Last night we had the final keynote address from Leonard Marcus, a noted expert in children’s literature, and its history and a biographer of some of the greatest names in child lit!

Started writing this post at the Hong Kong airport, and now that I’m back home, safe and sound, I can finish it.

Ooh, plane landed at 1:30, it’s three hours later and my head is still swimming. Honestly it feels like I’m still up in the air!

Hate this dizzy feeling. It’ll go.

Got it after that 5 hour bus ride to Singapore too.

What can I say about the AFCC that I haven’t already?


The team just keeps getting better and better each year.

One of the highlights, I must say, was meeting Leonard Marcus.

I’d heard his name of course, he’s a force to be reckoned with in the world of children’s literature, but until someone mentioned his book Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom I couldn’t place where I’d heard of him.

I read Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom years ago, after I’d heard all the buzz about it. It was a fascinating read! What aspiring author wouldn’t find the correspondence between a trend-setting editor like Ursula Nordstrom and the talent she nurtured including some of the greatest names we take for granted!

But in reading it, I realized how much things had changed. Nordstrom worked during a time when editors had huge leeway. She gave some of her authors large stipends so that they could keep creating. And there seems to be one talent she nurtured, if I recall correctly, who didn’t pan out. He was a janitor with a flair for children’s literature.

Nowadays it might be said that editors hardly even edit any more. They simply don’t have the time.

Manuscripts have to be pretty much picture perfect before they get on the editor’s desk.

But it was one quote of his in particular that caused a bit of a paradigm shift in me.

It was during an illustrators’ critique session. What I was doing in there, I really don’t know, but I was there, and I was listening avidly to what he, Naomi Kojima (a Japanese picture book author and illustrator) and Sayoni Basu (an Indian publisher).

What weirded me out was that they gravitated more towards the nittier grittier artwork than the light-hearted stuff.

It’s funny, because one of my picture books, Ruler of the Courtyard has less ‘attractive’ art in it. It’s by R. Gregory Christie but I have always loved the art in that book! I think Christie was brilliant in the way he plays with perspective! The story is about perspective!

And yet, among children, it’s not the book they pick up first and I do think it’s becaue the art is not as ‘attractive’.

During Q&A I asked him about that, why the three of them seemed to prefer the darker stuff when kids and parents always gravitated towards lighter-hearted fare. (I was thinking of the plethora of glittery Barbie-fairy type books, and My Little Pony–it’s obvious little girls do like cutsie stuff! And then there’s Barney and the Teletubbies too.)

Leonard Marcus quoted Wallace Stevens saying:  Sentimentality is a failure of feeling…  And he said that too many smiling faces amounts to sentimentalizing childhood and is basically an absence of feeling–or something like that. I’m paraphrasing.

I just thought it was such an interesting comment.

At first I rejected it out right. But on second and third thoughts, I really think he has a point.

Other things keep sticking out at me.

During that heated discussion on that multicultural panel, Cynthea Liu made such an astute observation, or she reiterated it. Anyway, I’d never heard it uttered before.

She showed a whole page of covers of modern teen novels. All the covers with black characters in them had the title characters portrayed as silhouettes.

She said putting a black kid on the cover seemed to indicate the book wouldn’t sell. This was confirmed by some of the Singaporean librarians in the audience. There aren’t many blacks in Singapore, so most kids avoided black literature because they felt it didn’t ‘apply’ to them.

I said, “Men in Black III is coming out, won’t they go see that? It has Will Smith, a black man in it? And what about listening to Michael Jackson?”

And Cynthea also went on to point out covers of books with Asians on them–they were ALL (including her own) in cartoon format!

Then she quipped, “So what blacks are silhouettes and Asians are cartoons?” (I’m paraphrasing.)

And I pointed out that books about Muslims usually showed a demure looking girl with her headcovering held over her mouth–like she was voiceless. They did this with the cover of Wanting Mor.

Interesting thing is they did this with that ridiculous National Book Award winner Sold as well even though the girl in that is Nepalese, not Muslim.

I gleaned such fascinating insights over the last few days, and they’re all bubbling up within me for a second look so I can rediscover them.