Week #22 Delayed: An AFCC report

52 weeks of reading and writing

Yep, I was too busy having fun (and working, of course) at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in Singapore to post Week #22 in time (there will be two posts this week to catch up). In short, the AFCC was a fantastic, fabulous experience. It was a confluence of numerous writers and illustrators, editors and publishers working with children’s content around the world. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend all of the sessions that I wanted because so many of them clashed, but here’s a brief report on the ones I did.

Having grown up on a diet of literature from the English-speaking West, it was heartening to see that stories have started to flow in the opposite direction. So far, it’s just been a tricke, but stories from Asia are being told everywhere and readers are eagerly lapping it up. The success of Mahtab Narsimhan‘s The Tiffin, a novel set around the dabbawaalahs of Mumbai, is a case in point. Mahtab is an Indian-born Canadian writer. I attended her session on the use of myths and magic in her novels.

Another example of children’s fiction crossing borders is Mitali Perkins. She spoke along with Sampurna Chattarji on young adult stories not just providing mirrors for youngsters to examine their lives, but also as windows to understand realities that are not their own. Readers, even young readers, it appears, are very capable of identifying and sympathizing with “others” if we let them read about people different from themselves.

One of my favourite sessions was on trends in YA. Publishers Sayoni Basu (India) and Cheryl Robson (UK), and editor Stacy Whitman (US) spoke about how (and if) trends matter in YA publishing. Until recently, dystopias were the flavour of the day, before that it was vampires. What will come next, and as writers and publishers and editors, how much does that matter? (Short answer: They don’t. Good stories always win, trends go away.)

The session I was part of, a panel discussion on the future of YA fantasy, was a lively discussion about the relevance of fantasy in our world and where it’s going. It was moderated by Myra Garces-Bacsal and my co-panelists were Sally Gardner (of Maggot Moon fame) and Lara Morgan (author of the sci-fi dystopian series The Rosie Black Chronicles).

Also worthy of mention was the Children’s Literature Lecture by Lebanese writer Fatima Sharafeddine about the evolution of children’s publishing in the Middle East. It was intriguing to note the similarities with the Indian scene, especially related to taboo subjects and the complexities of having a multilingual society.

The AFCC wound up with a networking dinner, featuring some excellent Japanese food. Many bonds were forged over the course of the three days I spent in Singapore at the AFCC (and two more sightseeing). Here’s to more books in the future.


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