It was big news in the children’s publishing industry that at the PBBY-NBDB’s 3rd National Children’s Book Awards, Adarna House won all four of the selected Best Reads for 2014.
These books are: “Hating Kapatid” by Raissa Rivera Falgui, illustrated by Fran Alvarez; “Ngumiti Si Andoy” by Xi Zuq, illustrated by Dominic Agsaway; “The Little Girl in a Box” by Felinda V. Bagas, illustrated by Aldy C. Aguirre; and “What Kids should Know about Andres and the Katipunan” by Weng Cahiles, illustrated by Isa Natividad. All first-time book authors and all meriting a unanimous vote from the judges.
The clean sweep is quite an accomplishment, considering that there were over 130 books published in 2012 and 2013 submitted for judging, and that the rules stipulate that as many as 10 titles from among the picture books and young adult literature may be chosen. Ani Almario of Adarna House beamed and said, “We are just making up for 2012, when we made zero!”
Another piece of happy news was that for the first time, The Save the Children Award recognized outstanding books for children up to four years old. Save the Children and the First Read program nurture young readers even while in their mothers’ wombs, targeting parents and toddlers in their advocacy. Catch them young and hook them to books are what they are all about. This newest award, with a cash prize of P10,000, supports the advocacy of providing relevant and meaningful books in the mother tongue for the very, very young. It is also a testimony to the prestige and the integrity that have become synonymous with the National Children’s Book Awards. “Bahay Kubo,” an Adarna title illustrated by Pergylene Acuña, won this award.
Yet another boon to the industry was the presence of Singapore-based Gerald Cai, head of learning and reading of Samsung Asia, who announced the launch of the Samsung Kids Time device and the company’s plan to use 10 stories each year from each Asean country to bring words to a digital format and make these available to a larger audience in other countries. The call for published children’s books will soon be announced in more detail. Cai, himself a young father, is proud of the fact that this plan of theirs is not meant to replace books, but is a way to encourage reading and to help in “hastening” digitizing. The authors of the two top picture books selected each year will be awarded a generous cash prize.
But undeniably, the afternoon event’s highlight was the first-time Kids’ Choice Award. It allowed us adults to listen to the children who are book lovers themselves, reminding us all that they are, after all, the very clientele for whom these books were written and illustrated. The 10 child judges, invited from public and private schools, were given the chance to read and take a close look at the entries, delighting in the process, but strongly arguing for their favorite top choice.
I remember the very first time we met the child judges. It was exciting for us and more exciting for them because we swore them to total secrecy; they were told they were on a top-secret mission. They were willing to do the job, lured by our bribe of books they could have for free. Their parents and teachers were around, and in their presence, we shamelessly told the children: Make your choice of your favorite book truly yours, do not listen (for just this time) to the grownups.
With their job done, their identities can now be made public: Carelle Ann Abanico, Sophia Aspera, Apriel Beltran, Alonzo John Ibarra Cristobal, Alon Luna Fabros, Jay Harold Odon, Pheonna Heart Ragasa, Amihan Ramos, Rafael Varela and Miranda Villanueva.
Speaking of secrecy, Rafa Varela publicly confessed before he introduced his fellow judges that he felt guilty during the orientation meeting because he had innocently posted on Facebook the invitation to be a judge, As he recalls, “I felt I was dead meat [during the orientation].”
He related that the older judges had the more difficult task of reading the 83 picture books in competition. From the 10 finalists, the panel of younger judges had to pick just one.
The Kids’ Choice Award went to “The Day of Darkness” by Zig Marasigan and Gutch Gutierrez who also illustrated it. This was published by Bookmark. Alon Cristobal explained their choice: “We like it because it makes you believe that everything isn’t really scary…”
More wise words as only children can say them came from Amihan Ramos, who concluded the program wishing for a lifetime’s worth of good books. “Reading puts me into my own little world and I can go on for hours. One day, I actually want to write books so my little world could have some visitors and they, too, might write books. I hope that people will shut down their phones, Kindles and other e-book devices and get a good old-fashioned book and stick their attention to it. Hopefully, children’s literature will … become great… More kids will learn and read here in the Philippines.”
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.