I am planning to do several posts about the recently-concluded Asian Festival of Children’s Content here in Singapore, breaking them down into snippets and highlights. Until now, I can not believe that the festival is over. It was all such a whirlwind – one minute it has begun, and the next minute it’s over. It was a blast, though, as to be expected. Here are a few highlights from the first day of the Festival, the Preschool and Primary Teachers’ Congress.
Keynote by Asst. Prof. Chitra Shegar
The first keynote was given by Dr. Chitra Shegar entitled Developing a Reading Culture in Asian Schools. In Dr. Chitra’s talk, there was an emphasis on promoting literacy skills which are said to be “fundamental for survival in this global digital age.” She also pointed out that developing avid readers requires not only teaching children the basics of reading but the ‘will’ to read.
Teachers are said to play an influential role as they also need to be passionate about books and reading to engage their students’ attention. The school also has a significant role to play since “the school ethos has to speak loudly that reading is valued.” There were several suggestions provided such as having book talks, story telling sessions, providing incentives for avid readers, invitation of authors to give talks, having a reading lounge among others.
Marjorie Van Heerden: How Illustrations in Books Provide Context for Understanding Stories
I was very happy to moderate this session by author/illustrator Marjorie Van Heerden who traveled all the way from South Africa to join us for the Festival. While I had two of my own sessions during this hectic first day, I couldn’t pass up the chance to moderate Marjorie’s talk. During her presentation, she made mention of a few must-reads that book-lovers should familiarize themselves with if they are serious in understanding the nature of children’s literature and illustration. Here are a few:
I was awed by Marjorie’s passion and expansive knowledge of children’s illustration. Her talk reminded me that I should familiarize myself with the picture books of Trina Schart Hyman, Anthony Browne, Satoshi Kitamura among others. She also spoke of the beautiful liberation of escaping the world through pictures which broaden the mind through fantastic visual images. Marjorie is simply filled with warmth, vivacity, and joy as she spoke about her love for art and children’s books.
Professor Nancy Johnson: Writing in Response to Literature
Professor Nancy Johnson is my Co-Programme Director for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference. It was such pleasure working with her in crafting the programme and discussing people we could invite for the festival. She is an animated and dynamic speaker: clear, sharp, concise, pointed, engaging, playful, and very beautiful and fit to boot! Some women just have it all, don’t they? As Full Professor in one of the major universities in the States, she can do absolutely anything, yet she chooses to come here to Singapore and teach high school kids. Her students are fortunate to have someone like her.
One of the greatest things I love about Nancy is that while you’re discussing two or three books, you get a sense that she has around a dozen more in her head just struggling to bubble forth into the surface. We could perhaps booktalk the night away and not even notice the dawn breaking.
In her talk, she noted ‘the wonder of it all’ when literature and literacy intersect and that teachers should consider teaching through interactive read-alouds, which can be a ‘community-building experience.’ She also implored the parents and the teachers in the audience to not stop reading aloud to kids even when they have become independent readers – because it is a gift. Sharing great literature and having the words and lyrical phrases fall from your lips as you read it with your child or student is truly a gift. I see and sense its truth as I continue to read to my ten year old girl. Nancy also noted that teachers should be on the look-out for response-rich books which offer realistic characters, compelling content, qualities that arouse readers’ interests, books that evoke humor, has an intriguing format, and with strong colorful illustrations/images that support and extend the story – among others. It was also awe-inspiring seeing some of her own students’ responses to books that they discussed in class. Such appreciation of complexity among very young kids and those big tenuous ideas – captured through delightfully-misspelled narratives that communicate puzzlement, horror, wonder, and delicious abstraction. Nancy is a marvel and it shows in her students’ works.