The Learning curve

Filipino talent shines in children’s lit

It had been sometime since my last attendance at the annual Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC), organized by the Singapore Book Council (SBC). The National Book Development Board (NBDB) attempts to send a representative each year to show support for its counterpart organization, in the spirit of Asean camaraderie. It is a great opportunity for networking opportunities, and to gain insights on what’s buzzing in the children’s book publishing industry overseas. The theme of the festival’s 10th year was “Diversity.” (By the way, the NBDB’s Philippine International Literary Festival also marked its 10th anniversary in June this year.)

A major lure for my attendance was the venue, the state-of-the-art National Library Building, a towering structure of wonder on Victoria Street. The former venue was the old Parliament House on the other side of town, also quaint and pretty, and elegantly repurposed. Our assembly sessions were in the parliament hall itself, with the old cushioned seats. How it broke my heart in total envy seeing how books and reading are valued here, how well-spent every Singaporean dollar is toward providing a welcoming learning space for its citizens. The venue passed my test for every library—that uplifting feeling of being one with great minds as soon as one steps in. That I felt on each of the four festival days in September, such that even on the Sunday of my departure, I had to make a final visit. As Eugene Evasco, one of the Filipino authors in attendance, posted: If only we had fewer malls, but more libraries like this.


The AFCC featured Myanmar as the Country of Focus, and over 150 speakers from Australia, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan. Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, the United States and the United Kingdom. The involvement of several speakers from the Philippines was another reason for the NBDB’s attendance. They had submitted proposals that the organizers accepted. Among the noteworthy sessions I attended:

Weng Cahiles and Aldy Aguirre, author and illustrator of the award-winning book “Si Kian,” had a session on the making of the book, “Children’s Literature, Journalism and Storytelling Under the War on Drugs,” highlighting the melding of journalism and literature in the book. A year ago, the book was included in the White Ravens List of Notable Children’s Book by the International Youth Library in Munich. Both were part of other panels on topics such as trauma in books, rebels in literature, whether there is an Asean style of illustration. Aguirre also led a three-hour master class on illustrations.


“Fantasy and Folklore in the Philippine Children’s Literature” was a session that featured Evelyn F. Cabanban and Gabriela Lee. Cabanban is publisher of Tawid Publications, while Lee is a writer and professor at the University of the Philippines. Lee was impressive, sharing her early research on her doctoral study on Philippine folk tales and delighting the audience with her insights on the creatures in the works of Nick Joaquin and Gilda Cordero-Fernando. One Singaporean was so impressed with Lee that when she found out I am also a Filipino, she insisted on buying me coffee and whatever else I wanted, making me vow to relay her compliments to the speaker. The moderator was Anvil’s Andrea Pasion Flores, a regular at the AFCC as one of the international advisers for the SBC.

Cheeno Marlo Sayuno, writer and professor from UP Los Baños, moderated the session on “The Importance of Indigenous and Minority Representation” by Canadian writer Lisa Charleyboy, who spoke on the issues as a professional and a Native American writer. Sayuno also led a session on storytelling possibilities via the digital platform.

“Celebrating Our Stars,” for the Scholastic Picture Book Award (SPBA), was a special ceremony hosted by the SPBA for the biennial completion of the best unpublished picture book with distinct Asian themes. We had the country’s first finalist for the SPBA, Eugene Evasco, for his manuscript on the kiping, “Pahiyas: Planting Rainbow Seeds,” with illustrations by clay sculptor Joffrey Zamora Atienza. The five others in the shortlist were two from Singapore, and one each from South Korea, Vietnam and Turkey.

Team AFCC did us proud. And the NBDB came home, having been allowed the chance to gauge our own projects and initiatives. Encouraged, too, even if it is constantly challenged by Commission on Audit restrictions, which make me wonder and angry—why is it so easy for corruption to thrive in other sectors of the Philippine bureaucracy?

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] gmail.com) is chair of the NBDB and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Asian Festival of Children’s Content, Filipino talent, National Book Development Board, Singapore Book Council
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