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Open a book—and get to know us

Anyone would have beamed with pride watching the Filipino talents in children’s literature in the limelight at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content held at the end of May in Singapore. This was organized and hosted by the National Book Development Council of Singapore headed by R. Ramachandran and the tireless Kenneth Quek. It was as counterpart and partner agency that the National Book Development Board was invited, with NBDB executive director Andrea Pasion Flores and myself in attendance.

Rama’s best credentials as festival director is not his marketing or organizational ability, though that was apparent, but his background as librarian. It is his association with and affinity for books that inspired him to develop this fairly young festival (two years old) from the Asian Children’s Writers & Illustrators Conference which ran for 10 years. Then, his brainchild to mount a 4-day conference—a day for teachers, a day for parents, and the weekend for writers and illustrators. For this, the second such conference, Rama wanted an Asean country in focus—and the Philippines emerged as its first focus because of the fairly impressive growth in publishing.

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Taking center stage as representatives of the children’s book industry were Jomike Tejido, who had an enjoyable session with children and parents doing his own paper foldabots, and Russell Molina, who invited the audience who knew little of Philippine children’s books with this come-on: Open a children’s book and discover our thousands of islands, hundreds of stories, pieces of our culture. With that introduction (truly an advertising mind at work here), Molina also highlighted the harsh reality of childhood for many of our young, who turn “seasonal orphans” with their parents working abroad. Thus the prevalence of stories representing these issues. “We don’t live in castles” but we have such stories to tell, too.

Especially flown in from the United Kingdom was Candy Gourlay, a YA writer of “Tall Story” fame and now about to launch a second novel with David Fickling Books, a very selective publishing house based in Oxford. Illustrator Pepper Roxas flew in from New York with news that she is now a regular contributor to Ladybug (a dream come true for someone who was initially faced with a reduced network in the United States) and with book contracts from Lee & Low Books.

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Book bloggers Tarie Sabido and Blooey Singson were also invited, as their role in the promotion of books and reading is significant. Singson has a long-running book discussion group and reads over 200 books a year.

Responsible for the quality of the Philippine participation is Singapore-based Filipino Myra Garces Bacsal, a clinical psychologist interested in talent development and a voracious book lover. Her daughter, she says, could not help but develop a love for books growing up in the setting that she did. Bacsal maintains a website on children’s literature and had an engaging session on using the web as a classroom resource. www.gatheringbooks.org

It was she who thought that the perfect touch to the Philippine focus was another invitee, Noel Cabangon, who performed for the conference delegates. So heartrending were his songs that I was late for one of the sessions I had to facilitate. Yes, something like the siren’s song.

Had we been given ample notice, the Philippine delegation could have showcased the state of the industry better. It would have been a breeze to ask InK (Ilustrador ng mga Kabataan) to put together an exhibit, as it is an annual undertaking for the group, with the recent one at the Ayala Museum. Fortunately, enterprising delegates representing publishing houses like Adarna and Vibal were organized by Ilaw ng Tahanan’s Fran Ong to hastily assemble a respectable display of Philippine titles of the authors and illustrators represented and a colorful tarp announcing the six titles of the Best Reads for 2010. (And by the way, the 2012 Best Reads or the 2nd National Children’s Books Awards of the NBDB and the Philippine Board on Books for Young People will be announced today at the Mind Museum.)

The Philippine table elicited a number of inquiries and sales, although all sales, as conference rules dictated, could only go through the authorized book dealer, Bookaburra Books (“We believe in good books and even finer children”), which serviced the book buyers so well because its staff knew their books so well.

How wonderful to mount a similar conference for our children’s authors and illustrators, something the NBDB could explore as it already has the yearly lit fest for the general literary public.

In anticipation of the UN’s International Year of Water in 2013, Project Splash Asia! calls for stories with water as a theme toward a bibliography and collection from the region. I was happy to note that the initial list already includes “Amansinaya-Goddess of the Sea,” by Eugene Evasco and Jomike Tejido (illustrator) for their LG&M book, 2007. (For details, e-mail [email protected])

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Singapore hath its many charms, but my most fascinating day was spent exploring the 11 floors of the Singapore National Library. And the library, of course, deserves its own time and space, an awestruck discussion all its own.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Asian Festival of Children’s Content, book reading, education, featured column
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