at AFCC may now submit a proposal for their presentation here.

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