Investing in Creators to Promote Children’s Literature in Mongolia
November 1, 2023
Every caregiver and educator knows the excitement that a new book can stimulate in a young reader. Whether it’s the story, the art, the rhythm, or the rhyme, good books draw on a range of elements to engage their readers. But while we understand how powerful a book can be and salute the talent of the author or the illustrator, sometimes we don’t fully appreciate the thought, planning, and hard work that go into producing high-quality children’s literature. The ecosystem that creates these books includes not just artists and authors, but also art directors and editors, creative communities that offer mutual support and the exchange of ideas, and publishing companies that share the risk with creators and invest in their visions to bring them to market.
In many places, especially those with a mother tongue spoken by only a small population, this ecosystem has not yet developed. In Mongolia, for example, with a population of just over 3.5 million, the small market makes it difficult for even the best publishing companies to invest in the creative ecosystem of children’s literature, even when literacy levels are very high. But mother-tongue content is important, and children everywhere need stories that relate to their experience.
The Asia Foundation’s Let’s Read program offers a free digital library and an online application that are expanding access to original books in mother tongues while opening new opportunities for creators in Asia to share their work with readers. In Mongolia, in addition to developing the Let’s Read library of Mongolian-language books, the Asia Foundation also recently offered a three-month fellowship for experienced and emerging creators of children’s books. The initiative was generously supported by the Lorinet Foundation, a key partner for promoting reading in Mongolia.
The fellowship was an investment in Mongolian authors and in the broader community of creative professionals producing children’s books in Mongolia. It offered skills development, encouraged the exchange of ideas among authors, artists, and publishers, and successfully workshopped and developed several original books.
The three-month program included lectures, virtual and in-person workshops, team building, peer review, and more. Experienced book creators and experts from Mongolia and abroad, including award-winning illustrators and authors Grace Lin, Marianne Dubuc, and Chris Haughton, gave virtual lectures on their own approaches to writing and illustrating children’s books, offered advice on growing as a creator, and recommended practices and exercises to help participants improve their work. Children’s author Katrina Goldsaito (The Sound of Silence) visited the fellows in Mongolia and led a writers’ retreat for the emerging authors to help them develop the core elements of a unique story that only they could tell. The fellowship concluded with a visit from veteran publisher Claudia Bedrick of Enchanted Lion Books. Bedrick conducted a formal portfolio review with each fellow, critiquing drafts they wrote during their fellowship and offering advice on the direction of their work.
The stories and art that emerged in the course of the fellowship were quite diverse in their themes, characters, and literary style, including books on coping with the loss of a beloved pet, preparing to enter kindergarten, the importance of childhood curiosity, and nostalgia about times spent with a grandparent. Each book is unique, but all of them bear the distinctive stamp of their Mongolian creators, who drew on their own lives to craft their stories and images.
The first books to emerge from the fellowship have already begun to be published, and the community of creators behind them has continued to be strong and productive. We eagerly await their next chapter.
Click here to view a short video documentary about the Let’s Read children’s book fellowship in Mongolia.
Mark Koenig is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Mongolia, Khaliun Ganzorig is the acting senior project officer for Let’s Read Mongolia, and Undraa Nergui is a Let’s Read consultant. They can be reached at [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.
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