Skip to main content
Asian Festival of Children’s Content
25–28 May 2023

by Lucia Obi, Chinese and Korean Language Section | International Youth Library Foundation

Like every juror, we have to ask ourselves the question of whether we make our decision for or against an illustration on the basis of our “gut instincts”, whether we judge according to our upbringing, our current environment, our cultural background, according to fashions or to the prevailing zeitgeist.

From the beginning we were aware that when evaluating illustrations from completely different cultures, we run the risk of stereotyping, of being influenced by cultural prejudices, of being controlled by certain Western or individual visual habits.

With its proposed evaluation criteria “Visual Impact”, “Originality” and “Style”, AFCC has already minimized the risk of jurors making their decisions based on personal taste. However, there is still a risk that perceptions of "visual impact" vary widely, that the notion of what makes an illustration "stunning and intriguing" depends on personal viewing habits and experiences.

So, while in the West we often find Manga illustrations new and refreshing and think that they “explore new and exciting ways of capturing children's imagination”, East Asian readers may have long had enough of them and find them boring.

The proposed criterion "helping to support potential narratives" can cannot always be easily met either, as this would require seeing a larger sequence of illustrations, but some illustrators only submit too few images and are thus disadvantaged from the outset.

In our experience, even the criterion “Style and Fulfilled Intent”, i.e. what is “appropriate for target audience of an illustration”, depends very much on cultural imprint: For instance, Korean illustrations are often so direct and bold that Europeans find them disturbing and inappropriate for children. In contrast, European parents expect their children to find more “adult content” in picture books than readers from other Asian cultures, who take a more protective attitude towards their children and l demand more “child-friendly content”.

When the International Youth Library was first invited to be a guest judge for BIG, we discussed all of these concerns at length. As a result, we decided to always include several jury members with different cultural experiences and from different regions in our team.

Since we were to judge Asian illustrations, we definitely wanted to include at least one person from Asia in our team. This decision has proved to be very fruitful. We Westerners and Asians on the IYL-team often have very different opinions that balance each other out very well. Surprisingly, we find that we always agree on the top and bottom rated illustrations, only in the large middle section do our opinions and assessments differ greatly. Which is very reassuring, because obviously there are “good” – and “not so good” – illustrations that are judged consistently across all cultural boundaries.

At the beginning of our work, we jury members do not look at the information in the judging sheet, but only let the illustrations sink in. At this stage, we also do not exchange opinions on any illustrations. Each person individually and separately awards 1 to 5 rating points for each illustration.

In the end, we then add these rating points together. The 150–200 illustrations with the most points will receive a “Yes”.

Only now do we begin to discuss our individual and often surprising evaluations. At this stage, we may exclude or include illustrations from our selection.

When we evaluate five very good illustrations by an illustrator that are very similar, it often happens that we don't select one or two of them because in direct comparison we find them rather boring. On the other hand, illustrators who don't appear as professional may have submitted a single illustration that stands out and gets a “Yes” from us – although it may fall short in comparison to a more professional illustration by another person. This way, in our opinion, not only the most professional illustrations will be selected for the exhibition, but the most interesting ones.

Overall, we are very happy with the decision to work on an intercultural jury team, it makes us feel that our selection is not based on our personal taste or our individual biases. We hope that our approach will result in more variety, more diversity, and a more balanced and colorful exhibition.

We think the most rewarding result of our work is an interesting exhibition that offers a broad overview of the diverse, exciting styles of Southeast Asian illustration art and gives visibility to the best Asian illustrators.


About the Curator

Lucia Obi (Germany)

Lucia has been working in academic libraries, and also as a freelance illustrator and editor in the children's publishing industry. Trained in Cultural Anthropology, Chinese Literature, Art and the Library and Information Sciences, she is now the language specialist for Chinese and Korean children's literature at the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany.

Back to AFCC Stories