For the children, books make good Christmas gifts

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Having been introduced early to children’s books, our four preschool grandchildren – two boys and two girls – have shelves full of them.

 Reading has become such a habit that at bedtime each child can’t seem to fall asleep without one. Roald Dahl is a favorite, as well as Curious George, and Richard Scarry’s amusing works. This holiday season, my wife was happy to find more books that the tykes may not have read or listened to yet.

And she found plenty to select from – bilingual books written and illustrated by Filipino authors and artists.(They are inexpensive, too.)

Adarna House has a series of five: Seryeng Batang Historyador, consisting of stories of the dreams, adventures and social awakening of children during five periods of Philippine history. (We gave them three of the books: the one about pre-Spanish colonial times, the American colonial era, and the Japanese military occupation period. The stories about martial law, we tell them ourselves.)

Lampara Publishing House publishes children’s books that have won the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, the PBBT Alfredo Navarro Salanga Writer’s Prize, and the Catholic Mass Media Awards.

I read through the books, and while most are recommended for children eight years and above, I think the elder two of our preschoolers (both curiously read books prescribed beyond their age level) will find them interesting.

Take the three Batang Historyador books, all authored by Augie Rivera but illustrated by three different artists (Paolo Lim, Jose Miguel Tejedo and Marcus Nada): 

Si Diwayen narrates how, during a famine in the pre-Spanish colonial era, a poor couple were forced to “pawn”  their nine-year-old Diwayen to Datu Bulawan, in exchange for money for their survival. She became one of the datu’s youngest domestic slaves.

Diwayen became friends with eight-year-old Princess Lunhaw, who was kept in a room and prohibited from leaving the datu’s big house. After hearing Diwayen relate her adventures in the forest, Lunhaw wanted to go there and see for herself.  As the two girls walked playfully along, a wild boar appeared, threatening the princess. Diwayen acted swiftly, grabbed a pointed tree branch and thrust it into the boar’s body, which fell down squealing horribly.

For her courage and kind heart Datu Bulawan hailed and thanked Diwayen, held a feast in her honor and set her free.

Si Juanito, Noong Panahon ng mga Amerikano tells of a poor 12-year-old boy and his father, a sacada, who lived in Negros in the 1920s. The two are recruited to work at sugarcane plantations in Hawaii.  They are badly treated, made to work in the fields 10 hours daily, and cheated of their promised monthly wages. It’s a rude awakening for Juanito. However he opts to stay behind after their contract expires, and his father sails back home. His discovery: “Sugar in America is not any sweeter than in the Philippines.”

Si Pitong, Noong Panahon ng mga Hapon, relates the adventures of a Tarlac farm boy and his parents after they evacuated their hometown which had been bombed by Japanese warplanes. They seek refuge in his aunt’s home in Malabon.

 Life was hard in Malabon, as elsewhere. Food was hard to come by. Pitong realized that the boiled kamote he relished as merienda was to become the staple for breakfast, lunch and supper, although supplemented with kangkong, sapsap, daeng or alamang.  He also found out that at the market people didn’t transact business with money. They bartered used clothes, shoes, watches, radio sets, jewelry, and furniture for whatever they needed.

Pitong experienced being slapped by a Japanese soldier standing by the road. He failed to bow before the soldier on his way to school (where children were forced to learn the Japanese language). Life grew harsher after a Makapili pointed at his father during a sona. The father was taken away, tortured to admit being a guerrilla, and imprisoned at Fort Santiago. His father was freed after three years, when the war ended with Japan’s surrender to America.

Of the four Lampara books, two are about two worker-fathers each idolized by his son. At the end of both stories, the boys shed tears for different reasons.

The child in the first story wept because his father (an OFW in Dubai who had sent his son all the things he needed) died in an accident at work and returned home in a box. The other cried because he found out that his father (a construction worker) had sacrificed by donating one of his kidneys to his own father to prolong the older man’s life.  (The second story, titled Ang Riles sa Tiyan ni Tatay, is authored by Eugene Y. Evasco and illustrated by Aldy Aguirre). 

Another story, Ang mga Kahon ni Kalon, is written by Michael M. Coroza and illustrated by Gigi Lapid. It revolves around various sizes and shapes of boxes, from the shanty made of discarded cartons in which Kalon grew up (when his father was working at the piers as a stevedore), to the large boxes the latter sent home from Dubai: the first contained a large bed with a soft mattress, the next one had a refrigerator inside. A washing machine also came in a big box, then a television set. Then one day, a large cargo box fell on Kalon’s father. At the airport, the boy and his mother watch as four men carry a long box toward them. “As they drew nearer and nearer, Kalon’s heart beat faster and faster. This was the box that he would never, ever forget.”

A meaningful Christmas to all!

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