Reading for freedom, freedom of reading

THE artwork of Arade Louise P. Villena for Becky Bravo’s May Alaga Akong Bakulaw is the grand prize winner of the PBBY-Alcala Prize.

“It is in books where children can be free — free to think and express their ideas and opinions.

The bad weather did not stop book lovers from celebrating National Children’s Book Day, which is every third week of July to commemorate the publication in July 1889 of Jose Rizal’s The Monkey and the Turtle in Trubner’s Oriental Record in London.

The skies were dark and many streets heading to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) were flooded on 17 July yet book enthusiasts came out in full force to support the event and witness the ceremonies.

CCP organized several activities together with the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY), the lead agency in celebrating National Children’s Book Day. A non-profit organization composed of representatives from various fields such as education, writing, publishing, illustrating, bookselling, storytelling, research and media, PBBY is passionate in its mission of promoting children’s literature in the Philippines.

PBBY believes that books are children’s safe havens. With the theme “Sa Aklat, May Laya,” this year’s celebration was anchored on the belief that it is in books where children can be free — free to think and express their ideas and opinions. PBBY emphasized the importance of freedom to think and express one’s self, especially during this time.

The morning ceremonies were dedicated to the awarding of the best stories written for children and the best fitting artwork for the winning stories at the PBBY Salanga Prize for writers and the PBBY Alcala Prize for illustrators. A new category was introduced this year to recognize books that use artworks instead of words to tell a story — the Wordless Book Prizes. Another highlight was the announcement of winners of the 5th National Children’s Book Awards (NCBA), an annual contest by the PBBY in partnership with the National Book Development Board (NBBD).

The PBBY writers’ prize was named after Alfredo Navarro Salanga, a journalist, fictionist, poet, and editor, who made great contributions to Philippine literature, including co-founding the Philippine Literary Arts Council, the Manila Critics Circle, and the PBBY. The PBBY illustrator’s prize was named after Larry Alcala, also a founder of PBBY. His works have reached adults and children through the popular medium of newspapers and Filipino komiks.

In the PBBY Salanga Prize, Becky Bravo bagged the grand prize for her work, May Alaga Akong Bakulaw, a story on how a little girl helped her neighbor battle depression. Three titles won honorable mention: Raymond Falgui for his work, The War Between Fireflies and Christmas Lights; May Mahaba Kaming Listahan sa Tindahan by Genaro Gojo Cruz; and Si Lola-Nanay at Si Dandandandan by Danie Rose Sedilla-Cruz.

In the PBBY-Alcala Prize, Arade Louise P. Villena, a member of Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (an organization of children’s book illustrators in the Philippines), won the grand prize. Harry Monzon and Angelica Shelley Tan were declared honorable mention. This year’s contest was based on the 2018 PBBY-Salanga Prize-winning story, May Alaga Akong Bakulaw by Bravo.

PBBY declared two grand prize winners for the Wordless Book Prize. Monzon, the same artist who won the honorable mention in PBBY Alcala Prize, bagged the Wordless Book grand prize with his entry, Pagkatapos ng Unos, a narrative about life after a natural disaster.

Christian Oliver Cruz also won the grand prize with his work Pibò, an adventure story of friendship and belonging.

The much-awaited NCBA Best Reads for Kids is a recognition given to outstanding books published in the previous two years. The awardees included Takbo! (Run!) by Auri Asuncion Yambao, published by Tahanan Books, a playground of illustrated verbs that make it easier and fun for young children to learn Filipino words; and Habulan (The Chase) with words by Kora Dandan-Albano, translated into English by Fran Ng, and art by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero, published by Anvil Publishing. Rich with catchy lines and illustrations, this poetry picture book explores the wonders of childhood filled with mystical creatures like nuno sa punso (dwarf-like nature spirit), kapre (tree giant), and manananggal (vampire-like creature).

PBBY noted that May Gulong na Bahay (House on Wheels) with words by Genaro Gojo Cruz and art by Paul Imbong, published by Vibal Chikiting Books, strikes a good balance between simple, colorful illustrations and accurate, interesting use of words that strongly appeal to its target audience.

Si Kian, with words by Weng Cahiles and art by Aldy Aguirre, published by Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, tells the life of Kian Loyd Delos Santos, the teenager killed by policemen in Caloocan City in 2017 amid the government’s brutal war on drugs.

A Lolong Time Ago, with words by Michelline Suarez, Joonee Garcia, and Divine Reyes; and art by Benjor Catindig, published by Tahanan Books, is a non-boring approach to Philippine history. This book discusses how the islands were formed, how early settlers lived, and how the archipelago started as a nation.

Si Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu’t Pitong Pusong, with words by Edgar Calabia Samar and art by Borg Sinaban, published by Adarna House, is the third book in the Janus Silang series about a teenager who encounters supernatural creatures as he goes on a mission to solve the mystery behind the disappearances of video game characters.

Ang Hari ng Komyut by Lizette Daluz, published by Adarna House, according to NCBA, “puts into the spotlight the trials and challenges Filipinos encounter in our public transport system in a way that is lighthearted and comic—but still drives a serious point. Masterfully executed, these comics strips shed light on the comedy of everyday commuting tragedies and the tragedy of everyday commuting comedies; reminding us that there is always hope at the next train.”

Lost by Rob Cham, published by Adarna House, is a wordless comic book that has found the balance between what information is given to the reader and what is kept hidden by the storyteller, according to NCBA, “giving the reader freedom to translate the pictures using their own experiences and emotions to understand what is happening.”

Meläg by Bong Redilla, published by Adarna House, is a collection of short stories and comics. It is also a visual treat with its beautifully drawn pages in pen strokes.

The awarding ceremony was followed by the opening of PBBY’s “Sa Aklat, May Laya” art exhibit at the CCP’s Bulwagang Carlos Francisco, showcasing the winning illustrations.

Of course, the celebration will not be complete without activities for kids. CCP Arts Education Department, together with the Intertextual Division, organized the My CCP Story Tour. About 15 children from the Joy Kiddie Center and some homeschooled kids who were part of the Pinoy Kids Read Pinoy Books participated in the tour. The kids, guided with the My CCP Tour booklet, which contains the history of CCP and some fun art activities, visited some of the theaters and galleries inside the center.

CCP Board of Trustees chair Margie Moran Floirendo was present to welcome the kids to the Center. CCP Library Division chief Alice Esteves gave the kids a short tour inside the CCP Library. WTA Book Stop representative Bruce Ingatalso introduced the WTA Book Stop at the CCP ASEAN Park.

A free screening of Duglit: Ang Dugong Makulit capped the event. Book author Dr. Luis Gatmaitan was present to share some trivia about his story with the same title, Duglit.

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