All of the sessions I attended at this year's Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC) inspired me to read more, blog more, teach more, and generally work more for children and teens and the books they enjoy. But three of the sessions in particular really hit me hard!
Applying Asian Folktales and Fine Art Traditions to Picture Books
Presenter: Yoko Yoshizawa, Illustrator, Japan
During Yoko Yoshizawa's presentation, I was reminded of what I live for: creative people and their work and sharing their work. I was so amazed by Yoko's love for and dedication to folktales, folk art, and naive art. Some countries or cultures cannot publish their folktales or art because of political or economic reasons, and Yoko works hard, even uses her personal funds, to introduce some of these tales and art to Japan through children's picture books.
When she discovers a great folktale and is impressed by the folk art or naive art in its place of origin (for example Chiang Mai, Thailand), she lives in the place to study how the people dress and behave, and what they do and use in their daily lives. She also pays a local artist to make paintings to accompany the folktale.
To be clear, Yoko does all this without the promise or support of a publisher. She works to have a folktale translated, written, and illustrated, and afterwards tries to find a Japanese publisher.
Yoko got malaria from one of her trips and had to stay in the hospital for a month. She almost died! But that is not going to stop her from visiting more countries (the next place, I believe, is Bhutan) to do research on their folktales and art.
At the end of her presentation, Yoko even asked the audience to share information about the folktales and art in their countries.
Writing for the Muslim Community
Presenter: Rukhsana Khan, Author, Canada
Many stories with Muslim characters written by non-Muslim writers are guilty of condescension or of being "poverty porn" (stirring strong feelings of sympathy in readers to make them feel like they are so much better off in life).
But yes, someone not Muslim can write a universal story with authentic Muslim characters, because sometimes it takes an outsider to see what is interesting about a culture! Rukhsana Khan delivered a very honest, personal, and impassioned talk about how to do this. Even as a Muslim writer born in Pakistan, she still made mistakes when writing about Muslims in Afghanistan, so she cautioned the audience to truly suspend their identity and write within - not fight - the parameters of the Muslim culture they are writing about. For the time you are writing, you should take on the values of that culture. One practical way to do this is to write about the things in the culture that you already agree with!
None of this is easy to do, but Rukhsana's talk was truly moving and encouraging. I hope there will be more good stories with Muslim characters as a result!
Across Borders: Picture Books for All
Presenter: Suzy Lee, Illustrator, Korea/Singapore
At the beginning of her keynote speech, the genius Suzy Lee declared that picture books are special because of the children, not because of the pictures or the author. We find the most valuable things in children, and children are always closer to the essence of the truth.
Suzy's beautiful speech was about the border theme in her series of wordless picture books, also known as the Border Trilogy: Wave, Mirror, and Shadow. The books are about possibilities and a child's imagination. The gutter in the books serves as the border between fantasy and reality, between what is illusion and what is real. This border doesn't really matter to children and they recklessly travel back and forth. Or you can say that they play on a blurred border.
As wordless picture books, the Border Trilogy are on the border between words and images. Consider also that with today's technology, letters and words can be manipulated as images, for example they can be stretched. The Border Trilogy can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, so they are on the border between children and adults. The books are also on the border between the old and the new, as they were released during a transitional period in publishing (from purely print publishing to more digital publishing).
I seriously wanted to break down and cry while Suzy was speaking. This was my absolute favorite presentation at this year's AFCC because it didn't just inspire me to read and study more picture books, or enjoy and love picture books more. It inspired me to LIVE and be like the children who travel recklessly between fantasy and reality.
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