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Asian Festival of Children’s Content

by Charlene Lai 賴嘉綾, Book Reviewer & Blogger

Girl power has risen gradually through the efforts of many and with the changing of times. Women work in every corner of our society – not only for business but at home too. Most career women are candles burning on both ends.

Painting and drawing started as leisure hobbies for talented ladies before being established as a formal job. Those who wish to work in this field face the reality that this industry runs without minimum wage or health insurance.

Nonetheless, women in this industry would never hesitate to fulfill their dreams. Female willpower and resilience enhance the beauty of the illustration world.

I am a picture book reviewer in Taiwan. For many years, translated picture books have dominated the market here. The first local picture book published in Taiwan can be traced back to 1969. It was only after that, writers and illustrators became more invested in this genre.

These generations of picture book makers act as the foundation of Taiwan’s picture book scene. Several of them taught at colleges and art schools and their students have gone on to become picture book writers and artists.

This past decade has seen the growth of today’s most active Taiwanese female illustrators from Yu-lin Chen, Chu-li Chen, Pei-shiu Chen, and many others who studied art and design. From information provided by the ISBN center in the National Central Library, 2021 saw the publication of around one thousand picture books in the country and only 250 were created by domestic illustrators.

Amongst these new titles, 60% were created by women and 90% of editors are female.

Closer to home

In Taiwan, besides the folktales passed down by generations, children’s literature has been influenced mostly by Japan and the US. It is perhaps a reflection of our cultural history. As mentioned previously, Taiwan’s local picture book publication only started to take flight in the late 60s.

In comparison to the pioneering artists back then, the artists active today are ones who grew up in the presence of picture books, which are great sources of inspiration, self-motivation and imagination. Kids who grow up reading are able to recognize what good books are and how to read more good ones.

This generation of illustrators would have been more exposed and acquainted with higher quality children's literature, thus able to create better works for the following generations and further advancing the industry on the whole.

Over the last few years, there has been an increase in foreign rights sales. Illustrators can work locally while reaching an international audience: the regional market serves as a base for the global market.

Roles of Female Illustrators in the Industry

Kindness is the key. 

We all know life can be very hard but don’t know how much.

Asian females were born with tender hearts.

Art and literature guide and open children’s eyes to virtues, to work hard and be humble and also encourage imagination. Humor plays a part too. Merry minds shape a better world.

Picture books weave kindness and humour into reality to accompany children during their highs and lows. Women have long been under-represented but resilient. We can find female illustrators’ attention to details, maternal instincts and empathy expressed in their art and narratives for young and old. The female illustrators now are paving a yellow brick road for all the future comers.

I haven’t traveled in Asia well enough but I am so lucky to travel with these artists through their works. I learned from their stories and would love to know more about every country. Female illustrators from India, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Vietnam are working hand-in-hand to make this gallery fabulous.

I wish that every one of the visitors would feel the same way as I had during this BIG tour. Please accept my tons of thanks to the team from SBC and AFCC, especially Carlo and Bijal. It’s my pleasure to join the event.

Charlene Lai is a curator of the BIG Female Illustrators of Asia Gallery. Read more about the curators' insights on the impact and influence of female illustrators in this essay by Bijal Vachharajani, Editor (Pratham Books/Storyweaver).

BIG Female Illustrators of Asia Gallery

About Charlene Lai 賴嘉綾

Charlene Lai is a picture book reviewer and blogger. She founded The PlayGrounD, a studio that acts as a platform for everything affiliated with picture books. She has also previously curated an exhibition, The Craft of Picture Books. In 2017, Charlene was honoured by Scholastic Asia as its Picture Book Ambassador. By the end of 2021, she has had 10 books published.

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