Thursday, December 16, 2010

UP literature professor wins Rizal-themed 2011 PBBY-Salanga Prize!

The Philippine Board on Books for Young People awards the 2011 PBBY-Salanga Prize to Eugene Evasco, a professor of creative writing and children’s literature of the College of Arts and Letters in the University of the Philippines Diliman.
This year’s PBBY-Salanga Prize called for Rizal-inspired stories, in preparation for the national hero’s 150th birth anniversary. Evasco’s entry entitled “Rizaldy” is about a boy who was named after the holiday on which he was born: Rizal Day. Honorable mention goes to a story about Rizal’s childhood, “Pepe’s Gift” by Patricia Marie Grace Gomez of Bacolod City.
Evasco shall receive PhP 20,000.00, a gold medal, as well as the opportunity to be published. This is his second PBBY-Salanga Grand Prize, having won the award in 1997 for the story “Federico.”
For inquiries about the contest, contact the PBBY Secretariat at telephone number 352-6765 loc. 203 or e-mail pbby(at)
More details to be posted soon at our institutional website. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Must we buy books we want to read?

by Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:46:00 11/26/2010
Inquirer. net Filed Under: Education

“Life happened because I turned the pages.” —Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading (1996)

BAY AREA, San Francisco—If I cannot restrain myself from talking about public libraries in a developed country—the one (and only) principal reason I envy the life here—it is really to highlight how literacy and access to books ought to be a basic right that each and every citizen enjoys.

No, I do not have the illusion that American society is not confronted with a declining literacy rate and a fading interest in books. But its citizens are constantly reading more than we do. They read while waiting for the train or a concert, on train rides, even in the course of a morning walk—all of them keeping a book or even a Kindle on hand so that no time is ever wasted. I’d crane my neck, curious to know what they are reading. Most of them carry copies from their public library, as the library name was prominently stamped on the books. (Yes, many others are busy with their mobile phones.)

How could this habit have been acquired if these readers were not immersed in their early years in schools and an effective public library system? No wonder American comic strip characters make a big fuss about acquiring a library card. A library card is indeed a proud badge to own.

Marvin Atienza, a Chevron executive in Concord, recounts that in his school library in Cavite, he would salivate before the locked bookcase of the complete set of brown and gold gilded Encyclopedia Britannica volumes, something he could not yet be allowed to borrow because he was just in grade school.

Fortunately, today’s enlightened teachers know that when the inclination is there, prescribed learning dates should be thrown out the window. Seize the teaching moment as it comes few and far between.

Bless Marvin’s curiosity for not being doused. He went on to become the very first student in his grade school to become a scholar at the Philippine Science High School where he thrived in being constantly challenged. Today in the book paradise that is the US, he is a public library regular and takes pride in having a library card.

Fellow reading advocate RayVi Sunico continues to remind of this contradiction: we, a country whose economy has yet to boost the quality of life and purchasing power, are the very country that has to purchase books that we need. Little wonder that between the more basic needs and books, books are easily dismissed as luxuries.

RayVi’s tireless refrain on the paradox: “A good public library system means reading is not dependent on purchasing power. This is why I point out that the richer the country, the less money people have to spend on buying books.”

Let me not be perceived as merely raving and ranting about the absence and the dismal state of existing public libraries in the country. To date, no one has challenged my lamentations, but I continue to patiently wait, as only reactions in unison with my views have come in.

And there seems to be a glimmer of hope. I stumbled on what appears to be positive news from Mindanao: In 2009 the Davao City Public Library headed by Nora Fe Alajar had been selected by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as the most outstanding public library in the country. The library in downtown Davao promotes reading among the children in 14 villages through its mobile libraries. Other libraries in the short list were those in Dagupan, Angeles, Zamboanga, Bacolod and Talisay.

There is a blog anonymously run by “Mindanao Librarian, Region XII, Philippines.” I’m impressed that she does not bother to identify herself except to say, “I am passionate about public and school libraries being socially-inclusive learning spaces. I am also a staunch advocate of reader development, particularly for the traditionally marginalized Mindanaoans. I have great faith in the power of information to transform individuals and communities. I dream of the day when Mindanaoan children will be better able to navigate and compete in a world driven more and more by new information challenges.” Shouldn’t that be every librarian’s credo?

What’s even more heartwarming is that she actually enjoys reading—and lists Jessica Zafra’s “Twisted” series among her favorites—and keeps abreast with what’s current, what’s popular and what might appeal to reluctant readers. For how can a love of reading (a truly tired phrase today) be passed on if the librarian does not have it herself? The Mindanao Librarian needs to be lauded and publicly acknowledged.

National Book Week carries this incredibly ponderous theme, “Pandaigdigang Pakikipag-ugnayan sa Pamamagitan ng mga Aklat at Impormasyong Teknolohiya at Komunikasyon.” Could we not do as well with something catchy and memorable as these popular slogans, “Hooked on Books,” “Get Caught Reading,” or “Any Day, Any Time, Any Book,” in Filipino?

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz is a member of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, and a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation.

Friday, November 12, 2010

National Book Week: celebration or lamentation?

by Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
(This first appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 11/13/2010.)

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.—Jorge Luis Borges

BAY AREA, San Francisco ~ I can never forget the horrified reaction of a well-known writer of children’s books from a developed country that I had invited for an author visit to the international school I was previously associated with. In the course of a briefing I was giving her, I casually mentioned that the school library, which carried all her titles, had to be up to state-of-the-art standards and complete with the latest releases from abroad especially in the absence of public libraries in the country. She made me repeat the last part of my statement and then asked, “How do you survive?”

Barely, I found myself confessing to her. Come to think of it, how do we survive? With that new consciousness, I began to grow resentful about having to beg, borrow or steal, but mostly buy, every book I wanted to read.

That is why my favorite refuge during this extended visit to the Bay Area has been its public libraries. Not the shopping centers nor bargain stores—who needs them with a Greenhills bazaar and a 168 hagglers’ market back home? It was logical that I would opt for what is a rarity in Manila. Book havens where rows and rows of open shelves make every title available for easy browsing, where nooks and table tops are offered for every reading mood, where librarians smile, delight in their jobs, and take the extra step to answer every query.

In these buildings they proudly announce that all their programs are free for everyone, yet also that they have had to reduce their days and hours of operation because of budget cuts. But what mattered most were there, books to satiate you.

The Burlingame Public Library on the San Francisco Peninsula is more than a hundred years old and is proud of its history. It had an interesting display of the pioneering librarian’s record-keeping system and stationery supplies, even the yellowing architectural drawings of the impressive Italian-styled building, showing a respect for antiquity and librarianship. It recycled its card catalogue by installing the card drawers against a concrete wall and inscribing on them the names of benefactors.

It has a busy calendar of activities—toddler storytelling time every Friday morning, a themed display on books which had been banned—with the usual suspects, Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird—marking its 50th year in July (a potent tool for attracting the reluctant, of course), even a reading-to-dogs program by children. The place is busy for both adults and children. The most striking thing is that all leave the library looking so content and happy with their latest bag of reads.

And whether the grownups were just reading the papers, working on their netbooks, or doing serious research, they were all so engaged that when my mobile rang and I made the grievous mistake of answering it, what demeaning hushes and icy stares I got.

I do feel deprived that no public library in the country has made a difference in my life, again stressing the fact that the world of books is not within everyone’s reach. If we go by official statistics, there are thousands of public libraries—I fervently hope they are touching the lives of readers, as I only know of the more progressive ones in Quezon City and Davao City. And I would be so happy to be proven wrong in my thinking, in my information, in what I am gladly willing to concede as irresponsible and rash observations. Let them be deemed false and misleading, please.

I have to admit that there are libraries in Metro Manila which have been so hospitable to research and learning—the Lopez Memorial Museum and Library in Pasig with the peerless Mercy Servida; the Rizal Library on the Ateneo campus in Loyola; and the Filipiniana section of the National Library. But where to go when one wants to read for the sheer delight of it? Sadly in Manila, it has been the bookstores where one has to make a purchase.

My experience with our other public libraries shows the pathetic lack of books save for discards from the United States on totally irrelevant topics and multiple copies of the life and speeches of Filipino politicians—nothing that would stir minds and imagination, much less foster an interest in books. A great test is, would you take these books to bed with you?

It is a good time as any for public libraries to herald what they are doing at this time as we yet again celebrate National Book Week in the third week of November. Mandated by President Manuel L. Quezon’s Proclamation 109 in 1936, it is lamentable that it is still far from a revered or anticipated tradition.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz is a member of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, and a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The 1st NCBA at the Rizal Library International Conference

PBBY was fortunate to be given a fifteen-minute presentation on the 1st National Children's Book Awards (NCBA)-Best Reads of 2010 at the 4th Rizal Library International Conference last 21 October 2010 in Ateneo de Manila. The topic of the conference was digital and virtual library services. But books remain viable, if not important, formats of information. There were four hundred participants, local and foreign librarians, who now have an awareness of the 1st NCBA. It was an opportunity to fully introduce the Best Reads to them as professionals who provide access to books and other formats of information.

A space was allotted for a poster session on the NCBA-Best Reads of 2010 at the lobby near the entrance hall of the conference venue. Participants were able to read the citations on the winning books. On display were sample books and a trophy borrowed from the Adarna House. Thanks to Dir. Lou David of the Rizal Library, Ms. Waldet Cueto, Conference Chair and Ms. Susan Pador for their support in this initiative of the PBBY and NBDB.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Teen Read Week listmania 2

Here are three more lists from our board members!

From Ani Rosa Almario, Secretary-General, PBBY

To Kill a Mockingbird (medyo na fixate ako dito nung grade 6 for some reason ...)
Everything by Jane Austen
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Mythology Class, Wasted and all those indie comics na xinexerox
Nancy Drew, Kay Tracey, Beverly Gray and all those female sleuths
Fairytales from around the world (Tatay had all these volumes--one volume, one country. From Portugal, France, Bolivia (yes, Bolivia), from everywhere!)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (read while eating pastillas and ube)
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Laud Montgomery (Nanay's copy, from her own teen years )
Heidi by Johann Spyri
Sweet Valley High series
Asterix series
Lat (Malaysian comic book series)

Thanks for making me do this list, Zarah. I now realize I also read a lot of pictures


 From Neni Sta Romana-Cruz, sectoral rep for reviewers

1. Heidi by Johann Spyri (child's version and "real" book, eventually gave me nightmares about being orphaned)
2. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
4. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
5. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott
6. Book of Greek myths (esp fascinated by the Cyclops and Ulysees and Daedalus, stories first told to me by my mother)
7.  Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (the idea of dying at the precise moment you are fated to, possessed me)
8.  Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
9.  Judy Bolton series by Margaret Sutton
10. Trixie Belden series by Julie Campbell Tatham
11. Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon (in reality, also Carolyn Keene)
12. Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott
13. My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe (memorized the lyrics)
14. Penrod by Booth Tarkington
15. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
16. Father Brown stories by GK Chesterton
17. Phyllis Mcginley's Christmas Poems collection that Doreen gave me
 18. An old book (a PECO publication?) my mother owned with (clumsy) colored illustrations but rich with Philippine folk tales, riddles, proverbs, etc--a book i still hope to find in our family archives
19. My first book given to me on my birthday by a male cousin, Millard Teopaco--a circus pop-up book with intricate fold-out pages--another book I have to find.

These books were "forcefed" me by my mom and my Lucero cousins: Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, Bee and Patsy Monzon, Sylvia Mayuga...Decades after, I have them to thank for my love of the written word.


From Dina Ocampo-Cristobal, sectoral rep for researchers

Heidi by Johann Spyri 
The Diary of Anne Frank
Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
1898 by Ceres Alabado
Book of Greek myths (esp fascinated by the Cyclops and Ulysees and Daedalus, stories first told to me by my mother)

Mom had these books on teens ala self help and I read them all
Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
Hardy Boys series (from the companion library)
Gulliver’s Travels by J Swift
Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
The Swiss Family Robinson or something like that (Johann Rudolf Wyss)
Call of the Wild by Jack London
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Little Lame Prince by Miss Mullock (Dinah Maria Mullock)
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Charles L Dodgson)
Aesop’s Fables, Grimms’ and Hans Christian Andersen fairytales

From school
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Jose Garcia Villa’s poems
Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, stolen from mom
Mills and Boon also stolen from mom
This lovely book of religions and beliefs with lots and lots of pictures

Madami pa!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Teen Read Week listmania, 1

Last week, PBBY chair and librarians' sectoral rep Zarah sent this e-mail to the PBBY:

"I'm starting a blog carnival for Teen Read Week. I've invited friends and advocates of books and reading to list their top ten reads when they were teenagers. It's for my library blog and this will commence on the 17th being the start of Teen Read Week. It will end on the 23rd :-)"

Here are two lists from the PBBY, with Zarah's coming first.

Zarah Gagatiga's List (with annotations)

Books I Read as a Teenager

1. S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders — discovered this one from a schoolmate. I loved the theme on isolation and belonging that I asked my mom to check her library for books written by the author. She was successful! She borrowed That Was Then, This Is Now, Rumble Fish and Tex.

2. Richard Peck's Close Enough To Touch — a love story about a guy coping with his girlfriend's death. Like S.E. Hinton, I searched for books by Richard Peck and enjoyed The Unfinished Portrait of Jessica and one book he wrote that deals with teen suicide. Geez, I forgot the title. Just recently, I finished Peck's Here Lies the Librarian. Fabulous!

3.Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time — my first foray into sci-fi! After L'Engle, I read Bradbury and Asimov.

4. Judy Blume's Tiger Eyes — another crisis-coping themed book. Sigh. Now you have an idea how morose I was as a teen!

5. Katherin Patterson's Jacob Have I Loved — I liked this better than Bridge to Terabithia. What attracted me to the book was its cover. A girl holding a seashell. How sentimental! But the book blew my mind as I read the journey of the characters to self discovery. In the end, they grew up fine. At that point in my young adult life, I was so anxious of the future. The book gave me hope.

6. Harlequin and Mills and Boon Romances — yes. I read them.

7. Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High — a reader's rite of passage.

8. Erich Segal's Love Story — again, I read this novel because my classmates in high school were talking about it. So I borrowed the book from a classmate who found the copy in her aunt's old book shelf. We girls were so in love with Oliver. And by the end of the school year, we felt so confident like Jennifer, we could take on college smack in the face! Loved Segal's writing too!

9. Some required reading in college freshman that I will always remember — Paz Marquez-Benitez's “Dead Stars;” Lord of the Flies by William Golding; Oedipus Rex; Villa's “Footnote to Youth;” poems by Emily Dickinson; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

10. Laro sa Baga as serialized in Liwayway magazine.

RayVi Sunico’s list (He did not follow directions ;) )

Sorry, 10 too few :( And i've added to the original list.

Was a Marvel Comics fan too— my letter was published in Submariner # 5 and I got a free signed X-Men comic from Stan Lee.

I might add that many of my favorite grade school books were library books. Have marked all library books with asterisks, although I've since bought copies of some of them.

Grade 7
The Oz series (Baum and then Thompson)* (favorites Rinkitink in Oz, The Emerald City of Oz)
The Hardy Boys series*
Tom Swift series*
Villa's Poems 55
The Spicebox of the Earth by Leonard Cohen (poetry)

High School
Drawing the Head and Hands by Andrew Loomis*
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Little Prince by Antoine de St Exupery
The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien
The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien
A Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
Personae (poems) by Ezra Pound*
Dune Trilogy by Frank Herbert
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
Turning On by Rasa Gustaitis
The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis
Journey to the East by Herman Hesse
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

Friday, October 1, 2010

More about the National Children's Book Awards

NCBA: A ‘non-contest’ like no other 

By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:50:00 04/16/2010

Filed Under: Education, Schools

APRIL 15 THIS YEAR MARKED THE DEADLINE for the submission of all entries to the first National Children’s Book Awards Best Reads for 2010, a collaboration between the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) and the National Book Development Board (NBDB). It is an exciting and promising initiative because it brings into public focus important tenets of reading promotion—the marketing of books; the idea of a book as a product of a collaboration of creative minds; the manifold joys of the art and science of reading that our children and young adults need to discover again and again—cherished beliefs that PBBY through its 26 years of advocacy has always stood for.
NCBA is different from your usual “competitions”—let’s use the word for lack of a better word—because it will not name a ranked list of winners. Instead, an independent board of judges, not one of whom comes from the PBBY’s 15 members, will select noteworthy titles from the previous calendar year’s releases. This being the initial year, books carrying the 2008 and 2009 publication dates qualify. Although the idea is for the judges to recommend 10 titles for inclusion in the final “Best Reads List,” the judges are not compelled to come up with that number if there are not enough books which merit commendation.
NCBA is deliberately staying away from a tiered list in the spirit of science fantasy novelist Ursula K. Le Guin’s thoughtful 2009 essay “On Literary Bests,” where she discusses her dilemma of being invited as a judge to select the three top American fiction of the last 60 years. She confesses that in conscience, she could not do the job which she thought unfair to the many other works not chosen. There are many others beyond the top three, personal choices are subjective, standards for evaluating vary, and who gains with that selection which excludes more than it includes? Le Guin, a cultural anthropologist who weaves this background in her novels like “A Wizard of Earthsea,” is the first to admit that just as there are many outstanding works, there are as many mediocre ones.
She asks: Who benefits from the convenient top three selections? Most certainly, not the cause of literature, but rather booksellers with an instant product to sell, and teachers and educators who do not have to make their own selections and who love the convenience of a ready-made list. (And who doesn’t?) “They needn’t pay attention to the books that didn’t win the prize. They needn’t exercise their own critical faculties, they don’t have to think, they can just order the prize book and believe they’ve read all there is to read.”
Le Guin concedes that competitions can be a spur for the beginning writer, just as she herself felt empowered with her initial literary recognition through such awards. However, she reminds us all of the artists that all writers are, they who write not for contests but for the craft itself: “… our tendency to consider art as a competition is a mistake …. People work extremely hard at something they have a gift for because the work is intensely, immediately and reliably rewarding. External rewards are nice but really not much compared to the satisfaction of making something beautiful, knowing you’re doing work as good as you can do.”
In an interview, Le Guin speaks of the sacredness of the very act, “Writing is my craft. I honor it deeply. To have a craft, to be able to work at it, is to be honored by it.” How then can books be regarded as any other commodity, any other consumer item?
NCBA titles will be judged and credited as a product of a team made up of the author and/or illustrator, publisher and the printer. This is to give credit where credit is due and to emphasize the steps in book production.
The NCBA choices will be publicly honored and commended through a short annotation to be written by the judges and will be directed toward children, parents, librarians and educators—the clientele of the books.
What does the NCBA hope to achieve with this honors list of books? By giving prominence and drawing attention to noteworthy books in print and non-print media, it endeavors to engage the reading public in an appreciation of the book as a finished product and the significant and critical role trade books, as opposed to textbooks, ought to play in the lives of young learners and young readers.
It is ultimately hoped that this Best Reads List, growing each year, will be used as a guide for book donations and must-buys for classrooms and school libraries.
What a boost that will be for the children’s books industry—but first, the entries must be submitted before April 15 and the 2010 choices made in time for the July announcement.
Do check out the websites of PBBY and NBDB for the complete set of rules and nomination forms.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz is the sectoral representative for book reviewers of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, and a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Literacy on our Minds by Neni Sta. Romana Cruz

July is a special month devoted to children and books and reading.  Or haven’t you noticed?

For the past 27 years, the Philippine Board on Books for Young People has endeavored to institutionalize the celebration of National Children’s Book Day on the third Tuesday in July by spearheading the annual event—in happy remembrance of the publication of Jose Rizal’s retelling of “The Tortoise and the Monkey”, considered the beginning of Philippine children’s literature, in a British publication, Trubner’s Oriental Record dated July 1889.  (It is a reverential experience to hold the original copy  of Issue No. 247 at the British Library or a copy of it at the Lopez Museum.)

Festivities were held at Museo Pambata with the theme,  Ang Nagbabasa ng Libro, Laging Panalo!  in keeping with the mood of the May  elections.  The poster, always a collector’s item, was executed this year by Ariel Santillan and distributed to public schools.  Of special interest was the  PBBY-Salanga Prize because for the first time, it invited entries in poetry to develop this genre for Filipino children.  If the beat and rhythm of poetry is said to be closest to children’s speech, it should hold a natural charm for them.  The winning collection was  “Green Leaf and Other Poems”  by Raymund G. Falgui, an English teacher at UP’s College of Arts and Letters.  The poems drawn from Falgui’s childhood invite the readers to recall their own experiences.  They document a child’s many moods from overhearing parents bickering or responding to the joy of falling rain.

Soon to be released in book form, it will be accompanied by the PBBY-Alcala Prize illustrations of Aldy Aguirre, freelance illustrator, visual artist and member of the Ilustrador ng Kabataan (InK) .  His art work is simple, delightful, whimsical.

PBBY chair Zarah Gagatiga performed one of the poems as a rap, while London-based writer and former Mr & Ms staffer Candy Gourlay in town for the launch of her debut novel was a powerful speaker.  A sentimental touch was the retrospective exhibit of the works of the late Albert Gamos, a legendary figure in Philippine illustrations, fondly remembered for being there when it all began—when National Artist Virgilio Almario established the Children’s Communications Center, the forerunner of today’s successful Adarna House.

Adarna House declared the month National Children’s Book Month for the children’s book publishing industry. It can do so with authority not only as the pioneering and largest publishing house of children’s titles, but because it scheduled two special Saturdays. July 10 was Illustrators’ Saturday at Powerbooks Megamall where three workshops geared for children ages 4 to 13 were facilitated by well-known illustrators Ruben de Jesus, Herbert Fucio, and Mark Salvatus.  This experience allowed the children to see that the bylines on books belong to people who are very much like them. The best deal of all was that the registration fee entailed buying any two Adarna books which they could have autographed. 

The second Saturday special was billed as Storytelling Saturday, a festival of authors and illustrators at Fully Booked SM North. The daylong storytelling had free admission and featured well known names in children’s literature, names we hope will become celebrities and role models for the young:   Rhandee Garlitos, Ferdinand Guevara, Becky Bravo, Jason Moss, Nanoy Rafael, and Marcus Nada.

And be impressed—Adarna has calendared ten book fairs in different venues in Metro Manila with Cavite as the farthest for the month, going beyond schools, coinciding these with professional gatherings.  That  should say much about novel ways of marketing books.  Take them where the crowds are.

A major highlight for the week was the launch of Cacho Publishing House’s  Philippine edition of Candy Gourlay’s Tall Story, a much awaited book that promises to be a good read.  It comes to the country heralded because it has been released in the UK by David Fickling Books, a small publishing house known for its very discriminating choice of book titles. Among its authors are  Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dig in the Night-Time) and Philip Pullman (Once Upon a Time in the North). It takes pride in being picky and only publishing books that “work”, sometimes only one title a month.  Tall Story was recently selected by the Sunday Times of London as one of the 100 Best Summer Reads.  It could not not have a Philippine edition with illustrations by Yasmin S. Ong —not only to make it affordable for our young readers but because the hero, Bernardo, all of eight feet, comes from the Philippines.  After the very successful New York-based illustrator Jose Aruego whose books are for younger children (and hardly seen locally),
it is a major coup to have a Candy Gourlay with a debut novel sold worldwide but with a Philippine edition.

It had been a heady week, a heady month—but yet another coup: the announcement of the first National Children’s Book Awards, a PBBY-National Book Development Board partnership at the Mandarin Hotel.  Breathlessly awaited was the Best Reads for children, selected from 2008 and 2009 titles.

May events like these be part of our national consciousness and thrive 24/7, rather than just for a month.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz is a member of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, and a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation. 

All rights reserved. Neni Sta. Romana Cruz © 2010.

Books dancing between words and design by Neni Sta. Romana Cruz

A market day tale, a science book on possible life on Mars, a story of a boy who puts off taking a bath, a biography of a dedicated doctor, a counting book that starts backwards from ten, Saturday as a special father-son day.  These six children’s books have been recently selected as the Best Reads for 2010 from 131 titles published in 2008 and 2009. 

A major highlight of the National Children’s Book Day festivities last month, a yearly initiative of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, was the first-ever National Children’s Book Awards (NCBA).  A dream come true for lovers of children’s literature in the country, this was born from a working relationship between the National Book Development Board and the PBBY who both felt that the genre would be best served and promoted not by another contest with tiered winners, but by a recommended reading list from a panel of respected professionals who themselves are avid readers and know what qualities engage readers to read on.

The judges were Dr. Lina Diaz de Rivera, a former reading professor from the University of the Philippines; Karen Ocampo Flores, visual artist, curator, writer, and recipient of the Thirteen Artists Award from the CCP; Ana Maria Rodriguez, a former elementary school teacher at International School Manila; Maria Elena Locsin, an author and teacher of language arts with a master’s degree in education from Harvard University Graduate School of Education; and Tarie Sabido, a blogger of children’s and young adult books presently pursuing an MA in English Studies at UP.  All of them non-PBBY members, as the organization being a multisectoral board of individuals passionately engaged in pushing the publication, reading and appreciation of books, would naturally have personal and professional interests in the selection.  And more than anything else, PBBY wanted the endeavor to be conducted in an atmosphere of unassailable integrity and transparency.  Thus, the choice of judges who maintained confidentiality of their deliberation so that they did the impossible—absolutely no leaks, not to the “winners” (for lack of a better word), not even to the PBBY members themselves.  
What is distinct about this undertaking?  The selection involves no winners, no ranking, no categories by age or genre—only that the book reflects the “good teamwork that shepherds a germ of an idea into a text into a dance between word and design into wingéd book.” The elegant and soaring words are those of PBBY member, publisher and poet RayVi Sunico who fathered the launching of this initiative—an undertaking we hope will endure not only to elevate literary standards, but to promote reading and book consciousness.

 At the awards ceremony at the Mandarin Hotel organized by Andrea Pasion Flores, NBDB executive director , the judges honored the books by reading out what they found engaging and outstanding about the titles.

On the most obvious and practical level, Best Reads answers the continuing query from parents and teachers about recommended reading lists.  Just as the American Library Association’s Caldecott and Newbery Medals on books turn these titles into instant bestsellers, library acquisitions and classroom required reading, it is hoped that the Best Read gold stickers on these books earn them the special attention they deserve.  Not just to make affordable (all below P100!) high quality reading material available to our students. At the annual September book fair, they will be easily recognizable as a “bemedalled” set to be bought.

It is striking that although the only restriction for the judges was that they limit their choices to 10, only six books were deemed by them to be worth recommending, only six passed the test of being a successful collaboration between text and illustration, between author and artist. The judges looked at the book as a product of words, art, book design, printing and binding.  The book was to be seen as a total product, not isolated from words nor text. The paltry number of books considered to be of excellent quality is disturbing as it dramatizes the need to elevate the standards for the genre.  

Qualifying for this year’s Best Reads List are :  Araw sa Palengke (Adarna House) written by May Tobias-Papa and illustrated by Isabel Roxas; Tuwing Sabado (Lampara Books) written by Russell Molina and illustrated by Sergio Bumatay III; Can We Live on Mars? (Adarna House) written by Gidget Roceles-Jimenez and illustrated by Bru; Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub (Bookmark) written by Russell Molina and illustrated by Jomike Tejido; Tagu-Taguan (Tahanan Books) written and illustrated by Jomike Tejido; and Just Add Dirt (Adarna) written by Becky Bravo and illustrated by Jason Moss.  These are all for elementary school students, as no young adult fiction selection qualified.
Someone asked if it was a political choice that every publisher seemed to be represented on the Best Reads 2010 list.  That is untrue, because only four publishers are on the list, with Adarna having three cited titles and the other three from Lampara, Tahanan Books and Bookmark.  It is remarkable that Russell Molina and Jomike Tejido won multiple citations for different books they wrote, clearly showing that they are a cut above the throng.  

Let the dance begin for all children!

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz is a member of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, and a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation. 

All rights reserved.  Neni Sta. Romana Cruz©2010.