Category Archives: Children’s Literature

10 hours in Dubai

The hotel checkout at Sharjah Hilton was at 12 noon and I had been all set to go earlier to the airport, spend the night there and wait for my 3 AM flight. But what does one do when she has fifteen hours to kill? Good thing my kind-hearted Dubai-based cousin Roman took pity on me and told me that he and his lovely wife Arlyn will pick me up and take me on a quick tour of Dubai.


Nurture vs Nature

How much does nature contribute to an individual’s formation? How much does their environment influence their being? Is behavior inherited (ie genetic) or acquired–or both?

“Nature is what we think of as pre-wiring and is influenced by genetic inheritance and other biological factors. Nurture is generally taken as the influence of external factors after conception e.g. the product of exposure, experience and learning on an individual.”


According to their LinkedIn page, “Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children is founded on the belief that culture is essential to understanding both ourselves and the world in which we live today. The overall aim is to enrich the cultural lives of children and prepare them to welcome their future.”

This, I believe, is what the world needs to nurture confident, culturally literate and emotionally intelligent kids–a cultural centre like the Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children. The Centre encourages creative self-expression. They even have a 24-hour family radio station, Pearl FM (with 5 studios) where kids can call in and talk about just anything.

I was privileged to be taken on a tour around the complex, and I was just awed at the facilities and the conceptualization, creative energy, as well as resources that brought the centre to life.

Grateful to the Sharjah Book Authority for arranging my storytelling activity at the Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children as part of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2017. Thanks also to Ms. Ayesha Juma, AJCCC Director for Program Management, and the very accommodating AJCCC staff for making me feel so welcome and taking me on a wonderful tour around their centre.

The story behind our bee book.

I believe that the true test of a brand story’s worthiness is when it can explain complicated things to a child.

Shell Philippines gave me my most challenging commission yet, a picture book that will engage young and old readers alike, and call their attention to urgent environmental concerns.



We rewrite our story: Day 2 of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival

We are so different, and yet, in many things, we are also alike.

AJCCC facade.png

The Al Jalila Cultural Center for Children. An amazing place. This was where did my storytelling on the morning of my second day at SCRF.


Ms Marwa (below, left) welcomed us and ushered us to the AJCCC Library on the second floor.

I was assisted by SCRF 2017 student volunteer, the petite Amie (below, right), who balanced herself amazingly in stilletos while lugging an LCD projector.


I felt so privileged to do my storytelling in such an inspiring place. (Was later taken on a tour of the place. Will post the pics in a separate post.)

School children magically appeared as soon as we had settled and set up our projector in the library. Shortly after we’d gone up to the second floor, a couple of school buses must have arrived carrying some thirty school children and their teachers. There was no sign of them while we were in the lobby earlier. Or, maybe there is a school adjacent to the cultural center?


Me: I heard that the kids who come to the AJCCC are the smartest and most creative…
Kids: Yes, Teacher!
Me: I was wondering if you could help me with my problem.
Abdulrahman M: What is your problem, Teacher?
Me: I wrote a book, and I used some Filipino words. I want to rewrite it using Arabic words so Arab kids can understand it. Do you think you can help me?
Kids: (chorus) Yes, Teacher!


And so we brainstormed (above), and chose the best words to use in our storytelling:

Yammah. Souk. Rafiqui. Sellah.

I was very pleased. I liked the sound of our words.

It was impressive because these kids were not only bilingual, but they were literate in writing in Arabic and English. They were very specific with the pronunciation as we agreed on our anglicized spellings of the Arabic words. The teachers beamed as they listened to their students enthusiastically interact with me. When the Head Teacher saw that the kids kept raising their hands to suggest even more words, she laughingly said, “We have about twenty words for everything!”

Was also told that it is easier to learn to write in English than in Arabic. These kids are geniuses, then, to both know how to write in Arabic and Latin.

In exchange, I taught them Filipino words: Nanay (mother), Palengke (market), Suki (customer-pal), and Bayong (native basket).


And I read them my book with its new title,  “A Day at the Souk” (above), using the Arabic words:

Today, I woke up early.
I was still sleepy when Yamma helped me get dressed.
I will spend the day with her.
Today is souk day!

Yamma and I each carry a sellah.
Yamma’s sellah is big and colorful.
Mine was small and yellow.

I told the story using slides. There was an awkward moment of silence, as I clicked and showed them this scene (below).

I had told this story a hundred times. I had forgotten it was there.


A little boy, whose name I would later find out, is Abdulrahman M, raised his hand, and exclaimed:  Teachur, der ees a P. I. G.!

His outburst caused the class to titter. I felt faint, and flushed all over, about the faux pas.

I remarked to the Head Teacher:  I apologize for that oversight.

She smiled, gave a little compassionate nod, and waved her hand, as if to say, “Don’t worry about it.”

Then I explained  to the children that it was a typical scene in a Philippine market, unlike in a souk, where the meat they sell is halal.

After the storytelling, I told the children that it was only my second day in the UAE and so I’ve not yet been to an Arabian souk, and if they would be so kind as to draw me a picture (below).


The activity made them quiet for about five minutes, hahaha.

The Head Teacher thanked me. “You were wonderful with the kids,” she smiled.

“The pleasure, really, is mine, Ma’am, ” I told her.

We took some group pics, but Amie took my pics for my camera from the side, huhuhu.

As the kids formed lines and waited to exit the library with their teachers, Maha came up to me, stood on tiptoes and gently pulled me toward her, to whisper in my ear:  I drew your picture at the back of my drawing, Miss May! (Maha’s drawing of me as Miss May Buterskawt, below.)


Was overwhelmed, because I believe I gained more than I gave of myself in this storytelling session.

Thank you, Sharjah Book Authority. Thank you, Al Jalila Cultural Center for Children.

It was a truly unforgettable experience.


29 copy

A Whole New World: The Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (2017)

I came to Sharjah eager to share of myself and Philippine children’s literature. Five days later, I flew back home, my mind and heart filled with wonderful and shiny new treasures. Attending the 2017 Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, I unexpectedly became a richer individual than I had been five days before — in terms of inspiration and insights.

Day 1:  My flight was late. We touched down at around 5:00 AM, almost an hour late. When I finally got out of the airport the sun was just coming out.

By the time we’d turned into Corniche Road where the Hilton was, the sun had already risen (below). I come from a country very famous for its sunsets. Only then, I realized that I had for years been programmed to look westward and at the end of the day, to look at the sun; I had never seen the sun at sunrise as immense as magnificent as this. It felt like a warm hug. It truly seemed as if God was smiling at me. What a beautiful greeting Sharjah gave me. Sadly, my phone cam did not do it justice at all.

Despite the lateness of my flight, it looked like I arrived too early for the festival. The  SCRF 2017 booth at the Hilton lobby had not even opened yet when I checked in. In my room, I napped for a couple of hours and then freshened up, then went down again to check the booth again to get my guest badge and inquire about transport to the opening ceremonies of SCRF 2017.

I got this box of cute doodads as a welcome gift from the Sharjah Book Authority (below).

It had felt so surreal, to be in the United Arab Emirates. The place is so unlike anywhere I’d ever been. But even then, within the UAE, the contrast between the emirates of Dubai and Sharjah seemed so marked. You will notice this in the architecture of the skyline. While Dubai is all modern, cosmopolitan and shiny, Sharjah’s sand-colored cityscape is proud, elegant and genteel, designed to complement the changing colors of the sun. Both are fascinating gems in a crown setting, each uniquely beautiful in its own way.

On the way to the Expo Centre, we passed by the iconic Eye of the Emirates (below).

It wasn’t  a dream after all, as I checked my FB news feed. In just a few hours, I was already going to be in my first SCRF event, a panel discussion on “Illustrated Stories and Its Status”. The Sharjah Book Authority had already announced it on social media (below).

The entrance to the Sharjah Expo Centre, venue of the 2017 Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (below). The theme for SCRF 2017 is “Discover Beyond”.

A handy guide to the activities and a map to help you locate these in the huge venue (below).

Had to pinch and tell myself again that this was really happening.

Cute preschoolers in very colorful costumes hold up hashtags in Arabic (below). It was only my very first few minutes in the Expo Centre, so I’d been unable to ask anybody for a translation of the signs.

Very young schoolchildren waiting for the Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi to open the festival gamely pose for photographs (below).

A typical panel discussion that simultaneously happened around the venue. This featured two very young talents (below). One was a published writer who wrote her own stories in English while the other one was a storyteller who specialized in interpreting traditional Arabic stories. The forum was  bilingual and the rapt audience was composed of middle schoolers.

(Below) Our panel discussion entitled “Illustrated Text:  Illustrated Stories and Its Status”, facilitated by Linda Abdel Latif (Egypt) and co-paneled by  Sheena Dempsey (UK) and myself (Philippines).  The questions were in Arabic. Sheena and I and the audience were provided headsets while a translator in the booth interpreted the questions and answers alternately in Arabic and English–in real time. So cool.

Sheena discussed the importance of the various roles the illustrator plays to meet the changing needs of the child readers in their various developmental stages,  “Illustration plays different roles in different genres of books. In picture books for instance, the illustrator co-invents or co-authors the book, while it is seen playing a slightly different role in fiction where the illustrator responds to the author’s text – something I did for Dave Pigeon by Swapna Haddow,” said Dempsey.

I talked more about the expanding definition of literacy, beyond reading and writing, to include the visual as well. “In the college where I used to teach back in the Philippines, we have pushed illustration to include the visual metaphor, the visual pun, and visual analogy — traditional terms normally used in the formation of text — and applied these to visuals. There is a similar movement in visual arts schools in the US toward visual literacy. In a media-dominated world, we not only read books and magazines, but film, internet content, TV shows, and we need to learn to respond to these critically.”

Linda, Sheena, and I pose for posterity (above).

My lovely host, Ms. Cool-under-pressure Qurrat of the Sharjah Book Authority and I finally meet, and of course, we celebrate our first meeting with a selfie.

What an incredible first day!

On the way back to the Hilton, the glittery Eye of the Emirates winks at me.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 5.32.22 PM

The Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival is a cultural celebration attracting not only children, but extending the joy of learning to parents and adults in a family- friendly atmosphere. SCRF encourages learning and self-education from a young age, helping raise a generation of leaders, scholars and professionals who will contribute to the development of their society.

SCRF is held annually under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, the UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Muhammad Al Qasimi.


Wish List: Anong Pilipinong aklat pambata o pangkabataan ang gusto mong mailimbag?

1. Isang aklat pambata ni National Artist Virgilio S. Almario tungkol sa kung paano maging makata, at serye ng mga aklat na hihimok sa mga batang subukang magsulat din ng maikling kwento, awit, dula, at personal na sanaysay–upang maging bahagi ito ng malikhaing pagpapahayag sa kanilang sarili. Malaki kasing suliranin ng ating kabataan ay ang paghanap sa kanilang pagkakakilanlan, kung kaya nahuhumaling sa cosplay. Walang masama dito, ngunit sana’y magkaroon din sila ng venue upang mahanap ang kanilang panloob na pagkakakilanlan.

Ngunit, bumalik tayo sa dream book ko na isusulat sana ni Sir Rio. Sa lahat ng genre, ang tula pa rin ang pinaka-intimidating sa madla, hindi lang sa ating kultura, pero maging sa dayuhang kultura. Kung basehan ang mga kuwentong-pambatang nilikha niya, ang saya siguro matuto ng paglikha ng tula mula kay Sir Rio, kahit ito ay sa pamamagitan ng isang how-to book lamang. Sana ito ay masaya ang pagkakadisenyo at sana ito ay may mga makukulay na ilustrasyon, upang ito’y mas masayang basahin.

2. Mas maraming tunay na “picture book”–mga aklat na pasisimulan ng mga ilustrador, hindi ng manunulat. O totally walang teksto. Panahon na para makilala natin ang ating mga Shaun Tan, David Weisner, Jillian Tamaki, at Isabelle Arsenault. Ang aktibong gumagawa nito, ng pag-initiate ng ilustrador sa paglikha ng aklat, marahil, ay si Jomike Tejido. Lumalago na rin ang lokal na graphic novel industry, na nagsyo-showcase ng mahuhusay na trabaho ng mga ilustrador na Pinoy. Ngunit, napakalaki pa ng potensyal ng picture book, may mga uring hindi pa natin nakikita dito sa Pilipinas. Hindi naman tayo nagkukulang sa mga ilustrador na may kakayahang mangyari ito. Kulang tayo, marahil, sa mga premyong mala-Caldecott at siguro, mas masigasig na encouragement mula sa mga publisher. Ang Canvas books ay may ganitong layunin sa paglikha ng picture books–nauuna idevelop ang biswal bago teksto–ngunit may kamahalan lang ang kanilang mga aklat. Sana ay may pang-commercial market sila. Ang PBBY Illustrators Prize naman, sa tingin ko, ay maaaring maging daan upang mangyari ito kung siguro minsan bawat dalawang taon o salitan ng taon, iuuna nilang ilunsad ang Illustrators Prize kaysa Writers Prize.

3. Mas maraming aklat para sa mga batang may special needs. Upang tunay at tuluyang maisakatuparan ang layunin  ng Deped sa kanilang “No Child Left Behind”, kailangang bigyang-tuon at kilalanin din ang pangangailangan sa edukasyon ng mga batang may kapansanan sa pamamagitan ng paglikha ng mas inclusive na lipunan para sa kanila. Ang unang-unang hakbang ay ang pagturo ng pag-unawa sa mga batang walang kapansanan. Sa aking palagay ay malaki ang magagawa ng mga aklat na pumapaksa sa 1)  “anti-bullying”,  2) mga specific na kapansanan ngunit sa mas sensitibong pamamaraan gaya ng “Xilef”, 3) araw-araw na buhay ng mga batang may kapansanan–sila ay mga bata rin!

4. Ang maraming mga kuwentong nasa mga notebook ko!

Libre lang naman ang mangarap.


Maligayang Pambansang Araw ng mga Aklat Pambata!

Ano ang paborito mong aklat pambata?

anton dindo

Tuwing tatanungin ako ng tanong na ito, iba-iba ang aking sagot—dahil napakarami ng aking paboritong aklat! Hindi rin makakatulong na tanungin ko itong si Kulit, kasi may sarili din siyang listahan. Kaya para sa kontribusyon kong ito sa blog tour ng NCBD 2015, sinikap kong pumili na lamang ng apat na aklat na kasalukuyang top-of-mind ko. At heto sila, in no particular order:


Augie Rivera/Beth Parrocha Doctolero
Adarna House, 2000

Mula 2000 hanggang ngayon, para sa akin, nananatili ang Xilef bilang isang akdang natatangi sa paglalarawan ng isang batang may special needs. Well-researched at sensitibo ang pagkakasulat ni Augie Rivera. Hindi sensationalized at stereotypical ang pagsasalarawan ng dyslexia; sa halip ay nagbibigay ito ng kalinawan sa dati ay isang mahirap intindihing learning disability. Naniniwala ako na kung may mas malinaw na pag-unawa ang mga batang Pilipino (maging ang kanilang mga magulang) ngayon tungkol sa dyslexia, ito ay sa malaking bahagi dahil nabasa nila ang Xilef. Hindi tumigil si Rivera sa pagtawag ng pansin sa dyslexia; maingat niyang inilarawan ang mundo ng batang si Felix sa paraang makikita ng mambabasa ang araw-araw na mga challenges na hinaharap nito sa pagbabasa. Mahalaga ito sa depiksyon ng ganitong espesyal na paksa. Kapag stereotypical ang paglalarawan ng kapansanan ay lalo lamang itong nakakasama imbes na nakakabuti. Naeexploit ang subject matter para lamang sa dramatic effect nito. Dapat tanggalin na ang pokus sa mga kakatwang katangian ng kapansanan at ilipat ito sa paglalarawan ng punto de bista ng taong may kapansanan, sa layuning baguhin na ang prevalent habit na ibahin sila mula sa tipikal, ibukod sila sa kanilang sariling mundo. Mahalaga ring kunin ang pag-unawa–sa halip na awa–ng mambabasa, at tuluyan nang tanggalin ang stigma sa pagkakaroon ng kapansanan, upang ang kalahatan ng lipunan ay tuluyan nang maging inclusive. Malaki ang responsibilidad ng manunulat sa pagsulat tungkol sa mga espesyal na paksa gaya ng dyslexia, at sa Xilef naipakita ni Rivera kung paano ito magandang gawin.

Magaan ang paghawak ni Rivera sa kanyang paksa, sa pamamagitan ng paglalarawan sa dyslexic na si Felix bilang isang batang may malikhaing imahinasyon. Maliban sa kanyang kapansanan, si Felix ay isang karakter na engaging at relatable. Sa madyik ng pag-iisip at kamay ni Beth Parrocha Doctolero, si Felix ay isang kyut na superhero na lumilipad sa makulay na kalawakan ng mga lumulutang na titik at asteroids.


Russell Molina/Hubert Fucio
Adarna House, 2012

Bilang anak ng isang taong minsang nagtrabaho bilang barbero, damang-dama ko ang punto de bista ng batang lalaki sa kuwento. Mula una kong bertdey hanggang nag-15, ang tatay ko lang ang gumugupit sa akin at sa aking 5 nakababatang kapatid. At iisa lang na estilo: chin-length na blunt cut. At ayaw niyang pahahabain ko ang aking buhok. Mas malinis daw tignan pag maiklli. Pero simula nang mag-16 ako, walang man lang paliwanag (hindi ko na rin siya tinanong) ay binigyan na niya ako ng allowance mga 4 hanggang 5 beses isang taon para magpunta sa parlor at magpa-style ng buhok. Kaya nagpakulot ako at nagpakulay ng buhok.

Nakakaaliw ang kuwento ni Russell Molina. Isa siyang ekspertong kuwentista na kaya kang paluhain sa kakatawa at walang babala, bigla-bigla kang paluluhain sa isang pihit lang—dahil sa isang gunita, o sa kuwentong ito, sa biglang pagtanto ng barberong tatay ni Eboy na binata na pala ito. May kurot sa dibdib ko tuloy pagdating sa bahaging tinanong si Eboy ng tatay niya, “Gupit binata ba iho?” Ganito rin kaya ang naisip ng Tatay ko nang napansin niyang ayaw na naming magkakapatid magpagupit sa kanya?

Gusto ko ang mapaglarong isip ni Eboy, na nahuli ng sing-mapaglaro at kakatwang mga biswal ni Hubert Fucio. Pinakanaaliw ako sa pagkalarawan kay Eboy at kanyang tatay nang nakabaligtad. Magtataka ka kung bakit sila baligtad. (Binaligtad ko ang pahina upang tignan kung mas mukhang tama sa paningin, pero mas mukhang tama ang komposisyon pag nakabaligtad dahil ang visual weight talaga ay nasa ibaba ng pahina.) Sa palagay ko ay sadyang inilarawan ni Fucio ang eksena nang baligtad—at marahil (dahil lamang may barberya dati ang tatay ko noong ako ay maliit pa kaya ko ito naisip), si Eboy ay nakatingin sa sarili niya sa bilog na salamin na nakaanggulo at nakapuwesto nang mataas sa dingding ng barberya (isang bagay na hindi na nakikita ngayon sa mga modernong barberya at parlor.) Matanong ko nga mamaya ang tatay ko.


ni Jomike Tejido
Adarna House, 2012

Ang “Dindo Pundido” ni Jomike Tejido ay may mga sangkap ng isang magandang kuwento: 1) temang mahusay ang pagkakabuo; 2) isang bida na nagdaan sa isang malaking pagbabago sa kanyang katauhan (o, mas tama ata, ka-alitaptapan); 3) isang paksang interesante sa mga bata—mga alitaptap; at 4) isang kawiliwiling plot. Dahil dito, paborito kong gamitin itong aklat bilang halimbawa sa aking pagtuturo ng mga workshop sa malikhaing pagsulat. Madali kong naipapakita sa aking mga estudyante ang mga elemento ng maikling kuwento at nailalarawan ko sa kanila ang bisa ng mga ito. Bukod dito, ang “Dindo Pundido” rin ay isa rin sa mga unang paboritong aklat ni Kulit. Dahil simple at payak ang kuwento, maaari itong bigyan ng mga matalinhaga—-bukod sa literal–na pakahulugan. Gusto ko ang mensahe ng kuwento. Maaring gamitin ang mga aklat na ganito sa bibliotherapy. Hinihimok nito ang batang mambabasang hanapin ang kanyang lakas sa kabila ng kanyang kahinaan, upang malampasan ang kanyang limitasyon o kahit anumang balakid sa kanyang minimithi.

Nasa ikalawang edisyon na ang “Dindo Pundido”. At sa pagitan ng unang pagkalimbag nito noong 2002 at 2012 ay mapapansin ang pag-mature ng estilo ni Tejido bilang ilustrador. Sa unang edisyon, kahanga-hanga ang paggamit ni Tejido ng medium na hindi pa gaano nagagamit noong mga panahong iyon sa ilustrasyon ng mga aklat-pambata, ang luwad. Ngunit sa ekspertong paghawak ni Tejido sa digital medium sa ikalawang edisyon, mas lalong umangat ang pananarinari ng kulay at texture ng mga halaman sa hardin na nagmistulang kagubatan.


Rene O. Villanueva at Ibarra C. Crisostomo
Cacho Publishing House, 1991

Dahil, unang-una, sa mga linyang ito:
“Walang silbi ang baboy na hindi naging litson!
Walang halaga ang baboy na
hindi man lang naging tsitsaron!

Sobrang nakakatawa!

Ngunit bukod at higit sa nakakaaliw, ang “Ang Unang Baboy sa Langit” ay may importanteng mensahe tungkol sa kahalagahan ng pagpapanatili ng integridad at ideyalismo sa kabila ng kakulangan nito sa lipunan. Kahanga-hanga si Butsiki dahil hindi siya nagpatalo sa “peer pressure” at pinanatili niya at pinanindigan niya ang kanyang mga paniniwala at mga pagpapahalaga (values) sa kanyang paghanap ng kanyang life purpose. Sa mas malalim na talakayan, ang “herd mentality” dito ng mga baboy ay maaaring tignang talihhaga para sa umiiral na masamang kaugalian sa lipunan, at si Butsiki ay maaaring tignan bilang pag-iisip na antiestablishment. 1991 pa nang unang nalimbag ang aklat na ito, panahong pre-digital. Narinig ko nang naikwento ng publisher na si G. Ramon Sunico kung paano mabusisi ang pagkakagawa ng mga ilustrasyon ni Ibarra C. Crisostomo. Kung tama ang pagkaalala ko, ang bawat kulay ay ibinukod ni Crisostomo sa magkakahiwalay na layer, kumbaga manual ang color separation. Sulit ang pagod ni Crisostomo. Ang resulta ay isang napakakulay at napakasayang aklat na isa ngayong klasiko sa panitikang pambata.