Room to Read’s new Filipino children’s books
In 2012, when I first heard of Room to Read (RtR), the San Francisco-based global organization focused on promoting literacy in low-income countries, I was then with the National Book Development Board’s outstanding executive director Andrea Pasion Flores, attending the Singapore Book Council’s annual Asian Festival of Children’s Content. Andrea was orienting me on my newly appointed post as chair of the agency, and we both went to see the RtR representatives. I requested them to please come to the Philippines as we needed books and reading promotion initiatives. I was turned down because our literacy rate was recorded to be high. I said they should not believe the figure entirely, but they dismissed my remark.
Thus, I was so pleased when in August 2019, I was notified by RtR through its book publishing program manager for Southeast Asia, Alfredo Santos, that a generous benefactor was willing to underwrite 20-30 new titles in Filipino and 20 in Mandarin, the languages specified by the donor. A group of Philippine publishers had initially met in November at the International Children’s Content Rights Fair in Chiang Mai on a possible Asean-wide publishing collaboration.
That seemed a wonderful opportunity for our writers, illustrators, and publishers—except that all work had to be completed by Dec. 31, 2019. And the publishing industry already had its hands full with the annual Manila International Book Fair in September and the Frankfurter Buchmesse in October. Much had to be done to solicit the commitment of publishers; get hold of authors, artists, editors, art directors; and schedule a workshop with each of the group of creatives. The workshops did happen in Bohol and Baguio, away from all the distractions that can keep creative souls from being at their focused best.
The task seemed impossible, but guess what—it did happen under the leadership of Santos, project manager Myra Hulleza Sepe, and Asa Almario Montenejo of Adarna as project management partner and overall coordinator. Participating publishers were Adarna House, Anvil, OMF-Hiyas, Lampara Books. It again proved how deadlines are there to spur one’s creativity.
Two days ago, 20 new children’s books were launched by RtR to celebrate its 20th anniversary—the very first time for Filipino works to appear under its aegis. The books portray children living in difficult circumstances and gaining the confidence and empowerment to surpass such conditions. Filipino is the 36th language used by RtR and is significant for literacy and learning, because as Geetha Murali, RtR CEO, reminded us all, “Children’s love of books develops faster when they can read in their local language and see characters they can relate to.”
Though only soft copies are as yet available until funding for hard copies are obtained, the new titles make up this week’s bright news.
Here’s a sampling of the range of topics from the four publishers: “Paboritong Lugar ni Nanay” by Weng Cahiles, illustrated by Aldy Aguirre, narrates all of Nanay’s favorite places during her childhood that today’s urban development has obliterated. “Maaanghang na Salita” by Rhandee Garlitos, illustrated by Beth Parrocha, speaks of hurtful words that are expressed not always deliberately. I love the term used in the title to describe those words. “Ang Alaga Kong Lolo” by Genaro Gojo Cruz, illustrated by Lui R. Buan, focuses on a child’s life with an elderly family member, and just who is taking care of whom? “Imbisibol” by Yna Reyes, illustrated by Mike Amante, deals with an eighth child in a large family who is often ignored, unseen, and unnoticed.
And there are 16 more to read! I still look forward to having the hard books on hand, especially since these will be distributed free of charge to Philippine public schools. What a boon that would be.
I invite you all to explore and discover these relevant new books, to celebrate the beauty of reading in Filipino and the rich talents of our writers and illustrators. Just click on the link, and say a fervent prayer that your Wi-Fi connection allows you this RtR reading journey: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1qMkzBf-6nv3pPK2kh_jzjw1qS_AmjOJC?usp=sharing
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (email@example.com) is a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.