Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — How do dictatorship and social injustice look like from a child’s eyes?
In Adarna House’s “Ito Ang Diktadura” and “Mga Uring Panlipunan,” these realities find their way into a children’s book, explained in everyday Filipino and accompanied with meaningful illustrations that invite further questioning for a curious child.
“Mga Uring Panlipunan,” for example, tells you at the very beginning: “Pantay-pantay ang lahat ng tao. Ngunit may mga dahilan kung bakit sila nagiging hindi pantay: lakas, kapangyarihan, pera, at kultura.” The words are cut and intersposed with four warmly-colored panels illustrating physical strength, power, money, and culture, the drawings reminiscent of wood-cut engravings.
In “Ito ang Diktadura,” a magnified television still of a dictator is the subject of a press conference, a venue where reporters are not allowed to ask questions. “Press conference, walang maaaring magtanong,” says a poster at the corner. Nearby the dictator, seemingly small, peeks from a door. “Napagtanto nilang hindi naman talaga matapang ang diktador,” states the book.
Read by a Filipino child and put in the local context, the concept is not new, but the execution is inspired and buoyant in its vibrancy, with the slim volumes never resorting to pandering or lecturing to its intended reader.
“Mga Uring Panlipunan” and “Ito ang Diktadura” are part of Adarna House’s “Aklat ng Salin,” books translated from Spanish from a series called “Libros para Mañana,” or Books for Tomorrow. The source material, which is part of a four-book series, was published between 1978 and 1979 by La Gaya Ciencia in Barcelona, Spain, at a time when it was transitioning from the effects of the dictator Francisco Franco’s regime and transitioning towards a more stable democracy.
It took a long time for Adarna House to secure the publishing rights for a translated version of the books, says vice president for product development Ani Almario, but once the rights were secured the book development team at Adarna got to work. Children’s books published by Adarna usually take around nine to ten months to take shape, and for Almario, the need to publish “Ito and Diktadura” and “Mga Uring Panlipunan” was becoming more imperative considering the political context.
“There was a time in the ‘80s that we also translated tales from other parts of the world to widen the perspective of Filipino readers. We are doing it again to promote cultural understanding,” says Almario. “When we came out with the ‘Diktadura’ book and ‘Mga Uring Panlipunan,’ it was really in response to the times.”
The times, apparently, require not only a basic working knowledge of what a dictatorship looks like or how social injustice pervades society. The two picture books extend the picture book tradition by providing subtle commentary and tell-tale clues on how to identify instances of social injustices or dictatorship, from the perspective of an observant child.
An inspired spread in “Mga Uring Panlipunan,” for example, illustrates the injustices caused by a capitalist society in a few words and choice images. Illustrator Joan Negrescolor from Barcelona, Spain updated the original images by L.F. Santamaria, Negrescolor filling with warm and muted colors the bold and black strokes of Santamaria’s drawings.
Both illustrators utilize disproportion to highlight the strength and power of businessmen and the irrelevance and utility of the working class, drawn to mimic the shape and movement of ants, moving in and out of offices, factories, and shopping malls in an endless cycle where earnings end up in the pockets of capitalists.
As with “Mga Uring Panlipunan,” “Ito and Diktadura” is illustrated by Mikel Casal in a manner as to identify the dictator as a singular man. When he is not magnified ten times his size in a television screen, he holds within his enlarged physique portions of land: “Ipinagmamalaki niya ang KANIYANG bansa. Dahil sa KANIYA ang buong bansa,” the words state, with some capitalized for emphasis. In another page, the dictator parades himself and sits atop a sleek car with an icon emblazoned onto it, the same icon reproduced in flags raised by citizens down the street — some willing, some unwilling and nervously glancing at soldiers.
As with gadgets, a book, says Ani Almario, is not a replacement for the actual presence of a parent, [who must] guide the child on how best to absorb information.
There’s a painstaking attention to detail in the images in both books, which Almario says is important when it comes to producing books for children. “In our genre, people really judge a book by its cover,” she says. “We know it’s so important. Fifty percent of the picture book is pictures.” The aesthetic is Filipino, she adds, which can be anything that appeals to the Filipino reader.
While the books are child-friendly, however, they are not meant to be read alone. As with any activity of a growing child, a parent’s guidance is crucial in order to maximize the learning experience of reading a book.
“’Yung mga librong ganun, ‘di ‘yun pwedeng binabasa na wala kang kakausaping matanda. Kailangan, the parents, when they buy that, they have to recognize that they have a role in delivering the message of the book,” says Almario. “My child cannot digest this all by himself na walang guidance. Kasi kailangan mo ring pag-usapan. Bakit may dictators? Bakit pumayag na may ganung leader?
As with gadgets, a book, says Almario, is not a replacement for the actual presence of a parent. There’s a lot more work involved when a child is exposed to new material, the work being to guide the child on how best to absorb information learned, whether through a book or device.
While compelling in its storytelling and interactive in its approach, “Mga Uring Panlipunan” and “Ito ang Diktadura” come at a time when books compete for children’s attention with smartphones and tablets. But Almario doesn’t worry.
“All the kids naman I’ve met, though they’re into digital, they’re always enamored by a book … I always know there are moments when they have to choose between gadgets and books. Some moments the gadgets will win, some moments the book will win,” says Almario. “But I’ve never really had the books lose.”
“’Pag binigyan mo sila ng good books, they will always want to read good books.”
Aside from the “Aklat ng Salin” series, Adarna House recently published “Seryeng Bayani,” historical fiction books set in whimsical watercolor, on the lives of Philippine heroes such as Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, and Gregoria de Jesus. The books are available in its bookshop at 109 Scout Fernandez corner Scout Torillo Streets, Barangay Sacred Heart, Quezon City, or may be ordered online through their website.