Monday, July 16, 2012

Happy National Children's Book Day

If not for the love of books, I wouldn't had so much adventures when I was a kid. Even now, my appreciation for books have grown much stronger because I have access to so many of life's mysteries, beauty, fantasies, and more adventures. Perhaps Ellen Spitz's idea, quoted from her book Inside Picture Books, that "the best books, because they pipe deeply into the fantasy life of children, interrelate with one another on many levels and, ...can thus serve to establish foundations for future interpretive activity in the arts and culture." is true after all.

Poster art by Aldy Aguirre

To make your National Children's Book Day special, here are some suggested activities by PBBY chair, Zarah C. Gagatiga:

  1. Conduct storytelling sessions in classrooms and libraries.

  2. Organize a Filipino Children's Book Character Parade.

  3. Invite a Filipino author and/or illustrator to speak to children.

  4. Hold contests on story writing and illustrating. (This can be a follow-up activity to the author and illustrator visit.)

  5. Display past winning books of the PBBY-Salanga and the PBBY-Alcala prizes in the library. (The PBBY website,, has the list of winners.)

  6. Stage your own Best Reads event with parents, teachers and students. Remember to focus on Filipino books for children and young adults!

  7. Invite parents, school officials, teachers and other members of the learning community to talk about books they grew up with.

  8. Drum up this year's theme by showcasing Filipino books that exemplify: Masayang Magbasa sa Sariling Wika.

  9. Publish or display (online or in the school paper) reviews of Filipino storybooks by students.

  10. Read a Filipino children's book or YA novel.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

carabao country

The carabao used to be the Philippines' favorite animal until conservationists found a new hero in the claws of the monkey-eating eagle, and then modernity saw the need of a new marketing mascot in the exotic weirdness image of a tarsier. The Philippines is almost synonymous to and own the tarsier now like we own every talented half-pinoys all over the world as if they redeem us all from our idiocy and badly beaten pride while having their taste of success. But that is another story.

Indigenous to southeast asia, the carabao is a common symbol for hard work and toughness, being a farmer's all around animal companion. If that feels like a bucket of sweat to you, it doesn't complain even if it doesn't have sweat glands at all. The carabao cool itself by having some party in a waterhole or some mud to cover from insects, according to some wiki entry.

This seemingly dirty habit of the carabao contrasts the character in the picture book, Ang Mabait na Kalabaw (The Very Good Carabao) illustrated by Liza Flores and written by Virgilio Almario, undercover as Rosario Calma. The illustrator's interpretation of the carabao is clean, smelling good visually, and tenderly.

The illustrations perfectly evoke the Filipino word mabait (goodness), in its various meanings depending on context, but I find the illustrations more fittingly describe or relate to the word humility. The illustrations create an atmosphere of what kindness and humility look like, two abstract terms that are challenging to illustrate in a single scene.

Ang Mabait na Kalabaw cover: the carabao being tough, black, dirty, and sharp, but also unafraid to show vulnerability

The book is also a counting, story, and picture book all in one. The illustrator wittingly incorporated all of these functions together.

My favorite illustration spread because the illustration is funny and very smart. What a perfect way to illustrate generosity within the depths of your heart!

I once saw a truck-full of carabaos leaning against each other along the highway of Edsa, and they seem unhappy. But the carabao knows how to have a good time too, and of course with friends. The illustration really gives a sense of cleanliness.

If Mabait na Kalabaw shows kindness and humility, Rosa Albina embodies the word vanity. What a great metaphor for this mudpack-obsessed animal. Rosa Albina is also written by Virgilio S. Almario and illustrated by Kora Dandan-Albano.

Rosa Albina on the cover. Just look at that smirk of sarcasm, no amount of words can precisely describe such a personal expression. It only takes a single glance and you know who's the diva of the show, just a little duck face pose away from Facebook memes. One of the best example how pictures illuminate words. 

A touch of personality in Rosa's gesture above—animals with expression, without resorting that much to anthropomorphism, a trend in today's illustration. It's often difficult merging them in an illustration, it takes experience and skill to do that. I wonder if the illustrator has actually made some real reference of a person to render this pose. But the interesting question is, who that person is? Hmm... 

This is one of the best scenes for me, it's simple yet a visual knockout.  

And the visual transformation of Rosa Albina from swagger to winner is simply amazing.

Is the symbolism of carabao still relevant in today's children's books, when most kids only want to know about magic, goth, and flirting? Definitely yes, these down-to-earth carabaos interestingly show the value of humility and good character­, two attitudes slowly fading away among young generations.


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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Can't you see, these two blinds are awesome!

Mickey and Mini Mouse, Despereaux, Ratatouille, (Tom's) Jerry, Stewart Little, Mighty Mouse, Town and Country Mouse, Alvin, Simon, Theodore, and Olivia (okay, they just look like a mouse): the mouse is one of the most easy-to-love characters in children's books. In portraying the character through mouse personification, the illustrator's challenge is to offer a fresh approach to this very common technique. The picture book, Dalawang Dagang Bulag (Two Blind Mice) written by Rodolfo Desuasido and illustrated by Rommel Joson, takes us into a new dimension of portraying the discerning adventures of two blind mice.  

Enter Mission Impossible theme as the two daredevils strut their stunt. What a fun scene, reminds me of how we used to make toy parachutes out of figurines or stones and some plastic bags. I bet the illustrator did that too.  

I just love how the illustrator makes us, the viewer, part of the scene. It's like we have shrunk as we're backing up these two action stars and watch them how it's done. This illustration's perspective is unusual and refreshing, it feels like watching a real animated film.  

In children's book illustration, sometimes the atmosphere of the scene is enough to tell the essence of a story. For example, in this scene, I can understand how the illustrator left the details and instead create an impression of the surroundings. This Impressionistic painting-like establishes the country mood setting of the story as if you can smell the freshness all around, except that it's lithographic ink (lol). That painterly style suggests a profound level of aesthetics and simply implies that we should tap our senses more if we have been blind to the beauty that we see around us.  

This composition is very interesting, your view shifts simultaneously from above and below. The foreground vibrates with the background, literally hitting two birds (or mice?) with one stone. How fitting this illustration is! 

The cover reminds me of the Indiana Jones title. The illustrations in the Two Blind Mice indeed present a new perspective in portraying the character as a mouse.