When I was young, I remember my mother used to take me with her whenever she goes to the palengke (wet market). I knew that she wanted me to go with her because I was the only one who can carry her bayong (shopping bag) since I was the only strongest and most responsible boy yet in the family. I never liked going there, not only because I had to wake up very early but also her bag was so full and too heavy to carry. My hands tremblingly ache after. But I can't complain because we had to carry as much as we can because we are a very big family and buying there saves us a lot of money. As I grow older, she wanted me to come with her so I can be street smart and learn from her. Now, I realized it was more than that: I was grateful that going there has enriched my experience visually. The market is also a harvest place of inspiration: from slices of life to the exotic goods you can see around. I was positively influenced with pop culture.
That wonderful experience is very much captured in one of my favorite books, Araw sa Palengke (A day in the market), written by May Tobias Papa and illustrated by Isabel Roxas. The story is very simple, the illustrations very delightful, and yet that simplicity is what makes the book so lovable. Almost anyone can relate with it.
The literary style of the story can be likened to a japanese verse: direct, short, and simple words fully describe the wonder of a child going to a market. Even if the main character is a girl, any child can probably relate with her as she's honest, smart, and quirky. This is probably the first local children's book I have read that mainly invests on the importance of emotional intelligence. It subtly teaches a child that being patient and disciplined yields to pleasant rewards, and the joys of receiving it through hard work and a little sacrifice is priceless. This is what kids need nowadays when the words "instant" and "push-buttons"are just a click away.
The story is accompanied by very charming illustrations, just a warning: you won't stop looking at them. More importantly, the styling, patterns, and figures are very Filipino. The color scheme is splendid, the visual elements are coherent. Although it's a sanitized version of what you see in a real local wet market that is loud, cluttered, and shockingly bright, the toned-down renderings of each scene perfectly create an exotic ambiance. The main character's expressions are comical, the illustrator has masterfully achieved humor through their eyes.
The book is one of those few ones that you can't just put down even as adult, I'm pretty sure a child will also truly love it at first sight. You'll probably read and look at the pages over and over again. It makes you crave for more.
Araw sa Palengke, published by Adarna House, is highly recommended to be part of your child's library. No wonder it is one of the six Best Reads of 2008 and 2009 in the first ever National Children's Book Awards.