How Asian Literary Festival addresses mental health issues among children by bringing out the need for diversity

By Gargi Vachaknavi

The Asian Festival of Children’s content organised by Singapore Book Council from 5 th to 8 th September, 2019, celebrated its tenth year with the country of focus being Myanmar. There were talks and discussions on the need for book reviews, the need for diversity in children’s literature, translations and how to proliferate books from different cultures all over the globe.

Panel discussions and lectures dotted the event with delegates from USA, England, different parts of Asia and more. Some of the discussions were thought provoking. For instance, at the end of discussion on diversity with panellists from North American background ( academic Philip Nel, writer editor Emily Pan and Lisa Charlieboy) with moderator Avery Fischer Udagawa, the relevance of their experience to the Asian experience was put under scrutiny by a member of the audience as even Emily Pan grew up in USA identifying as an American. 

During a discussion on ‘Portrayal of Special Needs in YA (Young Adult Fiction)’, while award winning writer Suzanne Kamata focussed on the need to assimilate children with disabilities into the mainstream, Hannah Alkaff from Malaysia totted off statistics that proved more children would suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder( OCD ) over the years and therefore the need to create fiction like hers where children could identify with such issues. One wonders though why schools and caregivers would allow this rise in OCD to occur. Sarinajit Kaur from National Institute of Education, talked of how teachers could create not just better readers but generate hope in children by giving them books that are empathetic. 

There were book launches and talks spread across the National Library and crowds thronged the sessions. A walk on 7 th September promised to take the visitors through book shops in Bras Basah.


Book in English & Burmese

Interesting outcomes of the ‘ Bridging Borders: The SEA Lit Project’, where Myanmar and Singapore writers have worked together to bring out books and poetry in Burmese and English were highlighted. There were special sessions organised for Myanmar writers.

Dr Thant Khaw Kaung, the founder and CEO of Myanmar Book Centre and the executive director of Myanmar Book Aid said, “ A platform like AFCC is important for Myanmar authors, illustrators and publishers to gain new knowledge and experience, as well as share our creative works and culture.” The Myanmar night on 7 th September showcased Myanmar culture.

A bookshop had been set up to showcase children’s and YA fiction within the library premises. 


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