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Singapore festival focuses on the Philippines

A piece of good news that I wish were more widely known and lauded is the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) on May 26-29 in Singapore. Organized by the National Book Development Council of Singapore since 2010, it endeavors to highlight content in children’s books and media that would be more relevant and meaningful to Asian children. As festival director R. Ramachandran explains, “[We in Asia] have been longtime consumers of Western content. It is now time for the pendulum to swing our way.” Indeed, it is high time Asian culture became better known to the two billion children worldwide. The world has become small with the ease and facility of travel and the familiarity with what different cultures have to offer in terms of children’s books. As important as the content is the excellence in the creation of these books.

This year’s conference is quite special because the festival focuses on the Philippines. We were given the honor because of our encouraging development of children’s literature in English and in Filipino (and hopefully, in the years to come in our major languages in our islands) and the rich diversity of our culture.

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A special invitation from the festival organizers to representatives of the children’s books industry in the Philippines ensures that a proper introduction to the country is made available to all festival participants—about 600 of them from 23 countries, by last year’s festival’s reckoning. To lead and facilitate panel discussions are the following: London-based Candy Gourlay, internationally known author of the highly successful “Tall Story,” and New York-based illustrator Pepper Roxas. They will talk about multicultural children’s literature and personal experiences as Filipinos living and creating away from home.

Popular author-illustrators Russell Molina and Jomike Tejido will discuss regional and global perspectives in their craft, current trends in the industry, and creating for Filipino children in diaspora.

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Active book blogger and book reviewer Blooey Singson will speak on the art and science of writing book reviews. English teacher and book blogger Tarie Sabido has also been invited as a featured talent from the Philippines.

Another highly anticipated guest is folk singer and songwriter Noel Cabangon, known for using his art to manifest love of country. His music as personal narratives of the ordinary Filipino citizen, full of hope for a better world, is expected to add a rich dimension to Philippine art and culture.

Dr. Myra Garces-Bacsa, a Filipino now based in Singapore, serves as festival program director and leads some sessions for the Preschool and Primary Teachers Congress.

The National Book Development Board (NBDB) will also be in attendance, with the participation of executive director Andrea Pasion Flores, who is also a member of the AFCC 2012 advisory board, and myself.

It is hoped that the country focus will promote the best of Philippine children’s literature and pave the way for future partnerships between the National Book Development Council of Singapore and the NBDB. Perhaps a similar conference for Asian authors and illustrators will be held in the Philippines so that more of us can participate in and be enriched by the experience?

In April, R. Ramachandran and festival manager Kenneth Quek came to the Filipinas Heritage Library for a road show of sorts, to drum up attendance for the festival. While it was a noteworthy marketing move, it seemed a little late in coming.  And did they need reminding that planning for such trips—even if Singapore is only three hours away—is not always easy for the average Filipino, especially hungry artists like authors and illustrators?

Nonetheless, the festival must go on and one sees evidence of the meticulous care that went into its planning. It is apt that as the event promotes Asian children’s content beyond Asia, it also gives special emphasis to leading children to discover the magic of words, to tell stories, and to read to enrich their imaginations, to expand their worlds. Thus, there is something for every interest and inclination—fora for early childhood education teachers, parents, authors and illustrators especially honored in a “Celebrating our Stars” night, publishers, literary agents, booksellers in a Media Mart & Rights Fair. Plenary sessions on developing a reading culture in Asian schools (yes, that sounds all too familiar), adolescents speaking on books that engage, and American writer and literary critic Leonard Marcus discussing how to choose the best books for children will bring us back to core literacy issues.

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Nurturing a “competent, critical and creative” reader is said to be one of the most valuable gifts a teacher can give a student. The task of cultivating the reading habit in children and creating excellent materials for them in all formats and media is much too awesome a task to be left in the hands of a few. Teachers cannot do it all.

Let that be a sobering thought as we prepare to begin another school year.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is the chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Commentary, Diplomacy, Festivals, Foreign Affaisr and International Relations, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, opinion, Philippines, Singapore
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