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  • There’s no stopping National Children’s Book Day

    By Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz

    Typhoon “Glenda” may have temporarily upset all plans for the 31st National Children’s Book Day (NCBD) festivities on the third Tuesday of July, but booklovers like the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) are never that easily discouraged. So what’s a minor setback wrought by the weather? The logical course of action was to look at the next Tuesday, July 22, for the planned book fair of Philippine titles.

    Having school groups visit the Museo Pambata for the festival is the best way to highlight the wide variety of children’s books available today. It also concretizes this year’s playful reading promotion poster designed by Asa Almario Montenejo with the slogan, “Pumitas ng aklat, buklatin, basahin” (Pick a book, open it, read it).
    The different NCBD events at SM Malls were similarly reset. Never too late for these occasions, especially since July may as well be a month dedicated to children’s books.

    Take note of the date because the Museo and PBBY have a book fair, a special workshop for librarians to be run by Zarah Gagatiga, Beacon Academy’s librarian and PBBY member, on the school library’s role in the development of life skills. A 2:30 p.m. program will honor the 2014 winners of the PBBY-Salanga and Alcala Prizes: writers Michael de Guzman, and previous winner and familiar byline Genaro Gojo Cruz, Susan Anne Alegro Quirante, all honorable mention winners; illustrators Aaron Paul Asis, Jericho Angelo Moral, Jason Gabriel Sto. Domingo.

    The PBBY-Alcala Prize will be awarded to freelance artist Aaron Paul Asis who based his winning entry on the PBBY-Salanga honorable mention story by Genaro Gojo Cruz, “Gaano Kalayo Papuntang Paaralan?”
    Another anticipated event is the 3rd National Children’s Book Awards, a biennial initiative mounted by the PBBY and the National Book Development Board. This is not your usual competition that ranks “winners”—the judges read titles published the past two years and draw up a Best Reads list arrived at through a unanimous vote. The judges are allowed a maximum of 10 choices, but have not been able to go beyond a total of six each time—in 2010 and in 2012. It is a grueling, rigorous process that can only continue to elevate the standards of children’s books. The Best Reads titles benefit different sectors: The book creators are highly encouraged; parents, teachers and librarians are guided on book choices and selections; and the readers are provided quality reading choices.

    Very often, in the discussion of quality book choices for readers, arises the issue of whether the children themselves, the ultimate clientele, should be given a voice in such selections. The American Library Association’s Newbery Medal, dating back to 1922, which honors the author with the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature for the year past, has not been spared this debate. In fact, the award has been criticized for its choices which are too difficult for the young readers. That is why the International Reading Association and the Children’s Book Council embarked on a Children’s Choices Reading List in 1974.

    This year’s National Children’s Book Awards has a similar twist with the PBBY’s introduction of the Kids’ Choice Award this year. A panel of children, aged 11-13, chose 10 finalists from 89 picture books; out of the 10, a panel of younger children, aged 10 and below, chose one top choice. That is an added reason the July 28 awards program to be held at the Toyota in Diliman, Quezon City, is anticipated. And to honor the children for whom these books have been written, the social has been styled as a typical children’s party.

    A sobering and disturbing thought in this month of celebrating books is again the availability of books for all children. While I love book fairs, I always worry about the added expense they entail for the average Filipino family. Is it a pipe dream to dream about a public library that would make countless books available to all children? Is it too ambitious to strive for a storybook in every child’s hand—and a book that they did not have to buy themselves? My ultimate NCBD celebration is one that would allow children the leisure and luxury to immerse themselves in books on that special day—in a public library rich with books that will lure young minds.

    I am deeply disturbed when I receive letters from public schools requesting books. The latest one is from David F. Resultay, the new principal of the melodious-sounding Mamalingling Elementary School. In his attempt to revive the “nonfunctioning library,” he asked the canteen concessionaires to move elsewhere so that the library of this small school could be restored and its 223 students would have “a brighter future by way of reading.” Unfortunately, there is the usual lament of no books for this library-in-the-making. Now that is a National Children’s Book Day celebration I wish to support, and which I strongly wish I was a part of.

    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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