Category Archives: Reminiscences

Wondergirl Ilay

Wonder IlayImage copyright © 2017 May T Papa

I met Ilay in 2012. Mama Lyzeth told me that we will get along well, because Ilay loves books.

True enough, when Ilay and I met, we instantly became friends. She had just undergone a very delicate operation that took out a large tumor from between her eyes. But from her wide smile, her very quick and playful manner, it didn’t seem as if she had just gone through something very scary and painful. She was only four years old.

She must have some kind of superpowers, I thought. Amazing kid!

Ilay and her mother live in Bataan. They just come to Manila for Ilay’s treatments. Even if I wanted to visit her, Bataan was just too far away. Years passed, I was able to see Ilay grow up, through the photos Mama Lyzeth shared on her Facebook page.

“Ilay’s first day in school” Mama Lyzeth captioned one photograph. “Ate Ilay makes it to the Top 5 in class,” she captioned another. I was happy Ilay was growing up to be a happy, smart, and pretty young lady.

Last Sunday, Mama Lyzeth sent me a PM. And then I saw Ilay’s new pics. Apparently all these years, Ilay has still been very sickly.

“Things are not looking look good for Ilay,” Mama Lyzeth wrote. “The infection in her blood has reached her brain. She continues to fight, but we expect to lose her anytime now. She is already very weak.”

At age 9, brave Ilay is fighting her bravest fight yet, but her mortal body cannot keep up anymore. We are lifting Ilay up to God, in whose loving arms she can finally find comfort and rest.

Nakilala ko si Ilay noong 2012. Nasabi ni Mama Lyzeth na magkakasundo kami, dahil napakahilig ni Ilay sa libro.

Noong magkakilala kami, agad nga kaming nagkaibigan ni Ilay. Noo’y kakalampas pa lamang niya sa isang delikadong operasyon na nagtanggal ng malaking tumor sa pagitan ng kanyang mga mata. Ngunit di mo ito mababakas sa napakalaki niyang ngiti at liksi ng kilos. Tila walang nakakatakot o masakit na pinagdaanan. Apat na taon pa lamang siya.

Baka may superpowers siya, naisip ko tuloy. Pambihirang bata!

Ngunit sa Bataan nakatira si Ilay at ang kanyang nanay. Lumuluwas lamang sila kapag magpapagamot si Ilay. Gusto ko man siyang dalawin ay napakalayo ng Bataan. Sa kabila ng lahat, sa paglipas ng panahon, nasubaybayan ko ang kanyang paglaki mula sa mga letratong ibinabahagi ni Mama Lyzeth sa Facebook.

“Unang araw ni Ilay sa paaralan,” ani Mama Lyzeth sa isang letrato. “Top 5 si Ate Ilay,” aniya naman sa isa. Nakakatuwang makitang lumalaki si Ate Ilay na isang masiyahing, matalino, at magandang dalagita.

Bigla na lang noong Linggo, pinadalhan ako ng mensahe ni Mama Lyzeth. At nakita ko ang mga bagong larawan ni Ilay. Sa kabila pala ng kanyang masasayang letrato, sakitin pa rin pala si Ilay.

“Hindi maganda ang lagay ni Ilay,” aniya. “Umakyat na ang impeksyon niya sa dugo sa utak. Patuloy pa rin siyang lumalaban, ngunit ‘di na namin siya inaasahang magtatagal. Napakahina na ng kanyang katawan.”

Sa edad 9 na taon, ang pambihirang si Ilay ay lumalaban sa pinakamalaking laban ng kanyang buhay, ngunit hindi na kakayanan ng kanyang katawan. Itinataas namin ang aming pinakamamahal na si Ilay sa kandungan ng Panginoong Diyos, kung saan siya makahahanap ng ginhawa at pamamahinga.

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.

 

IMG_3821.JPG

Dream Date: Sinong manunulat o ilustrador ang nais mong makasama sa isang araw/gabí?

Rene O Villanueva 070915

Sa liit ang industriya ng children’s publishing sa Pilipinas, halos lahat magkakakilala, at halos lahat, magkakaibigan–sa personal o sa social network–kaya halos updated sa mga buhay-buhay ng isa’t isa. Nguni’t may isang manunulat akong nais sanang maka-date nang minsan pa, sa isang Dream Date—pero siya ay namayapa na. Kaya siguro mas maganda kung araw ‘yung date namin, para ‘di naman nakakatakot.

Si Rene O. Villanueva ay itinuturing ng maraming manunulat, maging ng ilang ilustrador ng aklat pambata, na kanilang mentor. Isa na ako doon sa magsasabing kahit paano’y naging “estudyante” niya. Noong siya ay nabubuhay pa, siya ay nagturo sa UP. Minsan din siyang naging creative director ng pambatang palabas-TV na Batibot, kung saan isa sa mga manunulat sa kanyang grupong pinangungunahan ay si Augie Rivera, na ngayo’y isa na ring premyadong manunulat ng aklat pambata.

Noong unang nalimbag ang aking unang aklat pambata, ang “Estrellita” (Adarna House, 1995), sinwerte ako na ako ang manunulat at ilustrador nito. Ngunit dahil nagtapos ako ng Fine Arts sa UP, mas ilustrasyon talaga ang linya ko. Ang tangi kong edukasyon sa malikhaing pagsulat ay ang pagbabasa ng maraming akda, at ilang mga workshop na aking nadaluhan kapag nakakakuha ako ng pagkakataon mag-VL (vacation leave) mula sa trabaho ko sa advertising. Sa UP National Writers’ Workshop at sa Barlaya ko unang nakasalimuha si Rene bilang panelist namin, noong ako ay nagsisimula pa lamang magsulat. At nang lumaon, naitatag namin ng ilan sa aking batchmates sa 1995 UP Writers’ Workshop ang Kuwentista ng mga Tsikiting (KUTING) sa paghihikayat na rin ni Rene at ibang mga panelists naming sina National Artist Virgilio S. Almario, Prof. Amelia Lapena-Bonifacio, at Prof. Mailin Paterno-Locsin, lagi namin siyang naaasahan maging panelist para sa mga workshop naming inoorganisa. Napaka-mapagbigay niya ng mga nakakatulong na puna sa workshop. Lagi rin namin siyang nakakasama sa maraming kaganapan sa larangan ng panitikan, gaya ng National Children’s Book Day, book launches, UP Writers’ Night, Manila International Book Fair, atbp.

Sa wakas ay nagkaroon ako ng pagkakataon maglarawan ng isang aklat ni Rene. Ngunit sing-bilis ng aking pag-oo ay siya ring bilis ng aking pagbawi. Dahil sa bigat ng trabaho sa opisina, hindi ko siya matatapos sa deadline, kaya minabuti ko nang umatras, humingi ng paumanhin, kaysa mabitin pa siya at ang publisher, at tuluyang ma-delay ang proyekto. Nagtampo siya. Matagal niya akong hindi kinausap at hindi pinapansin kapag magkikita kami. Ngunit isang araw noong 2001, laking gulat ko na lang nang tawagan ako ng Tahanan Books, at tinatanong nila ako kung maaari ko raw bang ilarawan ang bagong aklat ni Rene, ang “12 Kuwentong Pamasko.” Siyempre, pumayag agad ako!

12 Kwentong Pamasko

Ang saya ko. Tila napatawad na niya ako. At mabuti naman ay wala na akong iba pang ginawa na ikakasama ng loob niya hanggang namayapa siya noong 2007. Masaya ako at nagkaroon ako ng maraming pagkakataong makausap siya ulit, at minsan-minsan ay tanungin siya kung ano talaga ang sikreto niya sa pagsulat. Palagi, ang sagot lang niya ay:

“Sumulat ka lang nang sumulat.”

So pag nag-date kami ulit, hindi ko na siya ulit tatanungin kung ano ang sikreto niya, kasi tiyak ngingiwian lang ako n’un. Magkakape na lang kami at magtsitsismisan gaya ng dati, pagkatapos ay ipapapirma ko na ang kopya ko ng “12 Kuwentong Pamasko.” At, bago maghiwalay, titiyakin na magseselfie, magpapasalamat ako, at magpapaalam nang maayos. May iisa lamang kaming letrato na magkasama kami, sa booksigning ng aming aklat sa MIBF sa Philtrade noong 2001, pero hindi ko na ito mahanap. Ngunit mas malala—wala pala akong ni isang autograph niya sa mga kopya ko ng aklat niya!

When I was little.

Hula girl with drawin

Found the oldest entry in my portfolio, which I must have drawn when I was only 3. I still remember the title I gave this drawing, it’s “Crying Princess”. My mom included it in my baby album. I made it after watching a Nora Aunor (notice the mole) movie where she was a princess. The other pics on this page are gone, save for this pic of me in a hula skirt taken when I was one year and three months old.

Origami

ORIGAMI

Marjorie M. Evasco

This word unfolds, gathers up wind
to speed the crane’s flight
north of my sun to you.

I am shaping this poem
out of paper, folding
distances between our seasons.

This paper is a crane.
When its wings unfold,
The paper will be pure and empty.

When I was a little girl, Mommy used to fold origami animals out of colorful paper for me. She found time to make these for me at the end of the day, after she had finished all her household chores, and we would sit indian-style on the bed in the master bedroom. She had a kit which included a booklet and several sheets of colored paper, and she would let me choose which animal I wanted her to make.

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.