By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Saturday, December 13th, 2014

These are old and new discoveries, a merry mix of titles within easy reach in the house, by my desk, by the night light, on the computer table, on the kitchen counter, in a bag in the car for long waits and the usual aggravations of city life, with more tucked away here and there. Not in any logical order either in this list, but all highly recommended reads for the young and not so.

“To the Young Writer and Other Essays” by F. Sionil Jose. Far Eastern University Press, 2008. I must admit the sudden urge to pick this up again because of the author’s 90th birthday gala at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Dec. 3, strictly by invitation only (allow me to gloat about that). His advice to teachers in “Literature as Memory, as Ethics” continues to ring true: “Draw the young into that enchanting realm of the imagination by making literature alive, interesting, and relevant.”

“Fish-Hair Woman” by Merlinda Bobis, Anvil, 2013 (Juan C. Laya Prize for Best Novel in a Foreign Language). The haunting story of Estrella of the 12-meter hair in Iraya, Albay. With her hair, she trawls corpses dumped in the river waters that taste of lemon grass, all victims of the government’s war against insurgents. Bobis writes lyrically of suffering and of all those who have disappeared.

“Mona Lisa, A Portrait: From the Memoirs of a Grandmother” by Celine Beatrice Fabie, Mona Lisa Publication, 2013 (2014 National Book Award for Best Nonfiction in English). Mona Lisa was a beautiful actress in her prime but, as the author discovers, a good actress has to suffer, to love, to cry. A biography told with much love and candor.

“Story Book” by May Jurilla, Anvil, 2013 (2014 National Book Award for History and Journalism). How can a book on the history of Philippine books be so much fun? Footnotes are there for you to refer to, but are so unobtrusive.

“ABNKKBSNPLAKO?! Mga Kuwentong Chalk ni Bob Ong,” Visprint Inc., 2013. I first discovered Bob Ong a few years ago and laughed so hard with my Xavier student Jonard Koa because we thought we would struggle with this assignment in Filipino. Ong, elusive and remaining mysteriously anonymous, continues to draw legions of young readers with his irreverent humor. The book has since become a movie and this is now the 12th-anniversary edition, so it is time for everyone to get to know Ong.

“Mikey Recio & the Secret of the Demon Dungeon, The Dark Colony: Book I” by Budjette Tan. Bow Guerrero and J.B. “Taps” Tapia, Visprint Inc., 2013 (2014 National Book Awards for Best Graphic Literature in English). Tan is known for his popular horror comic series “Trese.” An engaging and suspenseful story of Mikey who had grand Holy Week plans with friends, but ended up driving for his grandfather. Their trip begins with praying the rosary, of course.

“Shine” by Candy Gourlay, Anvil, 2014. Take note with pride that this was first published by David Fickling Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. This well-received young adult novel explores the theme of exile from family and country and follows on the heels of Gourlay’s successful first novel, “Tall Story,” which also had a foreign and a Philippine edition.

“The Little Girl in a Box” by Felinda V. Bagas, illustrated by Aldy C. Aguirre, Adarna, 2013. A stunning picture book both in form and in content. There a little girl lived and dreamt and explored, and finally it brought her to “the house that became her real home.” Nothing cloyingly sentimental in the narration. One of the NBDB-PBBY Best Reads for 2014.

“Isang Harding Papel” by Augie Rivera, illustrated by Rommel Joson. Adarna, 2014. The poignant story of Jenny, who is able to “grow” a garden of paper flowers from her mother who is detained during martial law. This is based on a real-life account of a cousin of the author’s.

“Edsa” by Russell Molina, illustrated by Sergio Bumatay III, Adarna, 2013. A companion title to Rivera’s book on martial law, as it is a counting book that narrates Edsa history painlessly for children.

“Salamat Po” by Russell Molina, illustrated by Tokwa Penaflorida, LG&M, 2013. A touchingly earnest book of gratitude for the simple delights of a child’s everyday life from daybreak to sundown.

“In Our Own Words” by Young Writers of Where the Write Things Are, edited by Aina Cruz and Roel Cruz, Write things, 2014. Just off the press to be launched today, a collection of notable pieces from 27 young authors with whom our fledgling writing center worked this year. A biased choice, I have to shamelessly admit. Adult talents who put the book together need to be properly credited: artist Jonathan Ranola for the art work on the cover and San-Francisco-based graphic designer Tina Besa for the cutting-edge look of the anthology.

“Tis the season to be reading—as wonderful a time as any to take solace and refuge in a book, to escape from unwanted frenzy, to rediscover one’s self.

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