AFCC – The Celebration of Diversity!

Imagine it! You are sitting in a televised quiz show and a lot of money hangs on the next question and your answer. You wait with bated breath! “What is the difference between a conference and a festival?” Ah Ha! You smile. You have been to AFCC before and think that you’ve got a handle on it. “A conference is a formal meeting of people within a speciality or subject field whereas a festival is a celebration of diversity often associated with holidays and events.” Applause breaks out and the host smiles. He leans forward and passes over an envelope. “That will give me a free ticket to next AFCC 2013!” you grin.

That is the heart of the matter. The Asian Festival of Children’s Content is firstly a celebration of diversity across Asia where East meets West, North meets South, and Singapore is the hub. This is evident in the speakers, their languages and their careers, their stories as well as awards that are being given. Visitors undertake diverse journeys to get here. Books too travel the globe, being translated into multiple languages. We celebrate the local as much as the global. Let’s look at something of this diversity for 2013! For example, in the Media Summit, Alexander Smith is an expert at translation of English and Japanese across multiple media platforms. Charmain Kwan is Vice-President of Programming the Discovery channel across Asia and the Pacific, Ervin Han is involved in a local production company who “regularly pitches at international media markets” and Marc Checkley, who originally was from New Zealand, has worked in Beijing, UK and now Singapore! If the medium is the message, then the message is all about the transnational.

Secondly, the term “children’s content” seems a strange term at first in that it defies being fixed by a subject speciality. What the term signifies is that story today comes in many guises and that all have value: from traditional storytelling around the fire to that latest application downloaded on a smart phone; from an anecdote shared over a lunch to being huddled around a computer game; from sitting in a quiet space at home reading The Hunger Games series to listening to a friend read aloud in a shared reading class at school; from strumming a guitar whilst singing a lyric to nestling in the dark space of a cinema frightened out of one’s wits by the latest ghost story. We live and are surrounded by narrative; without story, we are nothing. This festival then is an umbrella organisation whereby the creators, the producers and the mediators of stories for children and about childhood can come together and learn from each other. Let’s look at what is special about 2013! For example, Kiran Shah is a professional storyteller who has shared her passion across Asia and in the US and is part of the Parents’ Forum; Lavina Chong  is skilled in reader’s theatre and uses music to engage early childhood children will be speaking in the Teacher’s Congress; Nicholas Mark, an Australian,  who is speaking at the Writers & Illustrators conference,  collaborated with an Indonesian illustrator Bambang Shakuntala to create a fantasy/adventure story written in Bahasa Indonesia; and Malavika PC who is a Workshop facilitator from India, uses theatre and music with Tamil children and, if you look closely at her blurb on the AFCC web page, likes being something of a quiz master too! If there is a common message in AFCC 2013, it is all about transmedia.

If you care then about children (and who doesn’t?) and you specifically care about the type and quality of stories that are told to them that speak of what it is to be, in the vast diversity of Asia in the world, this festival is the place to come. The organisers want to welcome you as an individual within a community.

The quiz master leans forward to the next contestant. “Who wrote Nim’s Island?” The nervous Irishman nimbly leaned forward and whispered, “Arr! Not sure. Must go and find out. Ah’ve hearrrd aboot a festival. When d’we go?” The quizmaster smiled and leant forward.

John McKenzie

As a Principal lecturer at the University of Canterbury College of Education, John McKenzie designed and implemented the graduate level Diploma in Children’s Literature. He has many conference papers to his credit and is involved in the development of literacy qualifications in South Africa. He received the Betty Gilderdale Award for services to NZ children’s literature.


Why I can’t miss AFCC2013

I am excited! I don’t know about you, but whenever I see a programme for a festival or conference, I am excited about two things. One thing is the new learning that the programme seems to offer and the second thing are the new people that I will get to know. Even at my ripe old age, I look forward to another learning journey, a journey where one never arrives! So, I want to share with you my excitement about AFCC 2013. Firstly, as a Kiwi who comes from a rather remote island “down under,” the idea of focusing on a particular country is great! My experience of Malaysia is limited (other than a brief journey 30 odd years ago) so I am eager to hear Cinthia Koeskal tell her story in becoming a young adult writer and to explore the degree to which there are universal dilemmas in her novels that speak to young people across cultural boundaries. In a similar way, I want to explore the art works of  Yusof Gajah and negotiate any cultural particularities that speak of national identity. I have to admit that I am passionate about picture books and will have enormous pleasure searching the book stalls for new treasures like Emilia Yusof’s picture books. I am particularly interested in representations of folktale  and I look forward then to the Malaysian focus during the Festival.

My love of the visual means that I always look for novels that include images as much as narrative, especially for an older audience. For example, when I read in the AFCC web-based review of Dianne Wolfer’s book Light Horse Boy that “the story is told via text and letters, interspersed with stunning charcoal sketches by Brian Simmonds, primary source documents and historical photographs,” I know I have to go knocking on the door The Plaza, National Library on 28th May at lunchtime and enjoy hearing about this book that is to be launched on this occasion. To add depth to my understanding of the picture book, the sessions on the art of the picture book by Patrick Yee and Julia Kaergel, the paper engineering session by Joseph Tan  and the exploration of graphic novels by Wolfgang Bylsma, Paolo Chikiamco  and Sonny Liew are all high on my agenda.

However, what I really appreciate about AFCC is the chance to go in depth as part of the AFCC Seminars and Master Classes where a full day can be spent on professional development. This year, a newish door is being opened up to me through the work of Kate McCallum and the idea and practices of transmedia productions. We live in an age of multi-literacies whereby story is presented though many platforms thanks to digital technologies. From film to computer games, web pages to phone applications, story is now visualised as moving images. The questions that are in my mind are, what is gained and what is lost though this complex interweaving of media; how can children become active creators as well as engaged participants? I am sure Kate will passionately share her knowledge and perspective on this.

I look forward to my return to Singapore. The warmth of the hosts (as much as the weather), my sense of safety and comfort in wandering around the many shops and spaces of Singapore and above all the friendliness of previous visitors as much as strangers makes all the difference. If you see a slightly balding old fella with a Kiwi accent, say hello!

by John McKenzie

John McKenzie
As a Principal lecturer at the University of Canterbury College of Education, John McKenzie designed and implemented the graduate level Diploma in Children’s Literature. He has many conference papers to his credit and is involved in the development of literacy qualifications in South Africa. He received the Betty Gilderdale Award for services to NZ children’s literature.

Project Splash Asia! AFCC 2013

Next year will be the United Nations International Year of Water.

Community and school programmes in many countries will include reading, performing and creating water-themed stories.

Share your favourite stories that have water as a theme, such as Wave by Suzy Lee (California US: Chronicle Books, 2008), Amansinaya-Goddess of the Sea, by Eugene Evasco and Jomike Tejido (illustrator) (Philippines: LG&M, 2007), The Wakame Gatherers by Holly Thompson and Kazumi Wilds (illustrator) (California US: Shen’s Books, 2007), and Water Tales From Around the World (India: Tulika Publishers, 2010).

Project Splash Asia! aims to publish a bibliography and collection of favourite water-themed children’s stories from or about the region for AFCC 2013.

The National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) hopes the compilation of a bibliography of children’s stories around a universal theme will be a regular project for AFCC to showcase the diversity of talents and children’s literature in the region.

For suggestions and enquiries, please email