Tuesday, September 28, 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 wing├ęd 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.

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