By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
July 25, 2015
Philippine Daily Inquirer

At the height of the torrential rains last week, the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) chaired by Tarie Subido and the National Book Development Board (NBDB) began to worry that they may have been jinxed by labeling this year’s National Children’s Book Day (NCBD), July 21, “Umuulan ng Libro” (It’s Raining Books). But who can deny that it sounded witty and clever and memorably catchy, no matter what the heavens looked like?

The full-day event was devoted to a Philippine Children’s Book Summit at Centris (Edsa corner Quezon Avenue) in Quezon City. It was an important one for the book industry as it gathered authors, illustrators, publishers, educators, librarians and everybody else interested in producing quality and appropriate books for children. The discussions highlighted current trends in the Asian children’s book industry, best practices in copyright (led by lawyer Nicolas Pichay), and Filipino comics (led by a panel composed of Budjette Tan, Carljoe Javier and Paolo Herras). A plenary session was devoted to providing alternative access and distribution of books to readers, a perennially pressing problem that calls for creativity and imagination given our limited resources.

Two of our invited speakers from overseas who spoke at the plenary sessions were Malaysia’s Wen Dee Tan (the winner of this year’s Illustrator’s Award at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival) and Japan’s Mariko Nagai (professor of creative writing and Japanese literature at Temple University in Tokyo and author of “Dust of Eden”).

A holder of a master’s degree in children’s book illustration from Cambridge School of Art in the United Kingdom, Tan was an IT consultant in a previous career but her love for illustration brought her back to school. She is proudest of her book “Lili,” whose protagonist finds herself ostracized because of her red hair.

This debut picture book won third place in the Macmillan Prize 2013, an annual picture book competition by Macmillan Children’s Books UK. It was published in February 2015 by Fat Fox Books, and its illustrations were awarded first prize for illustration at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival in May. While Sharjah is not as well-known as the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, it is a festival attended by many schoolchildren. Bologna is a trade fair mainly for adults.

Nagai’s YA (young adult) novel in verse, “Dust of Eden,” was published last year. It depicts how radically life changed for middle-schooler Mina after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941:

Suddenly she and her family were called “Japs” and sent to an internment camp. “Born in Japan, made in America” is how Nagai has been described. Her father’s job took the family to Belgium and the United States. She learned English by reading street signs in San Francisco and with the assistance of librarians. “I grew up confused about language, home, identity and God.” Nagai is a graduate of New York University’s Graduate Creative Writing Program, where she was the

Remarque Fellow in Poetry.

Joining them were MJ Cagumbay Tumamac, author of “Ngumiti si Andoy”; poet and fictionist Kristian Cordero; Edgar Samar, author of the Janus Silang series; and illustrators Ruben de Jesus, Rommel Joson and the 2015 PBBY Salanga Prize honorable-mention winner, Cheeno Marlo del Mundo Sayuno.

The other interesting topics for the concurrent sessions were “Why Adults Should Read Children’s Books” by a panel composed of Dr. Anna Katrina Gutierrez, Blooey Singson and Tumamac; “Going Global Through Digital Publishing” by Agno Almario and Ariel Lim; “Children’s Books in the Mother Tongue: Publication and Translation” by Christine Bellen, Cles Rambaud, Cordero and Tumamac; “Providing Diverse Content for Filipino Young Adults and an Introduction to Kabanata Fellows” by Samar, Nagai and publisher and writer Segundo Matias Jr. of “Moymoy Lagumboy: Ang Batang Aswang” fame.

Highlighting the summit was the awarding of the 2015 PBBY Salanga Prize to Sayuno and the 2015 PBBY Alcala Prize to two honorable-mention winners, Joffrey Z. Atienza and Maria Sabrina P. Palmares.

The delightful NCBD poster with the rainy-day theme by Aaron Asis may be downloaded from this website. Asis was last year’s PBBY Alcala winner.

NBDB executive director Graciela Cayton prayed for sunny weather and not “Bumabagyo ng Libro” (It’s Storming Books)—which is really not a bad idea, is it? Cloudy with a chance of a book shower is something we would like, and something we in fact need.

Today the PBBY continues its celebration with a librarians’ workshop on “Creative Reading Programs for School Libraries Servicing K-to-12 Learners” and a children’s book fair at Ateneo University’s Rizal Library. (For details, please contact 352-6765 loc 204 or [email protected].)

What is the value of these reading promotion activities for the National Children’s Book Month of July and all other similar events during the year? These do not merely raise public awareness about what the Philippine children’s book industry offers but also and again draws attention to the importance of books and reading in the lives of children and adults alike. One cannot say that often enough.

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.