Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content: Fast COVID Adjustments

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Having planned its program in a hybrid format, the Asian Festival of Children’s Content is delaying in-person events amid new coronavirus cases.

In downtown Singapore early in the pandemic, March 9, 2020. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Rajaraman Arumugam

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

Ten Workshops and a Masterclass Move to June
Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content this year returns in what was to have been a hybrid edition themed “Reimagine. Rebuild. Reignite,” running May 27 to 30.

But in trying to put things together for a hybrid program, the Singapore Book Council has today (May 14) run right into every event-programmer’s pandemic-era nightmare: A new cluster of infections has arisen. So it is that even as many countries are watching the United Kingdom have to consider localized lockdowns in response to the Indian variant B.1.617, publishing event organizers this weekend are watching as Singapore’s folks move with quick efficiency to adjust to an all-digital conference and quick changes in plans.

Ten of the Asian Festival’s in-person workshops and one masterclass with Spiderwick Chronicles author Holly Black are being rescheduled to between June 3 and 5. Ticketholders are advised to sit tight and more details will be forthcoming next week (the week of May 17).

The New York Times’ Shashank Bengali writes this morning that Singapore–which like several sister Asian nations had managed the virus well for months–on Thursday (May 13) came across 34 new cases of COVID-19, “part of a rise in infections traced to vaccinated workers at Singapore Changi Airport.” Cases linked to Changi now number at least 46, making this group the largest of “about 10 clusters of new infections in the country.”

As Sue-Ann Tan writes at the Straits Times, the island nation’s multi-ministry coronavirus task force is reducing permitted  events to only 50 people without testing, beginning Sunday (May 16). Dining at both indoor and outdoor facilities is being halted, a major move in a country that loves its outdoor food courts.

And so it is that the festival’s 12th year is moving forward, May 27 to 30, with its online programming. Registration is available from Eventbrite here. We’ll continue to follow notices from the organizing team as to adjustments being made.

Fortunately, most of the presentational elements of the program are already set up for digital delivery and can go forward.

Thailand is Guest of Honor

Image: Artwork for the 2021 Asian Festival of Children’s Literature is by Kampanart Sangsorn

Called the “country of focus” at the Singapore festival, Thailand is the guest of honor this year. The Thai illustrator Kampanart Sangsorn has been commissioned by the book council to provide the festival’s artwork. Those who are new to this trade show focused on younger readers’ literature may not realize that in the past, the festival has featured China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar, and the host country, Singapore.

The Thai connection for this year is leveraged by a partnership with the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (PUBAT) and it’s going to be focusing on reading initiatives to promote literacy as well as an exchange of information on Thai writers and illustrators.

Of key interest to translators and rights directors, the book council in Singapore and the association in Bangkok are planning to open a co-translation project to translate and publish selected children’s books from both countries. As many Publishing Perspectives readers know, translation exchange programs, whether at the association or publisher level, can be among the most effective ways to introduce translated titles into both markets involved because–in this case–the Singaporean team knows how to promote sales in its market and so does the Thai group on its own turf.

Key festival topics this year:

  • Cultural and ethnic diversity
  • Inclusivity and accessibility in literary arts
  • Digital reading
  • Educational issues
  • “Mental well-being through books”
  • Audiobooks and their future in Asian markets
  • The importance of translation

As ever, this year’s festival will include author conversations, masterclasses, pitching sessions, networking events, and book launches.

International writers whose work is being highlighted include:

  • Two-time Newbery Honor winner Christina Soontornvat
  • US author Holly Black
  • Korean writers Hwang Sun-mi Kat Cho
  • Oscar-nominated animator and illustrator 山村 浩二 (Koji Yamamura)
  • Translator Lawrence Schimel
  • Taiwanese author and illustrator 刘旭恭 (Liu Hsu-Kung)

Programs anticipated to be presented in physical formats are to feature workshops on writing about children with disabilities, storytelling through drama, and “dialogic reading.”

One of the most avidly followed parts of the festival is the Book Illustrators Gallery, which handily had already been planned as an online show this year (as it was handled in 2020). The exhibition hit a record 370 submissions this year and will show work from a long list of countries including Kazakhstan, Russia, Canada, and France. The Book Illustrators Gallery is to go live on this page at the festival site on May 21.

Several Programming Highlights

Speakers in the 2021 Asian Festival of Children’s Content are, top row from left, Christina Soontornvat, Hidayah Amin, Holly Black, and Hwang Sun Mi. Middle row from left, Jason Chin, Kat Cho, Koji Yamamura, and Lawrence Schimel. And on the bottom row from left, Liu Hsu-Kung, Loh Chin Ee, Nat Amoore, and Teresa Cremin

With some of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content programming shifting amid the new Singapore COVID-19, here are several spotlighted digital events that will be going forward. The descriptive copy we quote here is from the organizers.

Creating Magic Systems
May 29, 0900 Singapore (0100 GMT)
Online masterclass: Holly Black

“An essential part of worldbuilding, your magic system defines your world thematically and is part of the underpinnings for your story. A better understanding of your magic system can deepen your understanding of your characters and their journey.”

Joy of Reading: How To Develop Communities of Readers
May 30, 1630 Singapore (0830 GMT)
Online lecture: Teresa Cremin

“This lecture will focus on the development of engaged communities of readers, particularly young children, who share the joy of reading. The evidence-informed talk will look at how these communities are underpinned by secure subject knowledge (of texts and of readers) and a reading for pleasure pedagogy.” Moderated by Loh Chin Ee

Crossing Borders: A Translation Round Table
May 28, 1700 Singapore (0900 GMT)
Online round table: Avery Fischer Udagawa , Helen Wang , Lawrence Schimel , Nur-El Hudaa Jaffar , Vetri

“This round table gathers six translators from different parts of the world, from the United States to Thailand, and people working in different languages, to engage in a special conversation. They’ll discuss ways to increase the amount of translated children’s books, how to get more people interested in reading translated works, and the challenges they face as well as their hopes for the future of translation.” (This session includes live Q&A.)

The festival this year is supported by the embassy of the Republic of Korea, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, Lee Foundation, National Translation Committee, Stephen Riady Foundation, Tote Board Arts Fund, and the US embassy in Singapore.

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

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson 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 International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, 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.