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When I was a recent college graduate and aspiring screenwriter in New York City, I found refuge in children’s books. I spent afternoons rummaging through the kids’ section of Barnes & Nobles, weekends reading to elementary school students, and finally published my own picture book, Jamie’s best friend.
During my short stint as a children’s author, I attended my first publishing conference with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). There was something refreshing and affirming about this quiet community of literary caregivers. And unlike typical networking behavior, it seemed like everyone there was genuinely connected through a common goal.
The experience made me think about why I write in the first place. Just like that author Gary D. Schmidt answered this question for me in his opening speech: “Show up for those who have no one else”.
It is true that my book was about a boy looking for imaginary friends, and I started to notice that all the other picture books on the shelf were written for a particular child. I found this to be even more true when I returned to Manila and discovered our diverse pantheon of local children’s books. There are many young Filipinos in need, but they are all different and require different forms of care and guidance.
As you return home on your vacation with your children, nephews, nieces, godchildren, or children at heart, let yourself be guided by the many gifts for children that the Philippine edition has to offer:
For the missing children at home
The first book by Filipino-American author Michelle Sterling When Lola visits is an ambient and nostalgic portrait of the summers of a young girl spent with her lola from the Philippines. Illustrator Aaron Asis realizes his sensory stories with calming textures against neutral backgrounds. Published by the American company HarperCollins, the book is aimed at Filipinos living all over the world. It’s a tactile treat for kids and a nostalgic trip for adults.
For children stuck at home
The then daily story of accompanying his mother to the market in May Tobias-Papa’s Araw Sa Palengke is exactly the kind of neglected hobby that we all aspire to now in the age of the pandemic. Rightly so, the protagonist of the book is initially lazy and reluctant to come out, and then finally, satisfied that he did. This 2010 National Children’s Book Award winner published by Adarna House plays almost like an animated film with the cartoonish style of Brooklyn illustrator Isabel Roxas. As an educational bonus, the book includes a table on the nutritional values of certain foods.
For pre-language children
Reni Roxas National Children’s Book Prize 2012 Winner Ay Naku! is a Filipino classic, using just 65 words to tell the simple story of a mischievous boy named Botbot. Roxas’ hard-hitting verbs and onomatopoeia combined with pen-drawn illustrations by illustrator Sergio Bumatay III evoke a lively and authentic setting that truly brings out the humor of childhood. And, for English speakers, the book even comes with a glossary, with a social context on the titular expression, “ay naku!”
For trilingual children
The Filipino Chinese experience is ubiquitous in the Philippines, but has not been the subject of much writing. Many books on this list contain bilingual texts, a common feature of Filipino children’s literature, but Patricia Celina Ngo, a three-time Palanca Prize winner That’s it, Pancit! has three languages: English, Filipino and Mandarin. Author Ngo highlights the distinct cultural nuances of Chinese Filipinos – like having two names and two birthdays – while illustrator Rebecca V. Yu projects them vividly and vibrantly. The book ends poetically with the hybrid story of the protagonist’s favorite dish, the pancit, and how proudly she, too, is both Chinese and Filipino.
For children with two houses
As mentioned earlier, camaraderie is at the heart of children’s literature. An excellent example is that of Jeanette Patindol Daddy’s house, mom’s house, which depicts the life of a child whose parents are separated. Illustrated by Mark Salvatus, the 2004 PBBY-Salanga and PBBY-Alcala Grand Prix winning book features stunning melancholy visuals symmetrically arranged on both pages. With more mature reflections on the motivations for the separation, Daddy’s house, mom’s house is here to remind readers that they are just as loved as any other child.
For children with two dads
In the same spirit, Dalawa and papa ni Billy (Billy Has Two Fathers) tells the story of a boy proud of being raised by two fathers. The revolutionary picture book by writer-illustrator duo Michael P. De Guzman and Daniel Palma Tayona is the perfect companion for children of gay parents. Although, like most picture books, the story starts out rather light-hearted and exposed, it necessarily walks over heavier topics, portraying a case of school bullying due to the sexuality of its parents. Ultimately, it’s a decidedly upbeat book that resonates not only with the “Billies” of the world, but also with their parents.
For pandemic learners
Yes, COVID-19 has officially established itself in the canon of children’s literature, and science writer Natasha Vizcarra Spikeys, quills and teeth marks its introduction into the genre of picture books. Naturally denser and more informative than everyone else on the list, this crash course in the basics of the novel coronavirus is balanced by the playful imagery of illustrator Jamie Bauza. A parable on personal hygiene, the book features a “COVID Toolkit for Parents”, complete with health tips and a bibliography to get you started.
Despite increased digitization and the dangers of the pandemic, local children’s edition is alive and well. The persistence of physical books and modern, progressive stories is a testament to the resilience of writers who write with purpose.
Personally, I have temporarily moved away from the genre and the publishing industry as a whole, but I haven’t lost my passion for children’s stories at all. Just writing about it in this article is my way of contributing to the continuing cause.
Show yourself for those who have no one else.
I hope that during this second pandemic holiday season, more children can enjoy the safety and comfort of their loved ones and friends. For those who need the affirmation of kind words and pictures, a simple picture book could make all the difference. – Rappler.com