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Much to celebrate on 3rd Tuesday of July

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The Learning curve

Much to celebrate on 3rd Tuesday of July

What’s the big fuss about the moveable feast that is the third Tuesday of July? It commemorates the anniversary of the publication of Jose Rizal’s “The Monkey and the Turtle” in 1885 in Trubner’s Oriental Record in London, a magazine devoted to literature from the East. The editor had asked Rizal to contribute two fables. That is recognized to be the beginning of Philippine children’s literature.

So on Tuesday, July 18, the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) leads, as it annually does, the celebration of the 34th National Children’s Book Day with the theme “Laging Bago ang Mundo ng Libro” and marked by a special program at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The highlight of the event is the awarding of the PBBY-Salanga and PBBY-Alcala Prizes—yearly competitions that lead to the discovery of promising new talents in writing and in illustration.

Genaro Gojo Cruz, a published author and professor, is this year’s PBBY-Salanga Prize winner for “Dalawa Kami ni Lola.” His is not an unfamiliar name in children’s literature, nor to the PBBY, as he also won last year’s grand prize. Another story of his was ranked honorable mention. The PBBY-Alcala Prize winner is Sophia Lorraine Demanawa, an information design student from Ateneo de Manila who is also into making comics, gig posters and poetry writing. Other honorable mention awardees are: Imelda Estrella, Arade Louise Villena, Mary Grace Theresa Dulawan, Christian Oliver Cruz, and Irene Rose Buenaventura.

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The program is especially significant because the PBBY will pay tribute to one of its pioneer members who served many long years as board member, the late Gloria F. Rodriguez of New Day Publishers and Giraffe Books. What fond memories we have of our years of association with Gloria and the chance to get to know her husband Ralph of the contagious loud laughter and good humor, a former president of Trinity College.

And what a serious oversight I made in my May 20 column to honor Gloria Rodriguez. Marra PL. Lanot, my colleague in Women Writers in Media Now, has reminded me that it was Gloria and New Day that dared publish our works in two anthologies, Filipina 1 and Filipina 2 (edited by Marra, Mila A. Garcia and Lilia Quindoza Santiago) in 1984 and 1985, respectively—at a time when no one was interested to publish us. Special thanks to Gloria: For many of us, it was our entry into the world of print.

A gathering of lovers of children’s literature is expected to be even more celebratory with the presence of Brooklyn-based illustrator Isabel “Pepper” Roxas, who will deliver a keynote. A Pratt Institute graduate under a Fulbright scholarship, she has been keeping busy illustrating books published in the United States. Her art work for Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Songs” published in 2014 was chosen from among the cover designs of 12 award-wining picture book artists.

Let this not be a damper, but after 34 years, one must pause to ask a few hard questions: What has the impact of National Children’s Book Day been over the years? Has the love of reading been experienced by the young? What is there to learn to love when books are scarce? Have all the initiatives brought a book in every child’s hand? How fares our culture of reading? Do we have adequate books for children to lose themselves in? The typical jargon in education and literacy is to create a print-rich environment—have we made that possible? Can we parents and teachers encourage the children to read when they do not see us enjoying reading ourselves? When was the last time you read to your child, any child?

The day’s theme may be loosely translated as “In the world of books, there is always something new.” How apt that in my search for a reading quote by a Filipino, I should chance upon Rizal scholar and historian Ambeth Ocampo’s advice to those working with children: “…[C]reate castles and palaces in your children’s minds.” Only truly possible via the world of books.

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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