Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Children’s books have often been used as a tool to explain or instill values that kids should practice or at least be aware of. Typical themes of love, courage, and friendship have filled these books, sparking imaginations and a sense of adventure in children across the globe.
In recent years, however, subjects that are deemed to be difficult for young ones to comprehend — history, death, solitude, and discrimination, among others — have also permeated children’s literature. In the Philippines, it has become clear that publishers and authors of Filipino children’s books have not shied away from stories that tackle taboo topics as well as address social issues and injustices.
To end the year, we asked children’s books publishers and authors their recommended children’s books in 2018 that have stood out.
Meg Roxas of Tahanan Books
“Pitong Tsinelas” by Divine Gil Reyes
This is a simple story of coming together despite our differences. Though its board book format is meant for toddlers, its story of inclusivity and acceptance will resonate with any child or parent from all walks of life. It’s never too early to introduce relevant societal issues. After all, it takes a village to raise a child. The “Pitong Tsinelas” board book was created in collaboration with Save the Children Philippines.
“Dalawa ang Daddy ni Billy” by Michael P. De Guzman
This is a story that won writer Michael P. De Guzman a PBBY-Salanga Prize in 2003. Fifteen years later, Tahanan Books believes the story is still relevant. Its simplicity and clarity of storytelling makes it perfect as a bilingual picture book. Parents and educators may use this as an aid in discussing empathy and gender sensitivity in preventing incidences of bullying. While it carries a strong LGBTQ+ representation, it is a book that, more importantly, brings us to a place of understanding.
“Halo-Halo Histories’ Cashayshayan: The History of Philippine Money” by Michelline Suarez, Joonee Garcia, Divine Reyes, and Benjor Catindig
This is the second book in a fun series on Filipino history. Our coins and bills can tell us a lot about our nation’s story. “Cashayshayan” presents the bottom line on how money was invented, how it came to our shores, how it is made, and why it looks the way it does. Written in a fun and engaging way, the series is meant to pique a child’s desire to learn more about what makes us a nation.
“Mga Kwento ni Lola Basyang Vol.3” by Severino Reyes
This completes Tahanan’s series of collected stories by Severino Reyes. This volume offers readers a glimpse of the relevant issues of Filipino society during Reyes’ time framed against his fantastical backdrops. With the drum up towards the quincentenary celebration of the Philippines, this book is recommended as a study on how the value systems of our society may have evolved or stayed the same.
“TAKBO! Mga Pandiwa” illustrated by Auri Asuncion Yambao
This book welcomes children to a world of words where sound makes sense. This 2018 National Children’s Book Award Winner features the many onomatopoeic words in the Filipino language, each carrying sound that describes a meaning. In its pages are thirty-nine illustrated verbs. Auri Asuncion Yambao’s brilliant graphics make each word easy for children to learn and remember.
Neen Sapalo of Center for Art, New Ventures, and Social Development (CANVAS)
“Karapat-Dapat: Bata, alamin ang iyong mga karapatan!”
Though they may be young and small, children are intelligent, valuable, and able beings with dignity and inherent rights. “Karapat-Dapat” puts the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in words that children themselves can understand and is a product of the close collaboration of CANVAS and Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang INK).
“Ang Aklatang Pusa” by Eugene Evasco
“Ang Aklatang Pusa” is a heart-warming story of Aling Salvacion. An old librarian living alone, she is misunderstood by the community of Pook Palaris. But Aling Salvacion silently continues her work of fostering and adopting out homeless cats to individuals and families, believing that there is a cat for everyone. The book ultimately shows how while our differences make us as individuals, it is also our differences that can give us a sense of belonging.
“Mamita's Garden” by Nicolas Gabriel Garcia
An activity book illustrated by Pam Yan-Santos and written by Nicolas Gabriel Garcia, the book takes children around Mamita's colorful garden and asks for their help in caring for the plants and flowers. It’s a simple tale showing how we should take care of our surroundings.
Joonee Garcia, author of “Halo-Halo Histories”
“Pitong Tsinelas” written by Divine Gil Reyes and illustrated by Benjor Catinding
This sturdy board book teaches a beautiful message about inclusion without being preachy or moralistic. Created in collaboration with Save the Children Philippines, it follows the path of seven slippers (attached to their owners) as they walk toward a common destination. The ending is heartwarming and surprising.
“Inside Daniel’s Head” written by Joji Reynes and illustrated by Angela Manabat and Ianthe Pimentel
The language book is told in the voice of Daniel, an autistic child who lets us into his head. For 166 pages, we are transported into his world where order is the rule of the day. We experience his frustration when things do not go according to schedule, when he cannot wear his favorite shirt or when he longs for independence.
Daniel’s voice is so clear and so honest that the reader cannot help but empathize and come away with a new understanding of what it is like to exist in a place that is sometimes too big, too changeable and just TOO MUCH. This is an important book and it will go a long way toward teaching patience, kindness and understanding, which are all things every Daniel out there truly needs to feel.
“Dalawa ang Daddy ni Billy” by Michael P. De Guzman and illustrated by Daniel Paloma Tayona
This brave, bold children’s book about family, love and acceptance tells the story of Billy, who has two daddies and cannot understand what could possibly be wrong with that. Billy gets bullied in school, where he first hears the world “bakla” before even knowing what it means. Fortunately, love wins and Billy learns what is truly important — a lesson taught to him by his two wonderful dads. How wonderful that this book is told in both Filipino and English because everyone needs to tell this story over and over again.
“Detective Boys of Masangkay: Ang Closed Door Mystery” by Bernalyn Hapin Sastrillo
This is the second in what I hope will be a long-running series of mystery stories featuring the Detective Boys of Masangkay. They’re just three neighborhood kids about to enter high school; but in between playing agawan base, biking and figuring out how to talk to girls, they just happen to solve mysteries. Imagine the boys from “Stranger Things” with a dash of the Hardy Boys or the Three Investigators, realized in a truly Pinoy way. It’s a lot of fun to see how they go about solving this mystery, which involves the murder of the mayor from inside a closed room where no one had access to. But it’s even more fun to see them do other things, like drink soft drinks from a plastic bag, which every Pinoy kid will recognise as being unique to a Filipino childhood.
Decades ago, detective stories for children usually involved young people who lived in England or America. How wonderful for young Filipino readers to have these three guys who could easily be their friends or neighbors. Parents looking to improve their children’s skills at speaking, writing and comprehending Filipino would do well to check out this series.
Aiko Salazar of Lampara Books
“Moymoy Lulumboy Book 5: Ang Lihim ng Libro” written by Segundo Matias, Jr. and illustrated by Jomike Tejido
This is a story about a boy who is half-aswang and half-god. He is given the task to collect all the missing “Ginto ng Buhay” to free his kind from a curse. Moymoy Lulumboy is an ongoing series. In every book, Moymoy Lulumboy faces challenges and difficulties. He is an example of a kind, humble and very loving child that learns from his mistakes and hopes for the betterment of everyone.
“Pag-abot kay Pangarap” written by Elino Reyes III and illustrated by Lou Pineda
The illustrations of Lou Pineda give a very beautiful and youthful interpretation of Elino Reyes III’s story. In this book, the many obstacles a person must go through to achieve his or her dream is discussed and what important trait he/she should possess at all times. It is timely to share this story to kids because it will help them understand how one person succeeds in life.
“Pol Purol” written by Christopher Rosales and illustrated by Leo Kempis Ang
This is a story about a boy who is always tongue-tied that he can’t recite in class. When he hears his classmates whispering and giggling, his body stiffens like cement and can’t even write on the board. But all of these go away when Pol’s relative gives him advice that inspires him to overcome his weakness.
Mike De Guzman, author of “Dalawa ang Daddy ni Billy”
“My Family” written by Kata Garcia and illustrated by Borg Sinaban
This attractive book for younger kids got my interest because of its modern and open take on what and who makes a family. It displays, in a simple manner, the various forms a family can take.
“Makinang Makinang” written by Genaro R Gojo Cruz and illustrated by Conrad A. Raquel
This book tells a heartwarming story around a sewing machine that means so much more to the young protagonist and his mother. The issue of gender roles makes a brief appearance as well and while the treatment is not revolutionary, it was sensitive enough.
“Barefoot Bulayan” written by Mary Ann Ordinario and illustrated by Bernadette Solina-Wolf
Richly illustrated, this book brings to its readers a glimpse in the life of one of the country’s indigenous peoples. The engaging story is a good introduction to another culture that is different but still Filipino.
“Inside Daniel’s Head” by Joji Reynes-Santos
This book for older kids deals with a boy who’s within the autism spectrum. It can be tough to read at some points but I found the story compelling nonetheless.
“Dalawa ang Daddy ni Billy” by Michael P. De Guzman and illustrated by Daniel Palma Tayona
Pardon the inclusion of this title. I am biased, of course, because this is my book. Because of its bold theme, it took 15 years before it was finally published. Its sensitively written story reflects the reality that the family has been undergoing changes as time goes by but the one thing that has remained constant is the love shared by its members.
Divine Gil Reyes, author of “Pitong Tsinelas”
“Alpabeto ng Kulturang Filipino (Alphabet of Filipino Culture)” written by Eugene Y. Evasco and illustrated by Aaron Asis
As a mom of two girls (11 and 13) who go to an international school, I am particular with the books that they read, making sure they learn about our history and culture and speak our language fluently. “Alpabeto ng Kulturang Filipino (Alphabet of Filipino Culture)” by Eugene Y. Evasco and Aaron Asis, published by PLL Publishing House, shows various elements of our culture from Luzon to Mindanao, and uses the illustration style “letras y fuguras,” but with a modern interpretation.
“CASHAYSAYAN: A History of Philippine Money” by Michelline Suarez, Joonee Garcia, Divine Reyes, and illustrated by Benjor Catindig
Our coins and bills tell us a lot about what is special about our country and people. “CASHAYSAYAN” gives you the bottom line on how money was invented, how it came to our shores, how it’s made, and why it looks the way it does.
This 176-page book unravels the mysteries of money with the help of a few quirky characters: the silver heavyweight coin, Money Pakyaw; our reliable bamboo coin bank, Al Kansya; the enterprising lady who runs the local sari-sari store, Aling Suki; and following through with his guiding duties from book 1 is Tatang Tarsier.
From the age of bartering with neighboring countries to the first forms of money to the challenges that brought about the development of currency systems, this seven-chapter book takes its readers through the winding historic trail of the Philippine Peso.