Adarna House’s “A Christmas Treat for Readers Year 2″

Guess what, Adarna House’s Christmas Sale already begins this Friday, November 15!

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But Adarna House wants you to block off December 7, Saturday, from 2:00 to 5:00 PM, for a special meet-and-greet with the authors and illustrators of Adarna House. Chat with them and have your books signed by them over complimentary snacks and refreshments. Be among the first 100 to arrive, and receive a copy of this special edition Ang Pambihirang Buhok ni Raquel notebook!

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Check out the Adarna House Blog for a full list of all the authors and illustrators you’ll see on December 7.  See you there!


A review for “A Day in the Market (Araw sa Palengke)” at Digital Storytime!



Published in print in 2008 by May Tobias-Papa, A Day in the Market won the Philippine’s National Children’s Book Award for Best Reads in 2010. As a digital app, it has light animation and some nicely tailored interactivity. There are also a couple simple games that tie into this charming narrative, exploring a traditional market in Southeast Asia. The story is told in the first person by a young Filipino girl who is excited to travel with her ‘nanay’ (Filipino for mommy/mummy) on Market Day. The pair rides a bus that bounces along before exploring the crowded stalls of fresh meats, fish and produce.

Beautifully illustrated pages and a lovingly crafted narrative expose young readers, ages 5 and up, to the sights and sounds of a busy marketplace. The excitement and bustle of the day are fun to explore from the child’s vantage point. The games could be more educational with a bit more development of the theme of cooking and traditional Filipino foods, but they are certainly engaging to the target audience. It would also be nice to see highlighting added with the narration, along with hints to explain the interactive touch-points.

Read Carisa Kluver’s whole review here.


Rommel Joson draws out his inner child.

Rommel has been drawing ever since he could remember–he even got a Dean’s Award for Visual Arts back in college–but it took some time before he finally went into the business of illustration.


Armed with his Business Management degree from Ateneo de Manila, he got a job as an advertising account executive in an ad agency. A couple of years in the ad business made him realize that he really wanted to be in the creative field,  so he went back to school, this time at the University of the Philippines, to work toward a degree in Fine Arts. Turns out that drawing really was his first love, and it wasn’t unrequited at all. He finished with magna cum laude honors.

After that, he promptly went back to advertising, this time as a creative. But then he found out after a couple of more years that he felt more passionately about other things aside from advertising, so he quit advertising all over again to focus more on drawing and painting.

Rommel has gotten some recognition for his advertising and design work–a silver and a bronze in the Philippine Araw Awards and a silver from the 1st Adobo Design Awards–but he says that the awards he got from painting and illustration are the things that bring him the most satisfaction.

In painting, Rommel placed third in the Oil/Acrylic Category of the Shell National Art Competition and finished as a semi-finalist at the Metrobank Art and Design Excellence Competition. In comics, Rommel won third place at the Neil Gaiman-Fully Booked Graphic Competition. He was included in Rogue Magazine’s feature on Top 16 Filipino Illustrators way back in 2007. For his work as an illustrator for children, he snagged a couple of honorable mentions at the PBBY-Alcala Prize.

MTP:  How do you keep busy every day?  Is illustrating a full-time job?


I only started to seriously illustrate children’s books two years ago. So far, I have six books under my belt with three more on the way this year (2013).

I do it part-time though.  I work three times a week at Studio Dialogo ( as a designer/illustrator. We do design for print and web. Currently, we’ve been doing a lot of annual reports, calendars and identity design for a variety of clients.

The rest of the week, I devote to my personal projects such as painting and children’s book illustration. I currently wrapped up a two-man show with Sergio Bumatay III. Aside from book illustration, gallery work will be something I’ll be getting into more in the coming months.


MTP: Why do you illustrate for kids? What’s in it for you?

I wish I could give some profound meaning to why I illustrate for children. I’ve thought about this many times before but never could get at a satisfactory answer. I don’t think “enjoyment” is quite the word I’d use. Maybe it gives me satisfaction. I think I draw to satisfy the child in me.

I grew up reading comics and children’s books and over the years I’ve come to admire a lot of people involved in making these things. I think there comes a point in a fan’s life where reading and enjoying the content isn’t enough anymore and you just want to make stuff yourself and be part of that whole tradition of making stuff up that people can enjoy. Then you realize that maybe you have a knack for it and just keep on doing it because other people seem to enjoy the work that you do. Then, maybe that’s when you decide that “hey, I’ll just keep on doing this”.

MTP:  Thank you for making time for my blog, Rommel!

See samples of Rommel’s wonderful illustrations here.

We’re in for a treat. Rommel takes us on a privileged tour of his wonderful studio.


Rommel: Over a year ago, I decided that I had to have a legitimate workspace for my art projects as well as proper spaces for the books that had grown like shaky towers inside my room. So I sequestered an unused space in the house, had shelves made and bought a big, sturdy table. 


My table that can fit two to three people working at the same time. This is where I do my digital work as well as small painting projects. For large-scale paintings, I have an easel where I can prop up my canvases.


I also have a drafting table with a lightbox for projects that require some tracing.


My studio is my favorite part of the house because I love looking at my books all lined up on the wall.


A star from Kirkus!

Kirkus Star

This morning I woke up to wonderful news on my Facebook wall.  My publisher Adarna House tagged the developer (Agno Almario), the illustrator (Isabel Roxas) and me in a most incredible status update: our “Araw sa Palengke” app just got a starred review from Kirkus!

From the Kirkus review:
“Based on an award-winning picture book from the Philippines, this charming app brings the sights, smells and tastes of a traditional Filipino market to a wide audience.”

Read the rest of the review here.

araw front cover

If you haven’t downloaded it yet, get your free app here.

Even before I published my first book with Adarna House back in 1995, I had stories from childhood I kept in my mind and heart, and I wondered what good they were for, apart from telling them someday to my children and hopefully, my grandchildren. And “Araw sa Palengke” was one of those stories, which my publisher, Ms. Ani Almario of Adarna House, happily allowed me to share with the rest of the world. My eternal wholehearted thanks to Ani and Adarna House for the wonderful privilege. My gratitude as well to Isabel Roxas for the amazing and super charming illustrations, and to Agno Almario for bringing the book to digital life.

A story of greed, obsession and deception—for kids.

C had a challenge for me when we brainstormed for the fourth and last book in the Oishi Peso Smart Kids series. He said, what if we made a picture book based on Denis Diderot’s “Regrets sur ma vielille robe de chambre ou avis a ceux qui ont plus de gout que de fortune” (Regrets on my dressing gown or advice to those who have more taste than fortune). Off the top of my head, I told him the story won’t fit into the current format, because Diderot was an adult character, and it would be a biography. I tried to sway him by suggesting other topics, but he was firm and he was convinced that we should do it.

Good thing C had faith I will mull it over till I got a story, and in no time I was able to think of a story. Then we spent several meetings spread over a year fine-tuning the story before we turned the manuscript over to the magical hands of Beth Parrocha Doctolero. The book is now printed, and will soon be available as freebies in your favorite Oishi Cuckoo bag this Christmas. All four Oishi Peso Smart titles are now available at Fully Booked Boni High Street. Buy your copies now! Or read online, for free!

Daring to Dream

Up until the time Philippine National Artist for Literature and children’s book publisher Mr Virgilio Almario offered to publish my story, “The Little Wishing Star” for Adarna House in 1995, I really did not have much of an idea how to write a story. The story I submitted to Palanca I wrote pretty much just patterned after stories I liked as a kid.  (Adarna House subsequently published “The Little Wishing Star” as “Estrellita: The Little Wishing Star” in 1995.) “The Little Wishing Star” won 2nd place in the English Division, Short Story for Children. Not too bad for my very first attempt. Wasn’t as lucky with a second attempt, though, haha.

Without a writing degree, I had thought that publishing a children’s book would be one of those things that will just remain on my dream list.

Back then, there were not much articles online on writing for children, much less, on getting published as a children’s author. All I had were books on writing I had picked up at F Sionil Jose’s La Solidaridad Book Shop which was near my place of work. I had a degree in Fine Arts; was armed with enough skills and techniques for preparing illustrations for children’s books perhaps—but didn’t know the first thing about structuring stories. Now you only have to type the keywords “writing for children”, probably like what you did a few minutes ago before you arrived at this page, and you will get pages and pages of references on plot, character, setting, point of view, conflict and whatever else you need to know—without having to take a writing course. You only had to follow your nose, of course, to discern which sites were credible and helpful. But what I did know for certain back then was that as soon as I published my first book, I was hooked, and I wanted to publish more, so I enrolled for membership with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) because I wanted to get serious about writing.

With my SCBWI membership, I was able to fast-track my education as a writer and illustrator of children’s books, by acquainting myself with the best practices in the U.S. particularly, which probably has the busiest children’s book publishing industry in the world. Through the years, and close friendships with like-minded souls, i’ve collected some tips and tricks on my own that come in handy when I get commissions for books. (I’ve been writing for almost 17 years now, and submitted a couple of book proposals, but all the books I’ve published so far are commissions.)

Age appropriateness

When you want to write for children, you need to be sensitive to children’s developmental milestones, in order for your work to resonate with your target audience. A four-year-old preschooler is a different animal from a fourth grader, for instance.

Just imagine yourself as a kid–you were just beginning to write your name, just  learning to read and count, as a four-year-old. By the fourth grade, you were already performing science experiments, writing theme compositions, learning your multiplication tables, etc.   There is a world of difference between these two kids, and so there should consequently be a difference in style and approach, and more importantly, word choice, when writing for these two audiences. But it also happens that some books, like Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”, appeal to a range of readers across all ages because they are metaphorical. In that case, if you really want to reach a wide range of readers, you will have to write your book in a way they will be understood by the youngest ones.

My rule of thumb is, the younger the audience, the simpler and more straightforward the syntax and the plot.  I steer clear of participles and progressive tenses.  When writing for younger kids, I also avoid using flashbacks, juxtapositions and other sophisticated literary devices.

I try to keep my word count under 400 when writing for picture books. More than 400 words for me look really crowded on the page, especially as local publishers like to publish parallel texts. Whenever I design my picture books I also think 16 points as the ideal point size. However, I think 14 points is still workable for wordier books.

Even if somebody else wrote the manuscript I like chopping up and numbering the manuscript into easily digestible chunks, according to the key points and the publisher’s given number of spreads. As an illustrator, I find the manuscript easier to work with when the story is divided so.

A mistake beginning writers for children often make is writing stories which are too complicated for their target audience. All too often they are adult issues expressed simplistically, or too abstract for kids to grasp. Sometimes there are books that talk down to kids, and I see this happen a lot in books that have anthropomorphic characters. (I made this mistake when I wrote my first book–it’s about a talking wishing star, for goodness’ sake. Now that I know better, I am not so inclined to write anything like it again, I think.)

I taught myself how to write books for children mostly through trial and error, by attending workshops and short courses on writing, and by reading very good books on writing as well as well-loved, excellently written children’s books. It was a good thing I didn’t let my lack of a writing degree stop me from fulfilling a childhood dream.

Drawing from life

The writing of many of my stories mostly start the same way—they were inspired by stories while I was growing up and they now include stories from my expanded world as an adult.  Everything I had ever written, I think, are, in varying degrees, semi-autobiographical.

When I was asked to write the Insular Life kiddie financial literacy series, I thought the readers needed a realistic story they could relate to, whether personally or through a classmate who had had a similar experience. And so I sought to write about kids with real-life concerns.  As a five-year-old preschooler, my son Anton was not of much help yet with the questions I asked myself for the project:  What do tweeners worry about now? How did they cope?

In starting to write a story, one wonders where one must begin.  And the insight I had been getting from many years of writing has been consistent. For me, the best starting point for a story is always myself, because it’s a territory I know so well—I draw aspects from my childhood, my present circumstances, my thoughts and view of the world. I don’t think it’s possible otherwise;  I’d literally get lost.

The directions for the Insular Life series, as communicated to me by my publisher Ani Almario from Adarna House, from the client brief through e-mail, were pretty pat: no mention of Insular Life brand or their products, stories must involve and empower the child reader into taking proactive steps in helping build the family wealth, and stories must be aimed at the middle reader (ages 8 to 12) so it was going to be a storybook, rather than a picture book.

Some projects practically write themselves.  As a little girl, I did have problems that had to do with my family’s financial status, and from a young age, I had been sensitive to the differences in my family’s financial circumstances with that of my classmates’, and this had been a source of my inferiority complex.  We didn’t eat out (for the same amount, my dad said we could have a feast at home), we rarely went to the cinema, we were given clothes or books instead of toys at Christmas, etc.  On the other hand, I had a classmate named Marjorie who had a new watch every week, had a tin Barbie lunch box with Thermos that I envied, and who celebrated her eleventh birthday by bringing our whole fifth grade class to their family fishpond in Bulacan.  Marjorie and I were classmates from the second to the sixth grades; she was also my very first art patron as she bought the paper dolls I drew on the cardboard backing of our writing pads (at 25 centavos) as well as the dresses (5 centavos for dresses and 10 centavos for gowns) I made for them.  Marjorie had also once pitted me in a drawing match with Beatrice, a girl from the morning classes.  There was no money involved, though.  But looking back now, I can see how she was so proud to be my friend and how she believed so much in my talent for drawing.

So many of these snippets of childhood memory found their way into The Luckiest Girl In the World, the first book. I had written down Marjorie as the name of the poor little rich girl in my drafts as a working name. I decided to keep it, however, because I thought it was perfect, and because the Marjorie I had created evolved to a completely different little girl from the inspiration—her mom was a nurse in UK (one of our classmates’ moms was a nurse in the US) and so she lived with her lola (grandmother).

Growing up, I wasn’t too crazy about my name. One of the names I fancied for myself was Carmina. My sixth grade teacher, Ms Dunca (now Mrs Alve) appears in a cameo role as Carmina’s Art teacher.

I got the project, my publisher Ani told me, because the client from Insular Life liked “Araw sa Palengke” which was illustrated by Isabel Roxas, art directed by Jordan Santos and published by Adarna House, and so they got the whole team back together again.

Christmas in February was loosely inspired by the stories from a friendship I’d been blessed to have—formed over the years, first through Friendster and Multiply, then through Facebook—with a woman who shares the same surname as my husband.  She and her husband work in UK, and their only child, a very smart and precocious little boy, lives with his grandparents.  Her sharings of her insights on motherhood, on working abroad, on being away from her only child are so touching and inspiring.

Insular Life wanted a story which featured children of Pinoys who worked overseas, because they want these kids to value their parents’ heroic sacrifice and consequently manage their allowances well. Insular Life wanted the kids to realize that they can help their parents in their own little way by saving up so that they will be reunited sooner. On my own initiative, I added the bit about the efficient management of funds by the caregivers (the main character Jaime’s grandparents) by imagining my parents in the role. Needless to say, Christmas in February was a bit more difficult to write, because I didn’t have the experience of working abroad at all, and I haven’t experienced being away from my child for a long time. But my parents, who were sketched as their younger selves as Carmina’s parents in The Luckiest Girl in the World, reappear this time as inspirations for Jaime’s grandpa and grandma who figure prominently in the story, with their sage advice on financial matters.

My parents came with me and my son to closing activity of the Insular Life Book Caravan at the 2010 Manila International Book Fair. Excerpts from the books were read as they were presented, and I saw how my parents turned both misty-eyed as they listened to Kuya Jay Menes. I was only too happy to show them that their stories and lessons all these years were not wasted on me, after all— because I listened.

Christmas in February was illustrated by the very talented young artist, Ariel Santillan.

Writing tip:  To form the outline for my stories, it helps for me to imagine the blurb on the cover of the book I want to write. I didn’t write the back cover blurbs for the Insular Life books, but I think it’s pretty much the way they would read if I had written them.  You must be able to pick out clearly the essential parts of your story and see how these contribute and flow into an integrated whole, so you will know where to take the story.

Snack food for the mind.

The great thing about working freelance is that I get to choose my projects.  And I’m so happy I got to do this series on financial literacy for kids for Liwayway Marketing Corporation (LMC), makers of Oishi snacks. And, it was as if the forces of the Universe were conspiring, because, the very next day, I got another e-mail from my publisher, Ani Almario of Adarna House, asking if I would be interested to write a series of books on the very same topic for their client, Insular Life. Needless to say, this incredible coincidence had put me in a quandary; do I say yes to one and turn down the other? And if it I were to decide based on a first-come, first-served basis, did that mean saying yes to Liwayway who was, after all, the one who contacted me first, and no to Adarna who contacted me the next day? Or keep mum, ask for a brief from both clients to know more about the projects, and then choose which was more interesting?

But the thing was, both projects seemed interesting.  Apart from Francisco Colayco and Nina Lim Yuson’s “Money for Kids (Pera Mo, Palaguin Mo)”, there didn’t seem to be any books on financial literacy for Filipino kids. And both clients were favorites of mine. LMC has been my client since 2003.  I wrote copy and designed packaging, billboards and a trade exhibit for them.  My relationship with Adarna House goes even farther back to 1995 when I published my very first children’s book. It was a tough one to decide. And so I wrote back both clients, telling them how I would love to work on their project and at the same time, informing them about my dilemma, without disclosing which parties were involved.  I prepared for the worst possible scenario, which was to lose both clients, held my breath, and waited.

And then, happily, I got both projects!  Both clients told me that they appreciated my confidence, and for as long as the other party didn’t mind, then they would be happy to work with me.  Even if they didn’t ask for it, I reassured both that I will make the two series very distinct in terms of style and treatment.  It also helped that LMC wanted a younger audience, the early reader, and Insular Life/Adarna wanted the middle readers.  More on the Insular Life/Adarna book series in another post.

To prepare for both projects (I had to work on both simultaneously, because of the deadlines, and, more importantly, because I wanted to draw up distinct frameworks for each series, I had to read up on local and foreign resources on financial management concepts, including but not limited to materials addressed to children.  My client C from LMC showed me some beautiful picture books, FDIC chair Shiela Bair‘s “Isabel’s Car Wash” and “Rock, Brock and the Savings Shock”.

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write picture books for children because the parents read the picture books with their kids, so the parents can maybe pick up some information too as they’re reading the book with their child.”–Shiela Bair

C was pretty definite with what he wanted to do with the Oishi series.  He wanted a wide readership that included the preschooler whose mother will read it to him, as well as the adult who needs advice in managing his retirement funds.  But first, we decided we had to call the series something. We brainstormed (and this would be characteristic with my working relationship with C throughout the writing of the series–a very close collaboration, with C acting as my co-writer and editor) and came up with Oishi Peso Smart Kids.

As for style, C and I agreed that a cautionary tale which would give the child a vicarious experience and which would be metaphorical as well and have an ambivalence adults can relate with.

ONCE I WAS RICH (©2009) In the first book, “Once I Was Rich:  True Confessions of a Nine-Year-Old Big Spender”, the little boy in the story gets a thousand pesos for his birthday and uses it up in no time.  This book warns how thoughtless spending is like an addiction which, when left unchecked, can lead to disastrous results. Mindfulness is key when spending, so that you will be able to manage your funds better.

MY NAME IS GUS GASTOS AND THERE’S A MONSTER IN MY ROOM (©2010) The second book is a bit autobiographical. Thoughtless accumulation of objects leads to clutter in the house.  Sometimes you collect so much clutter that it’s impossible for you to organize, keep track, much less, find things when you need them, so you buy new things to replace the things you’d lost, and the vicious cycle continues.  And because you had accumulated so much stuff–most of them unused–you fall into lethargy and refuse to take decisive steps to deal with the problem (which continually worsens).  And the problem is literally (and visually) turned into a monster.

MAKING PAPERBOATS WITH PAPA (©2011)  The thing with making a story for a series is that you have to constantly check whether it fits–is it still within the topic of financial literacy, and more importantly, what does it contribute to the topic? will the storytelling be consistent with the previous ones? C and I have pitched to each other, and similarly, have shot down numerous story ideas before we wrote these three books (and a fourth one, which is still on the drawing board) for the Oishi Peso Smart Kids series. The tough part is how to do this and not be boring.

For the third book, C told me he wanted a story about Ondoy.  He told me of the story of his friend and of his profound personal insight from the flood, that against Nature you really are powerless, and so it’s best to live with zen habits, with only things that are most essential. I had my own personal experience to add to this third book. Ondoy had submerged my parents’ house in thigh-high flood.  The water rose so fast that we only had enough time to pull out drawers from my parents’ bedroom cabinets–drawers that contained precious family documents and family photographs–and take them up to the second floor.  Except for food and drinking water, my husband, sister-in-law and myself took very little else upstairs, because we had resigned to the fact that we won’t be able to save much anyway. Luckily we didn’t lose electricity the whole day, although we had voluntarily shut down the power for most of the time to avoid being electrocuted (because water had seeped into the electrical sockets), and during these times we had electricity I was able to read the updates on my friend’s Facebook walls, and one that particularly got my attention was the update on my friend (also illustrator for the Oishi Peso Smart Books series) Beth Parrocha Doctolero who said that their area was flooded, and then, much later, that she had made paper boats with her son.  I said, how wonderful, to be childlike and see opportunity for play and joy in the midst of a calamity. I had always envied Beth’s coolness, and had not envied her so much as I did then; I was near-hysterical with horrific imaginings of the tsunami at Banda Aceh. I was so scared for my son who was only three then.  I only wish I had Beth’s calmness.  It was all these that went into the 650-word storybook (the wordiest of the three; the first two ones were very tightly written, at around 400 words) that is now “Making Paperboats with Papa.”

The Oishi Peso Smart Kids Books are not available at your favorite bookstores, but you can learn more about Oishi’s financial literacy advocacy, get some tips on saving, and read “Once I Was Rich” and “Gus Gastos” online for free, in English or Filipino here. I think you can also try to inquire about how to get some copies of the books for your school library there. The books are wonderfully illustrated by the incredible Beth Parrocha Doctolero.