Category Archives: Children’s Books

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 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.