By Jaci Jocson and Maureen Bautista | Banner from Scholastic Asia

Books can be a good way for children to learn about the world and familiarize themselves with their surroundings, but what happens when the places they read about are unfamiliar and the characters they root for look nothing like them? 

Having representation and diversity in children’s books can affect how kids see themselves and the world around them. It can also help them discover their identity and better understand their place in history. This is what Joel Donato Ching Jacob, author of critically acclaimed “Wing of the locust,” hopes to share with his readers: a story of belongingness in the search for identity.

In “Wing of the Locust,” readers journey through a reimagined pre-colonial Philippines called the Kingdom of Ma’I to learn more about its social values and practices, caste system and local mythology. The story follows a young boy from the alipin class named Tuan who is chosen to become an apprentice of Muhen, an androgynous wiseman. As Tuan unlocks his potential in the art of controlling insects for espionage, sabotage and assassination, his experiences in becoming a mambabarang causes him to question the inner workings of society.

In writing the book, Jacob took inspiration from his memories of working on a local farm as a child and growing up exposed to folk medicine and the stories of kulam. He decided to set his tale in the pre-Hispanic era in response to how colonizers used to vilify women and LGBTQIA+ identities. “I want to tell a story of belonging,” he stated in an interview with Coconuts Manila, “where being a feminine man is a non-concern while being a mambabarang that can control insects was a job just like any other in an agricultural community.”

“Wing of the Locust” has gained recognition in the literary world, clinching the winning title at the 2018 Scholastic Asian Book Awards (SABA), a flagship initiative by Scholastic Asia that recognizes excellence in Asian literary talents and inspiring stories for children. Selina Lee, Vice President of Scholastic Asia, mentioned that they promote children’s literature that diversifies Asian representation, especially since books play a critical role in exposing children to the world and igniting their imagination in times of limited social interactions. Jacob’s book partake in this mission by sharing a glimpse of pre-colonial Philippines with all its beliefs and practices, with complex Asian characters not normally seen in many novels—bringing a new kind of diverse Asian representation in literature.

Following its success at SABA in 2018, it has also gained national recognition with the National Award of Ani ng Dangal (Harvest of Honour) in Literary Arts. Jacob said, “SABA opened many doors that would have otherwise stayed shut for a story like Wing of the Locust, which in effect is an allegory for a lot of things that I went through and still go through. On top of that, being awarded Ani ng Dangal for Literature is a great honor and I consider this a win [for] every family member, friend, peer and mentor, even strangers and all those who work so hard to build the Asian author community.” 

Most recently, “Wing of the Locust” was named a finalist in the Best Literary Work category at the Singapore Book Awards, a ceremony introduced in 2012 by the Singapore Book Publishers Association. The Singapore Book Publishers Association created the awards to recognize outstanding published works by various authors in the local publishing industry, and for a Philippine book to be recognized as one of the best gives us Filipinos a deep sense of pride in our local literature. The winners will be announced on Sept. 24, 2021, via a livestream on Singapore Book Publishers Association’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. For more details, visit this link.

Get a copy of the book in Lazada.