This is going to be a very disjointed post! I know I should focus entirely on the AFCC that was such an INCREDIBLE experience, but I feel I must get something else that happened out of the way.

I returned to Canada (suffering through all fifteen plus hours of the Hong Kong to Toronto flight) to some very good news! My third grandchild, a little girl had been born while I was enroute. And then some sad news. Around about the same time my granddaughter was coming into this world, the granddaughter of a good friend of ours, was making her way out of it.

She was only fourteen years old. I didn’t know her well but I knew her parents and I especially know her grandmother, and my heart just ached for her! I cried and I cried even as I rejoiced and I rejoiced–a very tumultuous day indeed!

I went to the masjid for the janaza (funeral prayer) and when I was getting into the elevator I had one of those moments that helps put things in perspective.

A lady in the elevator told me, “Look at this! You know there are two funerals today. The one for the grandchild and there is another lady, an older lady, but her family is very small! Only three people. But look, she will be prayed for by so many because they died at the same time.”

Sure enough, the grandmother friend of ours was very well known within the Muslim community.

The turnout for her granddaughter’s funeral was incredible! All the women were packed together tightly in the sisters’ prayer area.

And I couldn’t help thinking about the other woman, whom I didn’t know at all, but whom I was praying that God would forgive her sins and allow her to enter paradise too.

All that happened yesterday, even as I was in the midst of basking in the afterglow of the Asian Festival of  Children’s Content.

In the opening keynote Nuri Vittachi said something that astonished me. He said there are over ONE BILLION children in Asia!

And since two of the economic powerhouses of Asia are India and China, don’t think in terms of a billion POOR children. 

Asia contains about four billion of the six billion people living on the face of the earth. And even while the economies of the ‘first’ world countries are retrenching, Asian economies show steady growth and opportunity.

Publishers should be keeping this in mind!

How long will Asians be content with manga comics and anthropomorphic stories? Those kids need stories that reflect their daily reality.

I must confess that I had been slightly seduced with the idea of writing to please the North American market.

After having attended the AFCC I have realized how limiting that is!

True, right now North American media continues to dominate the globe, but really, how long can that last?

Especially with the rise of Japanese anime productions?

And the flexing of Asian creativity in other ways.

There was an incredible amount of talent at this festival! To read more check out my old friend Uma Krishnaswami’s blog about it:

And also check out my new friend Christopher Cheng’s blog about it:

Meeting Christopher was one of the highlights of the festival! I first saw him from the back. He was sitting with Uma at the breakfast table, with his long ponytail–the envy of any woman– hanging down his back.  We had a terrific time at breakfast talking shop!

Christopher is incredibly prolific and diligent about writing. He can write a novel in two to three months! (And I thought I was good because I’d written Wanting Mor in five months!) He’s so organized! And it obviously works for him. It seems we’ve both been writing for twenty years but he’s got twenty-seven books to show for it to my eleven!

But that’s the thing about writing. No two writers seem to work in exactly the same way. And that’s the conclusion Uma, Chris and I came to over breakfast.

Read their blogs! They said so much more that I don’t want to repeat.

What really struck me too was the confidence I felt, especially among the Indian publishers. I wonder if it’s a reflection of the phenomenal success of Bollywood and such movies as Slum Dog Millionaire. They really carried themselves as though they had come into their own.

I needn’t have worried that I would disappoint people.

The first presentation I did was with Uma, where we talked about how we wrote across cultures in our book Many Windows. It was the perfect start to the festival! A down to earth session where the audience was more than engaged and the questions that ensued were lively!

It’s a book about six kids from five different religions who are friends! And it’s about their religious celebrations. Uma wrote the Diwali story and our friend Elisa Carbone wrote one of the Christmas stories, and then I wrote the Hanukkah story, the Buddha’s birthday story, one of the Christmas stories and of course the Eid story. It’s followed up with five non-fiction pieces that explain the celebrations that are featured in the book. A really nice mix of fiction and non-fiction.

We had talked previously to plan the session, and Uma and I went back and forth in a great balance, and I even managed to shock her a bit! Unbenknownst to her I had overhead transparencies of all her editing of the final manuscript.

I think she was a bit embarrassed when I pulled them out–I actually use them in another presentation I do where I show the kids the editing process (teachers really appreciate that!). On the first page of edits, you can see all the comments in a solid block right down the side of the page. The second page edited a few months later shows a few less comments. The third page edited a few months after that I think Uma changed a comma or two!

Our session was packed!

The second presentation I did was on how to write about religion without incorporating a preachy didactic tone! One of my favourite subjects! I got to tell my Fajr story from my book Muslim Child that had the audience in stitches. It’s about a boy who tries not to fart while he’s praying (which is a very big deal since before we pray we have to wash a lot: our hands three times, face three times, mouth three times, nose three times, right arm to the elbow three times, left arm to the elbow three times, we wet our hair, clean our ears and then wash our right foot to the ankle three times and our left foot to the ankle three times. It’s called wudu and if you fart or go to the bathroom you have to go back and wash again and make up your prayer.)

I showed them how the story teaches about the Muslim prayer but it’s also a universal theme in that EVERYONE can relate to trying not to fart when talking to someone important, and who could be more important than God???

The third presentation was on bringing oral cultural stories to the page and I got to talk about my picture books: Ruler of the Courtyard, Silly Chicken and Big Red Lollipop.

My moderator was John Danalis, an amazing Aussie author who wrote an intriguing book called Riding the Black Cockatoo. It’s a non-fiction book about the lengths he went to repatriate an aboriginal skull his family had had sitting on the mantelpiece for over forty years. It’s really a book about embedded racial attitudes and I found his writing incredibly moving and honest.

John turned to me afterwards and said in front of the audience that he’d laughed so hard during my presentation he’d felt like he’d been sitting in a comedy club only there weren’t any expletives!  Such a nice compliment!!!

The last presentation I did involved my more serious work. I was supposed to do it alongside another Indian author Paro Anand but unfortunately she had to cancel at the last minute due to appendicitis.

I talked about serious books about marginalized kids: The Roses in My Carpets, Wanting Mor and a bit more of Many Windows.

I read The Roses in My Carpets out loud and talked about how books can be–in the words of Gandhi–be the change you want to see in the world.

Uma told me afterwards that this was the third time she’d heard me read The Roses in My Carpets and this was the third time she’d cried during it.

Oh, I should stop here! Tomorrow I’ll talk more about other people I met.