‘Sa Aklat, May Laya’
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 Cinematheque 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, secretary-general; 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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