Virgilio S. Almario, National Artist for Literature, spoke at the 39th Annual Children’s Literature Association Conference, held from June 14 to 16 at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts.
He was awarded the Distinguished Scholar Award after delivering a presentation entitled A Filipino Children’s Book Story, which tackled the current state of Filipino children’s literature.
The paper began with a description of the organizations that have played a crucial role in the development and promotion of local children’s literature, such as the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY), Kuwentista ng mga Tsikiting (KUTING), Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang InK), the many publishers of the children’s book industry, and institutions involved in setting high standards for the genre through awards like Gintong Aklat, National Children’s Book Awards, and the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.
He then shed light on the key issues faced by local literature. Almario said, “The Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,100 islands, but distribution of children’s books in the Philippines remains to be metro-centered. Half of the total number of major bookstores in the country is located in the National Capitol Region (NCR). The large chunk of bookstores is located in Luzon. Of the 152 branches, only 12 are located in Visayas and 9 in Mindanao. There are Philippine provinces where there are no bookstores at all.”
He went on to discuss the domination of US and UK titles in the book stores, despite 82% of Filipinos naming a Philippine language as their preferred reading language over English (2007 NBDB Readership Survey).
“It is sad,” he continued, “to think that just because of logistical and shelf-space issues, our citizens are not given the opportunity to maximize their experience of Filipino literature. This holds especially true for our Filipino youth, because the Philippine children’s book community has worked tremendously hard to make sure that there are varied, age-appropriate, and quality works of literature for them to enjoy.”
The paper provided further discussion on the reading preferences and readership rates among Filipino children and teens, the growing number of Filipino children’s book publishers and published titles, and the range of social issues being tackled by today’s Filipino children’s books. Aside from these, the paper also tackled the exciting possibilities of digital children’s books and applications, as well as how children’s books are instrumental in Philippine education.
More than twelve decades after Rizal’s retelling of “The Monkey and the Turtle” was published in the London-based Trubner’s Oriental Record in July of 1889, Philippine children’s literature has definitely come a long way.
But, Almario cautions, “There is much left to be done. Our mission, of healing the sickness of Philippine society through quality education and children’s books, is still very much underway. These are challenges I was faced with, when I entered this world in 1977 — challenges that exist to this day, and shall remain, until all involvement in the children’s book industry is honorable and significant, until children’s literature is considered of paramount value by our leaders and our people, and most hopefully, until all our hard work has produced a new generation of thinking citizens who are inspired and proud to be of service to the country.”
Virgilio S. Almario (pen name Rio Alma) is an accomplished poet, translator, critic and professor. He is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Filipino of the University of the Philippines. In 2003, he was declared National Artist for Literature, the highest honor given to artists in the Philippines.
This year’s Children’s Literature Association Conference considered a multiplicity of interpretations of “Literary Slipstreams,” a theme thriving in the present but involved with waking the past.