Nurturing Children's Literature In The Philippines

The significance of a National Children's Book Day for the country and how it is helping Filipino children

Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life.' - Mortimer J. Adler

My very first memory of reading involves Liwayway magazine. Yes, that Liwayway magazine. But, young as I was (I was about five years old then, I think), I did not get to read anything -- I merely looked at the pictures, which helped me follow the story. So, my formal reading really started with my sister pointing to the words 'Bababa ka na ba?' 'Oo, bababa na ako,' reading it aloud and allowing me to read it by myself afterwards. In first grade, my mother, a teacher, would, with an afternoon meeting underway, leave me at the school library. This thrilled me no end because it was the only time that the head librarian would take out from their safe cabinets those small hardbound books on 'Cinderella,' 'Snow White,' 'The Three Little Pigs,' 'The Ugly Duckling.' On the Filipino section, I got to read the colorfully illustrated 'Pilandok,' 'Juan Tamad,' 'Digong Dilaw,' and the one on 'Mariang Makiling.' Since then, reading has been an integral part of my life, with my horizons broadened with every book I managed to get a hold of through the years.

It should not be a surprise then to find myself looking forward to July of every year. In case you are not aware yet, there is such a thing as the 'National Children's Book Day (NCBD).' The event is celebrated every third Tuesday of July, to commemorate the anniversary of the publication of Jose Rizal's rendition of the folk tale 'The Monkey and the Turtle' in the July 1889 issue of Trubner's Oriental Record in London. This is already the 20th year since NCBD's celebration started through Proclamation 2365. The Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) is the lead agency of this celebration.

Promotion of understanding through children's books

The PBBY, formed in 1983, is a private, non-stock non-profit organization committed to the development of children's literature in the Philippines. It is the Philippine Section of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), a world organization dedicated to the promotion of international understanding through children's books. Founded in Zurich in 1953, the IBBY is now based in Basel, Switzerland.

The PBBY is composed of permanent institutional members and individuals representing different sectors. The institutional members are The National Library (TNL), Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), Children's Communication Center (CCC), and Museo Pambata (MP). The individual members represent educators, researchers, librarians, book reviewers, writers, illustrators, storytellers, publishers, booksellers, and mass media. Beaulah Pedregosa-Taguiwalo currently chairs the group.

The PBBY's founding members were Virgilio Almario, Carol L. Afan, Larry Alcala, Angelica Cabaflero, Lucrecia Kasilag, Cristina Lim-Yuson, Serafin Quiason, Linda Ma. Nietes, Gloria Rodriguez, Renato Villanueva, and the late Alfrredo N. Salanga.

Children celebrate!

This year's celebration take the theme 'Ang Barkada kong Libro' with its celebration held at Museo Pambata in Roxas Boulevard last July 15.

Part of the opening ceremonies were special tributes to newly-proclaimed National Artist for Literature and founding secretary general for the PBBY Virgilio Almario, and Ikabod comic strip creator Nonon Marcelo. The PBBY already conferred a Lifetime Achievement Award to Almario in 2002, and prior to that, in 2000, Almario was given a special Recognition Award for the significant role he played in founding the PBBY and sustaining it through the years.

The interactive exhibit 'Kenkoy,' also opened at the Museum's Changing Exhibits Gallery. The exhibit currently showcases the illustrations of Kenkoy, the oldest and most famous Filipino comic character along with a highlight on Kenkoy creator Antonio Velasquez.

Ongoing is the Children's Books and Toys Fair featuring new children's book titles from various publishing houses. PBBY also held 'From Books to Film,' a four-day (July 15 - 18) festival of films based on children's books at CCP Main Multi-Purpose Hall.

PBBY Awards

What further makes the National Children's Book Day celebration something to look forward to are the awards that PBBY grants annually.

For one, the PBBY Lifetime Achievement Award is given to individuals and institutions that have made significant contributions to the growth of children's literacy. Its very first awardee was Ceres Alabado, founding president of the Children's Literature Association of the Philippines, Inc. (CLAPI) that was established in 1965. Other awardees include Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio, Pilar R. Perez, Dr. Damiana L. Eugenio, Jose Aruego, Dr. Estafania Aldaba-Lim, and Larry Alcala. In 1999, the PBBY awarded an institution: The Philippine Journal of Education. For the year 2002, the PBBY conferred a Lifetime Achievement Award to Rene O. Villanueva (along with Almario).

The PBBY also gives out special awards to mark extraordinary cultural or historical milestones or give special recognition to individuals. Fernando Amorsolo and Camilo Osias, for example, were given a Centennial Achievement Award. For the year 2000, the PBBY gave a special Recognition Award to Dr. Lucrecia Kasilag.

In 1999, citations were given to Paranubliun-Antique, Pambata Magazine, Young Minds Bookstore, and the television show '5 and Up.' For the year 2000, this was given to Lina Diaz de Rivera and the Mindanao Cultural Center. Such citations are given to individuals and institutions who have made noticeable contributions to the growth of children's literacy in the country.

PBBY, in keeping with its promotion of children's literature in the country, also holds the PBBY-Salanga Writers" Prize. The competition, partly named after writer Alfredo Navarro Salanga, is open to writers for children. Authors of winning entries receive a cash prize from the CCP and a gold medal from The National Library, awarded during the celebration of National Children's Book Day. In addition, winners get a chance to have their stories published in book form with the help of PBBY. Past awardees include Germaine Yia (2000), Rebecca Añonuevo (1999 and 1997), Carla M. Pacis (1998), Natasha Vizcarra (1996), Ma. Corazon Paulina E. Remigio (1995). Complementing this award is the PBBY Illustrators "Prize with the winning entry of the Writers" Prize as basis for the illustrations. The winner receives a cash prize from the CCP and a gold medal from The National Library, which are also awarded on NCBD celebration. Winners also get a chance to have their illustrations published in book form with the help of PBBY. Past awardees include Michael Adrao (2000), Breiner Medina (1999), Mariano Ching (1998), Paul Eric Roca (1997), Ferdinand Guevarra (1996), Ronald Mechael Ilagan (1995).

Towards a local children's literature

Our oldest local literature, and except for those written in the 'baybayin,' are mostly oral. During the Spanish colonization of the country, the 'caton' or 'cartilla' was the first and only book for local children--the book instructing children on the Roman alphabet--along with printed religious poems and hymns sung to the Virgin Mary during the time of Flores de Mayo. The Americans, through the Thomasites, brought in a lot of books like 'Aesop's Fables,' 'Robinson Crusoe,' 'Gulliver's Travels,' 'Mother Goose Rhymes,' and other books expressly written for children such as Mark Twain's 'Tom Sawyer,' Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women,' Anna Sewell's 'Black Beauty,' and Lewis Carrol's 'Alice in Wonderland.' Folklore was not originally meant for children but became so only because of the dearth in the materials. Most of these folklore, containing narratives for adults, were re-written to fit the children's reading needs.

The more significant of these stories were the ones published by Severino Reyes who used the pen name 'Lola Basyang.' Reyes published his story for children in 'Liwayway' magazine on May 25, 1925, the first of about 400 stories retelling folktales or the Classics.

What helped such a development were two people who played significant roles in giving focus to the readership needs of Filipino children: Juan C. Laya and Camilo Osias. Laya and Osias were known Philippine educators in the first half of the 20th century who laid the groundwork for the education of the children and youth by promoting books and using them as supplementary materials for education.

Laya was the one who wrote and edited 'Dulang Kayumanggi,' a four-volume anthology series of literature in Filipino. In 1949, he also wrote 'Iisang Daigdig (Daigdig ng Himala)' containing stories adapted mostly from awit and korido and in 1952, came out with 'Once Upon A Time.' It was in 1932 that Osias wrote the six-volume 'The Philippine Readers,' the first textbooks authored by a Filipino, and used as reference materials for Filipino school children. While some of the materials in the series were completely foreign and had hardly any relevance to the lives of the young readers at that time, the rest of, however, were local folk tales, myths, legends and stories involving Philippine animals. These printed works could be referred to as the precursor to local children's literature.

Such stories finding their space in textbooks would have explained the almost 'didactic' appeal of the literature at that time. Only Reyes' stories save it from such a sad fate.

The post-American years spurred local writers to rewrite some of the country's folk literature from English to Filipino, namely, Manuel and Lyd Arguilla ('Philippine Tales and Fables,' 1957), Vitaliano Bernardino, Jaime Rullan, Armando and Paula Malay, Maximo Ramos ('Tales of Long Ago in the Philippines,' 1953), I.V. Mallari ('Tales From the Mountain Province,' 1958), among others.

PBBY's awarding of the Lifetime Achievement Award to CLAPI founding president Ceres Alabado was forthcoming. CLAPI, established in 1965, was composed of civic leaders who pioneered the publication of Filipino children's books with 'The Lizard and Other Stories' as their first significant work (CLAPI's most important work to date is its release of the book 'A Bibliography of Filipino and English Works, 1901-1995). Prior to that, Alabado was teaching a college course in children's literature. She admitted that the only available materials then were composed mostly of foreign stories, along with some smatterings of native stories, folk tales and legends in the Osias reader. No picture books existed. In 1962, Alabado set out to establish PAMANA, which encouraged the writing of children's books through its annual short story writing contest, and eventually publishing the same. It published about 15 picture books and 5 books for young adults (high school level). Among these were 'Horgle and the King Soup' by Gilda C. Fernando; 'Makisig' by Gemma Cruz; 'Once Upon a Hilltop' by Isabel Escoda Taylor; and 'Kaharian sa Tuktok ng Kawayan' by Carlos Roberts. Other publishing houses soon followed suit.

In the 1960s, Bookmark came out with its first picture book titled 'Toby and the Christmas Bell' by Marla Yotoko though, later, due to poor sales, Bookmark stopped production in its children's book line. Another illustrated children's book was Bert Florentino's publication of Jose Garcia Villa's 'Mirinisa and Other Stories.'

In the 70s, Philippine Appliance Corporation (Philacor) published a series called the Young People's Library, hardbound, in full color and with great illustrations. It included titles like 'Filipino Rites and Rituals,' 'Filipino Myths and Legends,' 'Games Filipino Children Play,' 'Stories Filipinos Tell.' New Day Publishers came out with 'My Friends and the Haunted Cave' by T.M. Zuniega, 'Tales of a Japanese Grandmother'-- a five-volume series by Jean Edades and Yasuko Hashimoto, 'Philippine Folk Fiction and Tales' by Teresita Veloso Pil, and 'Mandaya and Mansaka Tales' by Vilma May Fuentes. Philippine Book Co. published ' When Grandmother was a Little Girl' by A.R. Asuncion; 'Kangkong 1896 and 'Asog' by Alabado; and 'Mir-i-nisa' by Jose Garcia Villa. In 1972, writer and illustrator Jose Aruego published 'A Crocodile's Tale: A Philippine Folk Story' and 'Juan and the Asuangs.' In 1976, Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio released '6 na Dulang Pilipino Para sa mga Bata' and followed it up in 1977 with the full-length puppet play titled 'Abadeja: ang Ating Sinderela' (which also marked the beginning of the children theater troupe Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas).

Even the magazine Mr. and Ms. came out with Nick Joaquin's (writing under the name Quijano de Manila) 'Lilit Bulilit and the Babe-in-the-Womb' in 1978. The following year, Joaquin wrote more stories on the same genre with a series of 10 titles called 'Pop Stories for Groovy Kids,' all a retelling of mythical and legendary figures like Ibong Adarna, Maria Makiling, Banahaw, and Juan Tamad. This was funded by a private institution to celebrate the International Year of the Child in 1979.

Publishing for Children

A discussion of the children's literature in the country would not be complete without the mention of Adarna House. Adarna House is the country's first publishing house dedicated to children's books. For twenty years, Adarna House has captivated the imagination of Filipino children with its mix of Filipino folktales, and heroic tales. Like myself, many Filipino adults today will remember how their childhood was spent meeting characters such as Pilandok, Tiktaktok and Pikpakbum, Digong Dilaw, Ibong Adarna and Langgam, and Tipaklong, from the pages of an Adarna book.

Today, kids can choose from among Adarna House's over 150 all original Filipino stories, all of which resulting from market research, focus group discussions with kids, parents, librarians and educators, and a month-long screening process for manuscript and portfolio submissions from both amateur and professional writers and illustrators

Adarna House started in 1979, when the Nutrition Center of the Philippines (NCP) started a storybook series that was to be part of its mental feeding program. Almario, already established as a poet and critic, was tasked with heading a group of writers, illustrators, editors, media practitioners and researchers who would create the series called Aklat Adarna. When the program ended, Almario continued with Aklat Adarna by publishing through the Children's Communication Center (CCC), a foundation that aimed to produce, promote and disseminate educational materials for children. CCC soon found itself in need of a distributor and publisher for its many publications for children, and thus, in 1980, Adarna House was born.

More importantly, Aklat Adarna provided the training and exposure to writers and illustrators who would later become notable personalities in the field of children's literature: Rene Villanueva, Gloria Villaraza Guzman, Jess Abrera Jr., Ibarra Crisostomo and Albert Gamos, among others.

In 1989, the Cultural Center of the Philippines even devoted an issue of 'Ani,' its literary journal, to children's literature with Rene Villanueva and Karina Bolasco as issue editors.

Such a development encouraged three more publishing companies to produce Filipino children's books. In 1990, Bookmark came up with its Filipino Folktale series with three titles by Marla Yotoko Chorengel: 'The First Cashew Nut' (illustrated by Beth Parrocha), 'Why the Sky is High' (illustrated by Bernie Solina), and 'Bathala and the Gift of Rice' (illustrated by lbarra Crisostomo). The books are handsome volumes, beautifully illustrated and in full color, and this time, it seemed, people were ready to buy them. Two more titles were released the following year.

Cacho Publishing House Inc. launched six titles in a cooperative effort with Batibot, the local children's television show: 'Ang Patsotsay na Iisa Ang Pakpak,' 'Ang Alarnat ng Araw at Gabi,' 'Si Inggolok at ang Planeta Pakaskas,' 'Sina Linggit Laban Kay Barakuda,' 'Si Elephas at Estegodon Noong Unang Panahon,' and 'Ang Pamilya Ismid.'

Cacho House's Trampoline series, launched in 1990, was designed more as a collaborative effort between writers, illustrators and publishers. The series included the books 'Two Friends One World (by Ramon Sunico, ill. by J. de Leon),' 'The Boy Who Ate Stars (by Alfred Yuson, ill. by B. Parrocha),' 'Kung Bakit Umuulan (by Rene Villanueva, ill. by R. Alejandro),' and 'Ang Unang Baboy Sa Langit (by Rene Villanueva, ill. by Ibarra Crisostomo).'

In September of 1992, Tahanan Books for Young Readers, founded by the husband-and-wife team of Reni Roxas and Marc Singer, linked up with Bookmark for the following titles: 'Super Boboy and the Great Villain Hunt' by R. Santos, 'Volcanoes of the Philippines' by Ma. Elena Paterno), and the 'Great Lives Series' which features biographies of Jose Rizal, Emilio Aguinaldo, Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, Gabriela Silang, and Juan Luna.

In 1995, Rex Publishing established its Children's Book Division (CHIBOD) headed by Dr. Genoveva Matute. Rex soon released the 'Suwan Stories' written by Matute tackling the adventures of Suwan. Other books like 'Ang Langgam at si Balang,' Paglalakbay ni Pepito Piso,' and ' Ang mga Kaibigan ni Ella' resulted from the Illustrators and Writers Congress organized by Rex Oasis of Arts and Culture Foundation (ROAC).

Writing contests, grants

Since 1983, the PBBY had taken up PAMANA's tradition of holding an annual contest for children's stories. The Illustrator's Prize was first awarded in 1984, and the Writer's Prize, later renamed the Alfredo Navarro Salanga Award, was first awarded in 1985. It was also in 1983 when the Creative Writing Center of the University of the Philippines sponsored its first summer workshop on writing for children (Another workshop was held in 1989).

Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature followed suit in 1989 when it included the category Short Story for Children in its annual contest. This has helped institutionalized fiction writing for children in the country. Early winners included Rene Villanueva, Ramon Sunico, Maria Elena Paterno, Jaime An Lim, Alfred Yuson, among others.

At the collegiate level, there was the short story for children category under USTETIKA (from UST and 'estetika' or aesthetics coined in 1986 by poet V. E. Carmelo Nadera, Jr.), the prestigious annual literary contest begun in 1986 by 'The Varsitarian' of the University of Sto.Tomas. The category, titled Gawad Alitaptap was added in 1996 during the 11th USTETIKA Awards, under then Literary Editor Reinerio Alba.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) also gave a boost to children's literature when it established the NCCA Writers" Prize in 2001. Designed to encourage the development of Philippine literature, the NCCA Writers" Prize is a regular grant awarded to five (5) writers in the following genres: novel, essay, poetry, translation, and short story, including children's stories.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), likewise, established a children's literature category in its Creative Writing Grants Program. CCP hosts and co-sponsors the PBBY Awards.

Writers and illustrators for children

Among the easily recognizable writers of children's literature today are Natasha Vizcarra, Carla Pacis, Dr. Luis Gatmaitan, Augie Rivera, Carla Pacis, Lin Acacio-Flores, Becky Bravo, Lin Acacio-Flores.

Gatmaitan's stories tackle themes that are close to his profession as a doctor: 'Ang Pambihirang Buhok ni Raquel,' 'May mga Lihim Kami ni Ingkong,' 'Ang Ambisyosong Istetoskop,' 'Ayan na si Bolet Bulate. Rivera ('Xilef,' 'Alamat ng Ampalaya,' 'Burnay, ang Batang Palayok') is involved with Lampara books, which publishes children's stories. Rivera is also, like Gatmaitan, Acacio-Flores ('The Quarreling Kites), and Vizcarra ('Ang Itim na Kuting'), a member of Kuwentista ng mga Tsikiting (KUTING).

KUTING was born during the 1995 UP Writers' Workshop, a group which was devoted to writers and illustrators for children. In 2000, the group was cited by the Reading Association of the Philippines 'for having professionalized writing for children, raising it to the level of art, and for ensuring the emergence of the Golden Age of children's literature.'

Other organizations that are currently at the forefront of promoting local children's literature are Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (INK), and the Alitaptap storytellers group, which was established to encourage storytelling among parents and children. The dearth of beautiful illustrations for local children's books are largely owed to the establishment of INK. INK is a product of a series of workshops on children's book design and illustration sponsored by Goethe Institut in cooperation with the Children's Communication Center that started in November of 1989. In 1991, a similar workshop with the German illustrator Reinhard Michl as resource person finally led to the formation of INK--a group of children's book illustrators. Members include Robert Alejandro, Joanne de Leon, Felix Miguel, Mel Silvestre, Jason Moss, among others. Moss, for one, already has several books ('Rizal in Saga,' 'Ay! May Bukbok ang Ngipin ni Ani,' 'Fish for Two,' 'Magnificent Benito and His Two Front Teeth,' 'Huff and Grudge,' and 'Alamat ng Sibuyas') to his credit. Moss, too, already won the National Book Awards for his illustrations for the book 'A Sea of Stories' and 'Cinco de Noviembre.'

A brighter future for children's literature

The children's book industry benefited from several other developments in the country. In 1991, Young Minds, the first book store on children's books and children's educational materials, opened at the second floor of the Quad II Mall in Makati City. Established by Rita J. Atienza, the bookstore not only sells but has taken on the promotion of reading as well with its storytelling sessions of Philippine legends, participation in book fairs, and its 'I'm An Author' competition. The competition allows elementary school children to write and illustrate their own books.

Adarna House has also started its educational programs for the community. Among these programs is 'Biyaheng Adarna,' a series of storytelling sessions in low-income barangays, where they also give away free Adarna books to the barangay kids. Another is 'Klasrum Adarna,' a group of free workshops for preschool and elementary school teachers on how to use literature in teaching and how to make the classroom experience fun. Add to all these, Adarna House also holds the workshop 'Kuwentong Adarna' every summer, exposing Filipino children to their cultural heritage.

Adarna also released 'Anino ng mga Alon' by Eugene Evasco, last year's winner of Pilar Perez Medallion for Young Adult Literature, this time, to cater to Filipino teeners. Adarna has also begun its line of 'big books' (8 1/2 x 11) with its book on dyslexia, 'Xilef' by Augie Rivera, as the line's maiden issue. Adarna is also currently working on a research portal on children's literature that aims to be a one-stop information source for all teachers, researchers and children's literature enthusiasts.

Through all such activities and efforts, the publishers in the country, and other groups that spur the growth of children's literature in the country, should be able to heal back to life the hopes of countless others in the eternal power of books to change our young people for the better, and hence, change the future of the country for the best.

The celebration of the National Children's Book Day this July is not only significant because it reminds us that children are readers, too, but more importantly because the celebration also reminds us of the power of the written word and of the beautiful and much more colorful worlds that are out there waiting for each of us to create into strong realities.

The PBBY Secretariat is located at Room 102, JJS Bldg., 30 Scout Tuazon St., Bgy. Laging Handa, Quezon City with contact numbers (632) 372-3548; 372-3549; 372-3540 and emai addressl This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

*Poet and essayist Reinerio Alba hails from Gumaca, Quezon. He was a fellow for poetry at the Silliman National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City in 1993 and Iyas National Writers Workshop in 2002. He is currently the Web Site Writer/Editor for www.ncca.gov.ph and contributes travel essays and articles on arts and culture to the country's dailies