Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2020: A COVID-Aware Edition

In News by Porter Anderson

Scaled down to two days and some 40 speakers, the 2020 edition of Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content draws from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas for its programming.

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘A Very Challenging and Disruptive Year’
At least 40 publishers, writers, and other speakers are expected to be on hand and on camera Saturday and Sunday (October 3 and 4) when the of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content mounts its 2020 edition as a “digital symposium.”

Publishing Perspectives readers are quite familiar with this program from the Singapore Book Council under William Phuan (our interview with him is here). Last year, in its normal physical evocation, it fielded around 150 speakers across a four-day series of 90 sessions.

More compact this year, the 11th annual iteration of the event plans to look directly at issues arising from the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, rather than skirting the emergency. A key focal area of the programming “will discuss how the children’s book industry is responding and adapting to the global pandemic,” organizers tell us.

Phuan sounds cautiously optimistic in comments to us, but the emphasis remains on that caution. As so many markets of world publishing are finding out, what looks like a pathway out of the worst of the crisis can veer suddenly into rising numbers and new or renewed restrictions.

William Phuan

“It’s been a very challenging and disruptive year for us all,” he says. “The situation in Singapore is gradually getting under control, but things can quickly change.”

So it is that the program has chosen “voyages” as a thematic motif–perhaps a reference to the physical journeys that are so much harder at the moment for many to make.

The festival “will examine pressing topics such as the import of children’s books during a time of crisis; how to build resilience in children through books; the effects of digitization on book fairs and festivals; and how to build virtual communities,” organizers say in their media messaging.

“The festival will also take a close look at the impact of two popular genres–poetry and comics–and how schools can make them part of students’ essential reading.”

Dexter Ong, who heads up Wattpad Studios’ Asian office in Hong Kong is to speak, as is Peter Florence, the founding director of the Hay Festival. Maria Russo is on the bill, too. The former children’s book editor with The New York Times is now is editorial director with Michael Neugebauer Publishing’s picture-book imprint MineditionUS.

The chief juror for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, Junko Yokota, is speaking, as are poets Naomi Shihab Nye and Mariko Nagai; Minh Lê, the author of DC Comics’ Green Lantern: Legacy, which has illustrations by Andie Tong; Australian picture-book specialist Tohby Riddle; and the Chinese-Canadian author-illustrator Trevor Lai.

As always, the internationalism of the program is impressive, speakers logging in for their sessions from the States, India, the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Canada, Lebanon, Australia, Malaysia, Germany, Spain, Japan, Thailand, and Singapore.

The professionally targeted events require tickets running between 30 and 60 Singapore dollars (US$21.80 to US$43.59). Ticketing is available here.

Programming Highlights

Some of the speakers in the 2020 Asian Festival of Children’s Content are, top row from left, Peter Florence, Junko Yokota, Minh Lê, and Naomi Shihab Nye. On the lower row, from left, Bijal Vachharajani, Trevor Lai, Maria Russo, and Dexter Ong

While you can find the full list of events here, we’ll direct your attention to several highlights here.

If interested, you can find the bookstore outlet carrying speakers’ publications here, provided by Closetful of Books.

Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award

The public is invited to look in, free of charge, on Sunday’s festival-closing Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award ceremony, starting at 6 p.m. Singapore time / 1000 GMT.

This is a biennial award for children’s literature written in English by a Singaporean native or a permanent resident of the island state.

Here are the six shortlisted titles for the award:

  • Jun and the Octopus by Ekkers (Goh Eck Kheng), illustrated by Lim An-ling
  • Kelly and the Krumps by Ken Kwek, illustrated by Lolita Chiong
  • Panjang: The Tall Boy Who Became Prime Minister by Peh Shing Huei, illustrated by Drewscape (Andrew Tan)
  • The Incredible Basket by Quek Hong Shin
  • We Can by Ben Lai
  • X and O are B.F.F.s! by Lynette Teo, illustrated by Xinnie Ng

More information on the awards program is here.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore is here, more from us on Singapore and its publishing scene is here, and more on children’s books is here. More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.