‘Sa Ak­lat, May Laya’

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - OPINION - NENI STA. RO­MANA CRUZ

What’s there not to cel­e­brate on the 35th Na­tional Chil­dren’s Book Day (NCBD) on July 17, the third Tues­day of the month? It is an amaz­ing feat how a group of in­di­vid­u­als fired with the mis­sion of bring­ing books and Filipino chil­dren to­gether has man­aged to es­tab­lish this tra­di­tion on the move­able day that cel­e­brates Jose Rizal’s pub­li­ca­tion in July 1889 of “The Tor­toise and the Mon­key.” The story was pub­lished in Trub­ner’s Ori­en­tal Record, a Lon­don-based jour­nal devoted to Eastern lit­er­a­ture.

How fit­ting that the morn­ing’s cer­e­monies to award the PBBY-Salanga to Becky Bravo for “May Alaga Akong Baku­law” and the PBBY-Al­cala to Arade Louise P. Vil­lena is in the CCP, where PBBY first be­gan hold­ing its meet­ings in its board­room. Harold Mon­zon will also be rec­og­nized as the win­ner of the new cat­e­gory, the Word­less Book Prize, for his “Pagkat­a­pos ng Unos.” Harold Mon­zon (yes, two awards for him) and An­gel­ica Shel­ley Tam are PBBY-Al­cala Hon­or­able Men­tion win­ners.

A high­light is cer­tainly the 5th Na­tional Chil­dren’s Book Awards, a con­tin­u­ing bi­en­nial col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the PBBY and the NBDB for out­stand­ing books pub­lished in the pre­vi­ous two years. In 2016, there were 123 en­tries from 11 pub­lish­ers; this year, 181 ti­tles from 14 pub­lish­ers. This is not your reg­u­lar com­pe­ti­tion with a rank­ing of win­ners, but rather a recog­ni­tion of out­stand­ing books pub­lished that demon­strate ex­cep­tional qual­ity in ev­ery as­pect of book pro­duc­tion. Over the years, the NCBA has grown a list of Best Reads of 24+ rec­om­mended ti­tles—a wel­come an­swer to a com­mon re­quest for read­ing lists from par­ents, teach­ers and in­ter­ested read­ers.

An­other happy de­vel­op­ment is that the NCBD moves to UP Visayas and Cine­math- eque Iloilo on July 21 for work­shops on chil­dren’s book il­lus­tra­tion and de­sign, and choos­ing and us­ing chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture for the class­room.

A charm­ing poster that adds color to class­rooms car­ries the theme, “Sa Ak­lat, May Laya” il­lus­trated by Abi Goy and de­signed by Fran Al­varez, re­spec­tively. It car­ries im­ages of chil­dren fly­ing off into unimag­in­able worlds, pro­pelled by books—a pow­er­ful im­age that says it all, mak­ing words su­per­flu­ous. Dis­trib­uted free of charge by PBBY, NBDB, CCP and Museo Pam­bata, these yearly posters have be­come col­lectibles.

And how can one talk of au­thors and awards with­out men­tion­ing that, for the first time in the 96 award­ing years of the Amer­i­can Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion’s John New­bery Medal for the au­thor of “the most dis­tin­guished con­tri­bu­tion to Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture for chil­dren,” a Filipino-Amer­i­can au­thor, Erin En­trada Kelly, won it in Fe­bru­ary this year for her novel, “Hello Uni­verse”?

Her book is an easy and en­ter­tain­ing read about six char­ac­ters in­ter­act­ing in the span of a day. Kelly is hailed for in­cor­po­rat­ing Filipino folk­lore in her sto­ries. A cu­ri­ous de­tail is that her char­ac­ters speak Ce­buano—which she her­self does not speak—rather than Ta­ga­log or Filipino, the lan­guage most as­so­ci­ated with the coun­try. It’s a way to high­light the Philip­pines’ rich cul­ture, said Kelly. (Kirkus Re­view has lauded the book for the cul­tural di­ver­sity it con­trib­utes to chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture.)

Ac­knowl­edg­ing the in­flu­ence of her mother who lives in Cebu, Kelly said in a CNN in­ter­view with Don Jau­cian, “I draw from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, a de­sire to in­tro­duce Filipino cul­ture to wider au­di­ences, and a be­lief that more Filipino-Amer­i­can chil­dren—and those from other im­mi­grant cul­tures—need to see them­selves in books. When I grew up, I was the only Filipino in my neigh­bor­hood. I was the only per­son I knew with an im­mi­grant par­ent. I didn’t have the eth­nic pride that I have now.”

At work on her first fan­tasy in­spired by Filipino folk­lore, Kelly finds it such a rich source on many lay­ers, charmed most by its “dark­ness and hu­mor.”

This year’s PBBY, chaired by Tarie Sabido, is com­posed of Ani Rosa Al­mario, sec­re­tary­gen­eral; and mul­ti­sec­toral rep­re­sen­ta­tives Emily Abr­era (mass me­dia), Rey Bufi (sto­ry­tellers), Zarah Ga­gatiga (li­brar­i­ans), Luis Gat­mai­tan (writ­ers), Totet de Je­sus (il­lus­tra­tors), Dina Ocampo (re­searchers), Frances Ong (pub­lish­ers), Me­lai Ramirez (NLP), Paula Reyes (book­sell­ers), Tarie Sabido (book re­view­ers), Twin­kle Caro Si­cat (read­ing ad­vo­cacy-RAP), Beverly Siy (CCP), RayVi Su­nico (ed­u­ca­tors), Vic­tor Vil­lanueva (ed­u­ca­tors), and Nina Lim-Yu­son (Museo Pam­bata).

Much awaits your dis­cov­ery of con­tem­po­rary Philip­pine chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture. Jump into a chil­dren’s book to­day.

———— Neni Sta. Ro­mana Cruz (nenis­r­cruz@gmail.com) is chair of the Na­tional Book De­vel­op­ment Board and a mem­ber of the Eg­gie Apos­tol Foun­da­tion.

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