Someone told me that Singapore is a little island of prosperity in an area of the world that is struggling, and I think I know why.

For the longest while, I’ve suspected that it was vision and innovation that made America become the superpower it is.

You get a sense of that here in Singapore too.

The Asian Festival of Children’s Content is mostly run by the National Book Council of Singapore.

They’ve been running conferences here for writing for years! Taking the initiative in the hopes of spurring on an Asian-centred publishing and media program that will reflect the reality of over a billion kids who are kind of sort of otherwise ignored.

Then the conferences morphed into the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. I came to the first one two years ago.

Talk about vision!

It takes an awful lot of effort to get a ball rolling, but once it builds up momentum it’s doesn’t take much to keep it moving.  That’s Newton’s second or third law, can’t remember which.

It’s like I’ve seen the folks putting their shoulders to the task before me, and heaving ho.

Having been on the planning side of events like this, I must say the task is gargantuan! I have nothing but respect for the folks behind it, especially Mr. Ramachandran and Kenneth Qwek.

And speaking of innovation, went to a fascinating session on literacy initiatives that the Singapore library took to increase their readership!

The session featured this dynamic young guy named Zulkifili bin Amin and Faizah Ahmad. Two Singaporean librarians who’ve begun initiatives that have been recognized by the American Library Association and are now being exported to other library systems around the world to get their young clientele more engaged.

Mr. Bin Amin, a reluctant reader himself when he was a tot, proposed an initiative that piggy-backed on the idea that young boys in particular liked comic books, manga and collecting Yugi- oh type cards.

So he started a program that made sure not to include any type of book format or literacy words, but was rather a series of card with a chapter of a fantasy adventure story with anime and manga type illustrations on the back called Quest.

Oh it was fascinating! Sure they experienced some glitches, but in the end they increased readership in young boys in the Singapore library system by 25%!

Leonard Marcus is on the ticket. I’m looking forward to his keynote tomorrow morning. It’s called Read me a Story, Sing me to Sleep, Choosing the Best Books for Your Child. I’m going to jot down a bunch of titles, especially considering all the grandkids I have!

I met an old buddy of mine, Uma Krishnaswami! She lives in New Mexico, but seem to meet in Singapore more often than not!

Had a LOVELY afternoon catching up with her!

She’s doing SO well with her Grand Plan to Fix Everything, which I haven’t read yet, but really want to! She’s got a sequel coming out next year for it too!

And a picture book with Groundwood!

Felt kind of shy sharing the stuff I’ve been doing.  Well yeah, I’ve had lots of success with Big Red Lollipop and Wanting Mor, but since then I’ve been mostly collecting rejections.

Was feeling kind of self conscious, a bit worried what I’d say when she asked what I’d been up to, and yet, she got teary-eyed when I told her about the premise of the Hajj novel.

And during our conversation she said some things that just shook me to the core!

She said that Eudora Welty had said that stories have a very long fuse and they go down deep within us, or something like that. We were talking about what had inspired some of our recent works.

And then she said that when she was growing up there came a day when a book made her cry, and she had never known that books could make you cry.

Very profound.

Mind you there was one thing I felt very vindicated about. Years ago, Uma had actually considered leaving the children’s lit biz. She was so dejected, she was thinking of quitting. I had told her hang in there, it always is darkest before the dawn. (I know that’s such a cliche but it’s true!) And it seems to be the nature of this business that you get a bunch of rejections just before you get a big breakthrough.

And look at Uma now, masha Allah.

In the food court, over our dinners of rice and various vegetables, and her fried tofu and my chicken masala, I wagged my finger at her and said, “Didn’t I tell you to hang in there?”

She conceded!

I wonder too if the more darker the rejections there isn’t a bigger breakthrough?

I certainly hope so.

I’ve had my share of rejections recently–and for stories I think are really good! I’m hoping this hajj novel will be big.

But it’s all about not giving up. Keeping that shoulder to the boulder we’re trying to get moving. And I hope the organizers of the AFCC take that to heaert too  because what they’re doing is really visionary.

When you see people from the Phillipines, Malaysia, Singapore, China, India, Australia and Japan AND people from North America all gathered together to discuss literacy initiatives and the craft of creating work for children…well the result is magical.

The weird thing is no way am I the only one wearing hijab! Faizah Ahmad in fact, that speaker about the Singapore libraries was wearing it too. She looked so nice in her black hijab, black pants and flower print long top! Very professional! Masha Allah!

So go figure… I don’t stick out! There are plenty of professionals here who are Muslim!


But wonderful!