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Recommended Reads
By Zarah Gagatiga


I would like to believe that the production of reading materials for children in the Philippines today is in a rapid, if not constant, growth. Every year, there are books being published for the Filipino young reader. A good number of magazines are also out in circulation around schools and bookstores. Filipiniana graphic novels and comic books are also shaping a life of their own and building a modest following among young adult readers. Reading, writing and publishing for the Filipino child and teenager is alive and well.

Those of us who advocate children’s literature need only to chronicle the trends and directions that it has taken so far. Then again, a push and a little lift, is necessary to keep it going.

Below are my picks from recently published reading materials for the young reader. With the exception of some old favorites, the list has new titles reflective of the imagination and creativity of Filipino writers. More and more, they are becoming sensitive to the needs and profile of the young audience that they write for. As for the publishers who risked putting them out, it is brave of them to gamble on such endeavors knowing that they’re up against foreign competitors. Our writers and publishers are treading new grounds and exploring different genres. Such talent and courage deserve support and patronage.

So, my dear teacher, parent and school librarian, go over this recommended list and see what titles will interest your kids. Allow them to read stories from their own culture and context.

A Jenny & Jay Mystery : The Pillowcase Cat Caper. Marivi Solliven-Blanco. Illustrations by Remus San Diego. Tahanan Books, 1996.
The first in a series of three adventure-suspense chapter books, Jenny and Jay went after a black embroidered cat that led them to mischief and mayhem all across town. Find out how midnight, moonlight and a mysterious gust of wind can magically turn an embroidered cat alive. Gr. 3-5

Enrique El Negro. Carla M. Pacis. Illustrations by Mel Silvestre. Cacho Publishing House, 2002.
Yabon was barely out of his teens when pirates took the life of his family and tribe. Captured and sold into slavery, he became servant to a temperamental Portuguese explorer. With a new name, Enrique El Negro traveled aboard a galleon; sailed the uncharted seas; met strange peoples with cultures different from his own and became the first of his "kind" to travel around the world. Pacis takes a stake at historical fiction with considerable success. Gr. 5 - High II

Elias & His Trees (Mga Puno ni Elias). Adapted by Augie Rivera. Illustrated by Romeo Forbes. CANVAS & the UST Press, 2005.
Adapted from the French folktale, "The Man who Planted Trees," this Filipiniana version speaks of the Filipino diaspora. Haunted by stories of a land, green and beautiful, the main character goes back to his place of origin and meets a tree planter named Elias who has created and nurtured a new sanctuary -- so that those who fled may come back; and so that those who choose to stay may grow and flourish. Rivera displays mastery of the writing craft as he sensitively implies that hope for this country springs eternal. Gr. 6 - High IV.

Barefoot in Fire: A World War II Childhood. Barbara Ann Gamboa Lewis. Pictures by Barbara Pollak. Tahanan Books, 2005.
An autobiographical account of life in war torn Manila. Lewis narrates her experiences as a child growing up in the midst of war. Her struggles with internal and external conflicts shapes her identity as a person. A reflective and affecting read for today’s generation whose only knowledge of World War II from history books and movies. Gr. 5 - High II.

Bagets : An Anthology of Filipino Young Adult Fiction. Edited by Carla Pacis and Eugene Evasco. UP Press, 2006.
Enough of Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High. Move over Olsen Twins and Lizzie Maguire. These 16 well crafted pieces of short fiction (8 in English; 8 in Filipino) by members of KUTING (Kwentista ng mga Tsikiting) look into the psyche, issues and concerns of Filipino teenagers today. The fifteen writers showed respect to their young adult readers by presenting and showing their stories as they are- no sugar coating, no judgements passed. Bitter sweet and shockingly truthful. Gr. 6 - High IV.

Project : Hero. Edited by Andrew Drilon and Elbert Or. Quest Ventures and Nautilus Comics, 2005.
Here is a hilarious and wonderful comic book by Filipino writers, artists and comic book creators. With new superheroes emerging from its pages, young readers are bound to enjoy the adventures and heroics of Yaya Kadabra; Jet Tatanium; Kid Continuum and Channel. Made in the tradition of well loved Pinoy comic books, Project : Hero stands out as a new creation of well written stories that kids of this generation can easily understand and relate to. Gr. 5 - High I

Ang Paaralan ni Fuwan. Victoria Ańonuevo. Illustrations by Biboy Blu. Adarna House, 2002
. Fuwan is torn between going to school and helping in the rice fields. After being absent for several days from school, he missed his classmates and teachers. Upon his class’ surprise visit, his father realized how important going to school means to him. Gr. 4 - High I.

Teo’s Trash. Garce D. Chong. Illustrations by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero. OMF Literature, 2003.
What is old can be made new and what seems to be new is actually old and rare. In this story, Chong explores the natural curiosity present in all children through her favorite character, Teo. His fondness for old things earned him a feature in a TV show. Resourcefulness, ingenuity and familial piety are values that the story promote; the same characteristics that Filipinos are known for.

Hipon and Biya. Carla Pacis. Illustrated by Joanne de Leon. Adarna House, 2004
Hipon and Biya are friends. They share a home in a little coral among the reefs. What Hipon can’t do, Biya certainly can, and vice-versa. A well crafted concept story on symbiosis, the writer’s knowledge of subject matter reflects the thorough research that went in producing such an insightful tale.

XILEF. Augie Rivera. Illustrations by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero. Adarna House, 2000.
Felix has dyslexia. Through the support of his parents and his teachers’ commitment to teach him, he eventually learned how to read and earns his self-esteem. Here’s a story with solid adult characters involved in helping Felix triumph over his own demons. Gr. 3 - 6.

Bruhahahahaha! Bruhihihihihi! Ompong Remigio. Illustrations by Ronald Mechael Ilagan. Adarna House, 1997
A little girl suspects having a witch for a neighbor, until a humiliating incident shatters all perceived ideas of the old woman. She is after all, just that, an old woman -lonely and weak. Thus, the little girl extends her compassion and friendship. A story perfect for read aloud with its naturally embedded rhythm and effective use of onomatopoeia. Gr. 1 - Gr. 3.

The Zimbragatzees of the Planet Zing. Rene Villanueva. Illustrations by Jason Moss.: Lampara Publishing House, 2002.
Villanueva writes about a planet, much like our own, but inhabited by fun loving Zimbragatzees. Each Zimbragatzee is known for its unique nose. This nose functions not only as an olfactory organ, but also represents their identity. They were a happy lot, until one day, they had a sneezing fit due to the growing pollution of their planet. The effect was devastating. Their noses became smaller and smaller until they disappeared. It took them awhile to solve the problem and to face the consequences brought by their decision to modernize. Gr. 2-4.

Sandosenang Sapatos (A dozen pairs of shoes). Luis Gatmaitan MD. Illustrations by Beth Parocha-Doctolero. Hiyas-OMF, 2002
Karina’s father is a shoemaker. She gets to wear shoes made especially for her. On the other hand, her sister Susie could not because she was born without feet. Karina is protective and compassionate of Susie. Together, the siblings deal with the reality of their father’s unfulfilled dream. Gatmaitan presents the unrivaled love a father can give to a handicapped daughter in this award winning story. Gr. 4 - 6.

I want my Yaya!. Annette Flores-Garcia. Illustrations by Isa Nazareno. Lampara Books, 2002
When Blesilda’s nanny left for good, she had a string of nannies who slept a lot; ate too much; or often shouted that they were all incomparable to her favorite nanny. As she waits for a new one to arrive, she discovered that she can learn to take care of herself. An empowering story for kids who are learning to be. Preschool - Gr. 2.

A Spider Story. Germaine Yia. Illustrations by Liza Flores. Lampara Books, 2002.
Spider envied the beautiful homes her neighbors could make. She tried her best to fashion something fancy but all her efforts were futile. With the help of sunbeams, she sees the sturdiness and brilliance of her old web and realizes its worth. Gr. 2 - 5.

The Spectacular Tree. Robert Magnuson. Lampara, 2001.
Magnuson's first book is a triumph in writing and illustrating for someone who claims that his writer's block is "the greatest block of them all." In his book, he enunciates another meaning for "spectacular". By emphasizing collaboration, dependency and co-habitation, Magnuson reminds young and old alike that each creature in this world needs another. No man is an island so they say.

The Cat Painter. Becky Bravo. Illustrations by Mark Ramsel Salvatus III. Adarna House, 2006.
Rahal is an angel assigned to paint cats. One day, he thinks out of the box and paints a cat not with the usual black or white, but in different colors of spots, blots and stripes. This angers the head angel. God has the last word. Bravo, a cat lover in real life, deftly handles the issue of being different in a most receptive and considerate way.

Are you the Forest King? Penny Reyes-Velasco, Pangea Books, 2000.
A young boy wanders and wonders who could be the Forest King. His curiosity led him to discover a lush beautiful forest inhabited by creatures big and small. These animals and plant life make up the delicate balance of nature. Written originally in English, the book had been translated into Filipino by Rev. Fr. Rene B. Javellana, SJ. Illustrated using collage technique, Velasco used dried and pressed flowers, leaves and seeds.

Ang Mahiyaing Manok. Rebecca Ańonuevo. Illustrations by Ruben de Jesus. Adarna House, 2000.
Onyok is a shy rooster who could not crow. To overcome his shyness, his parents gave him all the encouragement he needed. He soon found his voice and his self confidence. The writer’s use of onomatopoeia has been most effective to characterize Onyok and the changes in his character.

Dinosaur Pop-up Activity Book. Jomike Tejido. Adarna House, 2006.
Tejido continues to stand out as a true versatile artist. His knowledge of the child reader is impressive. In this pop-up activity book, Tejido educates and entertains the child who has an insatiable fascination for dinosaurs. The book is engaging as it is interactive. Children can make pop-up dinosaurs by following the simple instructions.

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Zarah Gagatiga is the coordinator of Xavier School's Grade School Learning Resource Center. She graduated Bachelor of Secondary Education major in Library Science at the Philippine Normal University. She is currently pursuing her MA in Library & Information Science with Reading Education cognates at UP Diliman. She is accreditor for Instructional Media for the PAASCU; KUTING President; and board member of PBBY.

Visit her blog at http://lovealibrarian.


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Beth Parrocha-Doctolero (illustrator)

1998 Salanga Prize
Honorable Mention