It being July with National Children’s Book Day just around the corner, and it also being our 35th year, we have invited a children’s book specialist to help us take a look at our history as a company and producer of children’s literature. We are happy to have with us on this blog, for a three-part series, Katrina Gutierrez, who, following a PhD in Children’s Literature at Macquarie University in Sydney, has been granted fellowships at the Hans Christian Andersen Centre in Odense, the International Youth Library in Munich, and the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books in Stockholm. She is currently writing a book based on her doctoral thesis and is a cultural adviser and consultant for Lantana Publishing, a London-based publisher committed to addressing the lack of cultural diversity in children’s books in the UK. She also recently worked as project editor for Mga Kuwentong Adarna, a treasury of 35 classic and out-of-print Adarna titles, to be released later this year in limited print.
It may be too soon to create a definitive list of Philippine children’s book classics. After all, the children’s book publishing industry is only a few years older than Adarna books. But if we were to ruminate about a Philippine KidLit Canon, what would be the criteria? Classics are strong narratives that contain a timeless quality. There is something about these books that ring true to children across generations.
A number of Adarna’s books may one day be recognized as timeless classics, having remained in print for 15, 20, or even 30 years. Adarna’s solid reputation is partly based on the strength of such favorites. “If you look at the titles that have stood the test of time,” Ani Almario observes, “they have universal themes and memorable characters.” Here is a selection of Adarna classics that continue to delight young minds. To me, one of their best qualities is that they teach kids verbal and visual literacies.
- Tiktaktok at Pikpakbum (Tiktaktok and Pikpakbum, 1980). Who doesn’t love a good dog story? The sibling rivalry of two dogs, written in Rene Villanueva’s clear prose, is given quirky charm by Renato Gamos’ illustrations. Gamos surrounds the main action with amusing side stories, creating a bigger world for the brother dogs. Kids learn to read pictures and become aware of simultaneous storytelling in picture books – an important skill for comprehending the goings-on in day-to-day life.
- Si Putot (1980). Equally amusing is Putot, another dog story. Putot wishes that his tail were as curly as a pig’s, as rich as a parrot’s plume, as long as long could be rather than the short knob he has. Charles Funk perfectly matches Mike Bigornia’s expressive text. Putot’s imaginings are vibrant and silly, better underscoring the lesson he learns at the end: to appreciate himself exactly as he is.
- Ang Bisikleta ni Momon (Momon and the Old Bike, 1997). Momon is jealous of the hip bikes of his friends, who tease him for using the rusty bike of his Kuya. As he compares his bike with theirs, his feelings move from resentment to appreciation for the old but trusty bike. Jo Ann Bereber gives Momon’s bike an expressive face that encourages kids to think of their things in a fond light. Her combination of picture book and comic styles brightens Rebecca Añonuevo’s prose, and teaches kids to switch between the codes of different pictorial and literary genres.
- Ang Pambihirang Buhok ni Raquel (Raquel’s Fantastic Hair, 1999). Raquel has extraordinary hair—long and strong as a rag doll’s, with a variety of colors. It can be twisted and twirled into many shapes, be it an Aristocratic bouffant, a fairy tale kingdom, or a cake stand! Ana envies Raquel, until she learns of the secret that the incredible hair hides. Luis Gatmaitan (‘Tito Dok’ to his kid readers) writes about beauty, sickness, and courage with tenderness, while Beth Parrocha-Doctolero’s riotous illustrations urge readers to focus on joy and compassion.
The Adarna books that attain longevity are also those that the original readers, now all grown up, choose to share with the younger generation. “I think the parents actually enjoy passing stories they’ve read as kids to their own kids,” Ani muses.
Some books that publishers love, however, don’t do as well as hoped or expected. These retire quietly to the archives, but Adarna House has found that some are worth re-introducing to a new set of readers. Adarna always keeps an eye on developments in school curricula, and some books are revived because they match current needs. “But there are also those books we want to give a second chance because we feel they should still be accessible to kids today,” Ani smiles. One of these books is Virgilio Almario’s Rosa Albina, about a beautiful but prejudiced pink carabao. When she falls into a mud pit, she is humbled by the kindness of the dark-skinned carabaos. Kora Dandan-Albano’s illustrations have a light and pretty touch that allows Rosa’s sweetness to shine through, even when she is at her most haughty. Adarna House was right to bring this lovely book about kindness and respect back into our lives.
We hope that these Adarna classics find their way into your own bookshelves and that they will continue to be passed on for generations to come.
Reminding everyone: If you have any Adarna book from the 80s or earlier, you might have a chance to win PHP5,000 and 100 storybooks from our #AklatPamana contest. See guidelines here.