The National Book Development Board (NBDB) recently held its annual Little Lit Fest in Museo Pambata along Roxas Boulevard, Manila.
Through the NBDB’s international networking activities in the last two years and Australian author Ken Spillman’s relentless promotional support, authors and a publisher from the Australia, the UK, and Singapore joined distinguished Philippine-based creators of children’s literature in conference sessions that addressed topics relevant to writing for young readers.
Among the foreign speakers are Ken Spillman, Candy Gourlay, Christopher Cheng, Adan Jimenez, Felicia Low-Jimenez and Wolfgang Bylsma.
Candy Gourlay, whose novel for young adults Tall Story was published by David Fickling (a Random House imprint), spoke in a session that addressed “literature that depicts difficult life situations.” Gourlay, who is a UK-based Filipino, said that while growing up, her image of an author was essentially Caucasian, and that it took her years and numerous attempts to write a novel that affirmed her roots.
“Our stories,” she said of her third-world origin, “are not happy.” Gourlay elaborated that stories are a challenge to write for children or young adults, in other words. But “truth is powerful,” she said during her talk. The truth, she added, is what readers want.
Gourlay notes that her affirmation of her origins through her stories makes it possible for other Asians, especially young Filipinos, to imagine that they could also be grow up to be authors who can write from where they are or are from.
The theme of empowerment also figured in the topics discussed by Wolfgang Bylsma, the man behind Gestalt Comics whose title The Deep will soon be adapted into an animated program on French television. Bylsma’s Gestalt Comics operates out of Perth, Australia, and enjoys a following in the comic book world in Europe and North America.
When 12 Filipino children received donated copies of The Deep, Bylsma said that “the kids were so engrossed . . . that they only looked up to ask how they could make comics, too!”
Bylsma added that it was his “all-time favorite moment of this past week of literary festivals in Asia,” referring to the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore that preludes NBDB’s Little Lit Fest in Manila.
Australian author Christopher Cheng, who has published more than 50 titles for children, from novels and picture books to information books and anthologies, shared his expertise in sessions on storytelling, and designing books for children.
Using examples from his staggering body of work, Cheng illustrated the ways in which text and illustration could both be harnessed in order to tell a story most effectively, as well as attract young readers. Cheng also joined a workshop session on how the beginning of a story for young adults could be made compelling.
In the workshop panel, he was joined by Ken Spillman, author of books that enjoy a massive global following as well as a supporter developments writing for children and young adults in the region, and the Singapore-based husband-and-wife team Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez, who pseudonymously publish the popular Sherlock Sam series as “A.O. LOW.”
The panel, comprised by all the foreign-based authors who flew in for the festival, discussed and critiqued the first pages of stories sent in advance by participants. Throughout, the discussions never lacked authorial generosity and candid intelligence that the speakers brought to the works in progress.
No time other than now has the panel discussion been more relevant, as books for children and young adults have proved to enjoy a more international readership. The NBDB’s Little Lit Fest, Filipino authors have found one of the gates, and it opened a little more widely.