By: Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
December 16, 2017

To promote the visibility of the Philippine publishing industry internationally, the National Book Development Board (NBDB) has endeavored to maintain participation at the Frankfurter Buchmesse (FB, or the Frankfurt Book Fair) on consecutive years—an unimaginable feat without the current congressional support. The NBDB was able to attend two recent international gatherings. At Singapore’s StoryDrive Asia in November, it was represented by Assistant Education Secretary and NBDB vice chair Nepomuceno Malaluan and deputy executive director Anna Katarina Rodriguez. StoryDrive Asia is FB’s all-media platform, which focuses on current changes and trends in the content industries and seeks to explore new forms of collaboration and business models. It has been held in Frankfurt, Argentina, Singapore and China.

Last week, NBDB executive director Jerry G. Tizon, board secretary Ryan Esteban, senior project development officer Beng Gutierrez Reyes and I were in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for the first International Children’s Content Rights Fair (ICCRF). The region has been organizing its own fairs to make these events more accessible to Asean publishers and the creatives who find attendance at FB, the Bologna Children’s Illustration Fair, and the London Book Fair too expensive. In our part of the world, we have book fairs in Beijing, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Shanghai, Singapore and Vietnam.

The ICCRF, organized by its president Arthorn Techatada and Risuan Aramcharoen, is the newest kid on the block and hopes to distinguish itself with its focus on children’s content and its being a rights fair. Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content is dedicated to authors and illustrators and teachers for early literacy and showcases the latest children’s titles in Asia.

The choice of Chiang Mai for the ICCRF is deliberate and meant to be a lure for participants, it being in the mountainous area in northern Thailand—so there was none of Bangkok’s humidity, heat and traffic. But being an initial venture, the ICCRF went through birth pains: Attendance was poor, made more apparent because it was held in a lovely and big modern venue, a preferred site of large conventions.

There were interesting plenary sessions on artificial intelligence, how to best prepare to buy and sell rights, and getting to know the highly popular book characters of Plan for Kids and the creative minds behind them. The Business Match session that followed the panel on regional trends was especially fruitful for author and publisher Mary Ann Ordinario of ABC Educational Development Center, the lone Philippine publisher in attendance. (More soon on her unique experience that was especially fruitful.)

Two exhibits on children’s illustrations made attendance truly worthwhile—and how I wish our Philippine illustrators were there to appreciate the work of artists from different countries. One was the exhibit of the 2017 Bologna Illustrators Exhibition which showed cutting-edge trends worldwide. The only featured Asian illustrators were from Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

A simultaneous exhibit featured the award-winning and short-listed illustrations for the ICCRF’s Asean Illustration Contest for fiction and nonfiction children’s books and an award of excellence—in effect, three major awards. I teased Techatada about two Thai illustrators winning two out of three awards—Best in Nonfiction and the Illustrator Award of Excellence. He quickly named the independent and highly qualified judges. Of course, the Philippine delegation was ecstatic that the illustrations of Joffrey “Pepot” Atienza for “Malong: the Magic Cloth” by Mary Ann Ordinario won him the Asean Children’s Best Book Illustrator in Fiction. The honor was a pleasant surprise, and the generous cash award a true windfall. Atienza, who is based in Lucban, Quezon, made a Skype appearance at the awards ceremony.

According to Techatada, half of the 10-plus entries were from Thailand, so he hopes that with a wider call next year, more Asean countries would have submissions. All short-listed entries were on exhibit, and congratulations are in order for the Filipino illustrators who qualified: Czarina Calinawagan, Earl Danielle de Guzman, Vonn Leynes, Klarina Ulpindo and Van Cleef Emnacen.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.