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  • Basa, mga kapatid!’

    By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    In recent years, the Department of Education has been highlighting the third Tuesday of the month through a memo to all public schools enjoining them to celebrate National Children’s Book Day (NCBD) through storytelling, read-alouds, Drop Everything and Read sessions, and other reading promotion activities. Of course, there is also the presidentially mandated Philippine Book Development Month in November that the National Book Development Board (NBDB) spearheads—but surely, it will not be superfluous for us to have more than one month devoted to literacy endeavors (sarcasm intended).

    For the past 28 years, the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) has been the lead agency in celebrating NCBD, this moveable feast commemorating Jose Rizal’s publication in London in the third week of July 1889 of “The Monkey and the Turtle” in the issue of Trubner’s Oriental Record, a journal devoted to the writing of the East. The article was “Two Eastern Fables” and Rizal popularized and illustrated the Philippine folk tale and, along with it, was a Japanese tale of a monkey and a crab.

    To be honored in the July 16 ceremony at the Cultural Center of the Philippines are the winners of the annual Salanga and Alcala awards, so named to remember the pioneer members of what was then a fledgling organization to promote children’s literature in those years when there was little of the genre to speak of. The story “Ngumiti si Andoy,” written by Michael Jude C. Tumamac and illustrated by young Bulacan artist Dominic Agsaway, was inspired by the life of Andres Bonifacio. The traditional poster distributed to public schools and interested libraries was also thus inspired. Illustrated by the gifted Kora Dandan
    Albano, a stalwart of the Ilustrador ng Kabataan, it weds both literacy and revolutionary spirit with the slogan on reading “Basa, mga kapatid!”

    Today, we can laugh about the fact that while PBBY was the “lead” agency, it also seemed to be the only one celebrating the day. But all that has changed even more this year as the consciousness about the value of books and reading is finally spreading in different circles.

    The First Read Project of Save the Children, which works with families, communities, and local and national governments to facilitate change to improve the lives of Filipino children, will be launched in the Taguig City Hall. The project focuses on the crucial role of parents in shaping the reading habits of children aged 0-4 and the value of early childhood education. The NBDB is a partner in this initiative.

    A simultaneous event is at the SM Megamall performance area where NCBD will again be highlighted by storytelling. The mall management holds this yearly with the NBDB and invited school groups. Two celebrities have signified their participation: Ronnie Ricketts, chair and CEO of the Optical Media Board, and Noel Cabangon, who has launched a children’s book with attractive illustrations by Jomike Tejido, and his song of good citizenship, “Ako’y Isang Mabuting Pilipino.” Consider that the new commandments of Filipinos with love of country.

    The Sentro ng Wikang Filipino of the University of the Philippines Diliman headed by Dr. Rosario Torres-Yu is holding a forum on July 25 and 26 in partnership with Save the Children Philippines. The conference theme is “Wika ng Bata, Wikang Malaya: Librong Pambata para sa Edukasyon.” With the knowledge of the value of books in a child’s development, what concrete steps may be taken to improve the less than ideal situation today?

    The biggest and most heartwarming surprise comes from a small neighborhood library in Singalong, Manila. Ana Maria A. Bacudio, project leader and storyteller of the Dagdag Dunong Reading Center on 1191 Arellano Street, writes in an e-mail that their reader center in an urban poor setup (her words) will celebrate NCBD, but being a nonprofit volunteer organization, it welcomes and needs donations of books, chairs, bookshelves, and study tables for use by the center’s clientele. She says that the center is on the ground floor of the Bacudio home and that weekends are special for storytelling and read-along sessions. There are accompanying photos to show the crowd that the center draws. As if I need any more convincing, she says: “The children are neglected in terms of accessibility to knowledge and books which are important in rearing them to become our future leaders.”

    Yes, Ana Maria, your reading center deserves our help, our attention, and our visit. Your laudable efforts remind us that citizens do have to step in when the government bureaucracy is slow to act. Yours is not the first neighborhood library started by a citizen acting with urgency about a serious need of the children. You must have heard of Nanie Guanlao’s 24/7 neighborhood library on Balagtas Street in Makati, off the Vito Cruz railroad track, where one is as free to pick the book one likes as one is to donate. Thank you for reminding us once again where our priorities should lie.

    This is a tired refrain. Let’s celebrate books and reading—but where are the books to be read?

    Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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