Teaching kids about Asia

9780980607017The Red Piano has been identified on the Asia Education Foundation‘s website as a key text (alongside Mao’s Last Dancer) to be used in schools when studying China’s Cultural Revolution.

The AEF ‘advocates for and supports Asia literacy in Australian schools.’ It received a filip from the resolve, expressed at the April 2008 Australia 2020 Summit (remember that?), that we should encourage the teaching of Asian languages and culture in our schools to enable the country to better engage with the region. A month after the summit, at an AEF forum in Adelaide, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard went on to say:

It is impossible to conceive of a future Australian education system that does not take the study of Asia seriously.

Seoul book fair

Avid readers at the Seoul Book Fair

The study of Asia is now being slowly embedded in our national schools curriculum, which is a prudent move, in my opinion, for many reasons. Asia (along with the Pacific) is our patch and our future lies there. You only have to observe how quickly Australia has emerged from the global recession, thanks in no small part of our Asian trading relationships, to realise this is true. Given that, we need to equip future generations with the languages and understanding they’ll need to engage.

I’ve been publishing books from and about Asia since the early 1990s. When I was a co-owner of Hyland House, we had a publishing relationship with the Monash Asia Institute that saw us publish works from Indonesia, China and Vietnam, including Ratih Hardjono’s White Tribe of Asia, Ding Xiaoqi’s Maidenhome and Pham Thi Hoai’s The Crystal Messenger (the last two of which won the Victorian Premier’s Award for literary translation).

KL Book fair

An estimated 2 million visitors attended this year's Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair in April.

Now, at Wilkins Farago, I’ve published works from or about Korea (Waiting for Mummy), Malaysia (Kampung Boy) and China (The Red Piano, albeit via France). I’d love to publish more.

Japan and Korea are first-world book markets with some amazing illustrators and innovative publishers. While the book markets of China and south-east Asia are still developing (there’s a huge focus on professional development, technical, educational and literacy materials ahead of literature), there are still gems to be found there, as there are in India. I’ve been extremely fortunate to go to the Kuala Lumpur, Seoul and New Delhi book fairs in recent years and whenever I go I’m overwhelmed by the sheer volumes of people who go to these fairs. It bodes well for the future.

Hopefully, in time, we’ll get as excited by books from Asia as we do books from the UK and US, and the names of Asian writers will trip off the tongue just as easily as those of Dan Brown, Patricia Cornwell and Stephenie Meyer.