Asian Titles celebrating UN Sustainable Development Goals & Social Emotional Learning

Thanks to the AFCC (Asian Festival of Children’s Content) and the Singapore Book Council

Singapore Book Council / AFCC (Asian Festival of Children’s Content)

Book recommendations for children and young adults which support the understanding of the  UN 2030 Agenda — i.e., the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs)— set in 2015, with specific targets and indicators to be reached by 2030 are always appreciated, especially ones that are recent, not well known, and outside the dominant publishing orbit of the US and UK.

Such a booklist, with a focus on Asia as well as Social-Emotional Learning, was shared at the recent Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) event in Singapore, in a panel session entitled “Blueprint for Sustainable Reading Programmes,” with an open invitation to help build this resource with recommended titles.

When the Singapore Book Council asked Evelyn Sue Wong (Singapore children’s author) to start a new themed collection to add to the previous ones she’d compiled and selected with Dr. Myra Garces-Bacsal (of Gathering Books fame, now working in the UAE), she invited me and Denise Tan (proprietor of Closetful of Books, a children’s book specialty shop in Singapore) to help her. I was included because of my work on this GLLI blog in March 2021, when I enlisted a team of international school teacher-librarians to write posts featuring books for children and young adults related to the 17 UN SDGs, trying to avoid obvious US & UK titles and with books in translation as the ideal “global” text.

But the Singapore Book Council wanted books not just outside the US/UK sphere, but ones with an Asian connection — and they also wanted books linked to the five Social Emotional Learning (SEL) components — a field in which Myra has done a lot of work for the Ministry of Education here in Singapore. Her website Gathering Books has a special SEL bookshelf (mainly picture books) and we used her subthemes under each SEL component (Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Management, and Responsible Decision Making) as guidance when assigning SEL tags to each title.

Myra Garces-Bacsal’s SEL booklist

Unlike with the four previous AFCC collections, this time books suitable for a broader age range were included and the potential age of the audience for a title was noted, whether Early Years (age 6 and under), Younger (age 7-9), Older/Middle (age 10-12), and/or Mature/YA (age 13+).

An added criterion is that the books should be fairly recent (in terms of when translated/published in English) — and we used 2016 as the cut-off date.

Determining an Asian connection can be a bit tricky at times, but we considered book creators (their current location and birthplace), publishers’ location, setting of the story, issues raised in the text, etc.

The annual AFCC event is always a time when new regional books are launched and applauded — and we were pleased to include several of them in our new SDG/SEL booklist. Below are a few recent publications which haven’t been featured on the GLLI blog before.

12-minute animated bilingual video (Malay audio & English subtitles)

Note: “Tim’s Adventure” has an augmented reality feature, as well as teachers’ notes — go to the publisher’s webpage to learn more. Also note, “Tim’s Adventure” is one of the Singapore Red Dot Book Award shortlist titles for 2022-2023 in the Early Years category.

Another book featured at AFCC is also on this year’s Singapore Red Dot Book Award shortlists in the Older category.

The shortlists for this year’s Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award 2022 included two books that are also on the new SDG/SEL booklist.

Another Singapore book in the UN SDG 5: Gender Equality category is this new graphic novel offering about menstruation — a topic not often given enough attention.

This Singapore book was featured at the AFCC and is on the new SDG/SEL list under UN SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation.

Here is another recently published Singapore book — which falls under the UN SDG 13: Climate Action category.

Last but very much not least, here is the only book we listed under SDG 17: Partnership for the Goals.

UN 17: Partnership for the Goals as a theme isn’t that obvious in many children’s books, but Evelyn Wong‘s story about a little mynah bird who succeeds because he speaks multiple languages and can translate and help coordinate everyone’s efforts definitely fits the bill — and I love how it relates to the whole purpose behind the Global Literature in Libraries initiative.

One shouldn’t underestimate the power of a picture book. Here is a report from Barb Reid, the primary school librarian at UWCSEA East about Evelyn’s book and her recent visit to the school.

During UWCSEA East’s Multilingual week several of the Grade One teachers decided to use Evelyn Sue Wong’s books, Just a Little Mynah and Makan Mischief to support their unit of work called Bringing Stories to Life. 

Evelyn’s books were perfect as Little Mynah is a storyteller and he speaks four languages. Languages that most of our children recognise and many of them speak. The books are set in Singapore and the sights, sounds, foods and people are all recognisable to our students. 

After deep readings of the books children wrote their own stories and used aspects of the books in their annual performance for parents and then……. Evelyn visited the school. 

This visit sparked a whole new wave of creativity. Evelyn spoke to each class for 15 minutes. The children and the staff were delighted to share their knowledge of languages with Evelyn. Sometimes these were home languages, sometimes languages they were learning and sometimes languages that they had seen and heard in the community. They made connections in the stories around environmental issues, friendship and community. Evelyn showed them the wayang (Indonesian shadow puppets) that she uses to support her storytelling and puppets made from recycled materials. These 15 minutes with Evelyn tied together so much of the cross curricular learning that they had been doing all term. Children (and adults) went back to class invigorated and for the past week they have been sharing stories, written and recorded, and art work with me that they felt compelled to create after meeting Evelyn. There is a renewed enthusiasm to speak in home and learned languages.

Please explore the AFCC SDG/SEL list yourself.

If you want to order any of these books, contact Denise Tan at Closetful of Books and she can either supply you or advise you.

If you would like to recommend new titles to be added to the list over time, see the “Recommend Titles” link on the UN SDG booklist homepage.

I would like to give huge thanks to both my collaborators — Denise Tan and Evelyn Wong — for the many delightful hours of discussion we had in deciding which books to put on the inaugural SDG/SEL list. Thanks also to all the dedicated individuals at the Singapore Book Council who maintain the online resources and make the AFCC happen every year, whether online or in person. It is an incredibly valuable event that promotes Singaporean and regional literature for children of all ages.

Katie Day is an international school teacher-librarian. An American with a masters in children’s literature from the UK and a masters in library science from Australia, she has lived in Asia since 1997, including 12 years in Singapore, first at United World College of Southeast Asia and now at Tanglin Trust School.  She has also lived and worked in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the UK. Online​ ​she​ ​uses​ ​“The​ ​Librarian​ ​Edge”​ ​as​ ​her​ ​blog​ ​and​ ​Twitter​ ​handle (@librarianedge).

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