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The Learning curve

One story, a generation of readers

A basic tenet in promoting the love of reading in students is to have books surround, immerse, and preoccupy them. A Reading Corner is essential in any classroom. Thus, the popular reading slogans to lose one’s self in books or to literally get lost in a book. But alas, there lies the rub, for the reality is, where are the books for the country’s public school students?

Because that has been a longstanding problem, nonprofit organizations such as The Center for Art, New Ventures & Sustainable Development (Canvas) have taken it upon themselves to have a book donation program for the countless book-deprived communities in the country.

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Canvas is a book publisher headed by Gigo Alampay known for its annual storywriting competitions, which always begin with an invitation for writers to weave an entire book-length children’s story around a painting. The output has always been amazing, leading to an art exhibit of the book illustrations and a lavishly illustrated book in full color, of a quality not always seen in our local titles. One such book is “Doll Eyes,” a hauntingly memorable National Children’s Book Award winner by Eline Santos and Joy Mallari.

Canvas’ books have been available for free downloading since 2005, but book distribution only began in 2011. “One Million Books for One Million Children” is an ambitious battle cry, but it continues on, not losing sight of its objectives. Canvas titles in hardcover are markedly more expensive, but it manages to reprint these in cheaper editions in English and in Filipino for mass distribution. The costs of printing these copies are covered by individual donations and corporate sponsorships.

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Canvas only distributes its titles, all in mint condition, although it has received requests for the distribution of book donations. Since it would have to examine every such book for quality and appropriateness and has neither the workforce, the storage space, nor the time for this, it has not been able to accommodate such requests.

Today, it partners with organizations and local government units for the distribution. Since Canvas wants to ensure their meaningful use, it requires four tasks from the partners: pick up the books from us; give us photos of our books with the kids; give us a short narrative report about the book-giving and the community; and a new requirement, have the children and parents/teachers, if possible, fill out a short evaluation/feedback form to help us learn how to further improve our books. A child education expert is now on board to help assess the donation program beyond the number of donated titles and anecdotal reports. Some of its books are now distributed with teaching guides.

A welcome piece of news for public school teachers always in search of resources—29 books are downloadable on http://www.canvas.ph/. Other Canvas initiatives to look forward to are the 50,000 books it plans to distribute, working around quarantine restrictions. There is also an exciting new activity book, “I am the Storyteller,” generously funded by UBS Philippines that features striking artworks from children’s books—including one from National Artist BenCab. It goes beyond the usual writing and drawing prompts with its well-thought-out probing questions. A gem of a book that the Department of Education—and parents and teachers—could use.

Canvas began with an obsession Alampay had as a college student with a short film, “The Man Who Planted Trees,” based on an ecofable by French writer Jean Giono. He dreamt of a Philippine adaptation because he was awed by the efforts of one man to plant a hundred acorns each day. As luck would have it, when Alampay inquired about rights to the book, he was told that Giono had said no one owns the copyright to the story, that he had given it to the world. It took time for a writer, Augie Rivera, and an illustrator, Romeo Forbes, to produce an adaptation, “Elias and his Trees,” which became Canvas’ initial title.

That story continues to inspire Alampay: “From one seed, an entire forest. From one story, a generation of readers. We cling to the hope… possibility that one of the books that we publish… will trigger the imagination of one child who will then be moved to change the world for the better.”

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: books, Canvas, DepEd, education, learning, public school students
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