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.

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