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So many books, so little time

That is good news in any language – piles of books being written, published, and put on the market. “Asian flu” in the economy or not, we are doing something right, because people are writing, publishing, and buying books. Here are some that as teachers we might wish to take notice of.

Let me start with children’s books.

First, let us rediscover Gilda Cordero Fernando, she of The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker and A Wilderness of Sweets: as well as Horgle and the King’s Soup and many others on Philippine culture. Now, however, we discover her not only as a writer but as artist. Two books, Ningning and Aswang (GCF Books, 1997) have “Story and Art” by Gilda.

The stories are definitely new takes on stories from our lower Philippine mythology, which will never be the same again. The illustrations are vibrant and imaginative, and no mere accompaniment to the text. I won’t spoil the surprise for you by telling the stories. Let the discvoery be yours.

The Golden Loom is a collection of Palanca Award-winning stories for children, published by Tahanan Books for young Readers (1997). (The Palanca Awards introduced children’s literature as a category in 1989). The stories are worth reading, and by writers who come from different fields of work, study, or understanding of children. “The Dream Weavers,” for example, is by Carla Pacis, who once was in economics, but now has an M.A. in Creative Writing, and an abiding interest in children’s stories. Lakambini Sitoy, who wrote “Pure Magic,” writes creative fiction for adults as well as children, but has a degree in biology from Silliman. Ino Manalo has long been engaged in research in Philippine culture, but has written as well the books The Architect’s Design and Botong (Francisco): Alay at Alaala. His story is called “Little Bird, Little Fish, and the Two Elephants.”

Angelo Rodriguez Lacuesta, son of the late great scriptwriter Amada Lacuesta, begins his story, “The Daugther of the Wind,” this: For many weeks now, Luisa couldn’t sleep well. All throughout summer she was sad and restless, flitting from corner to corner, wandering aimlessly among the clouds and sunbeams. During the long nights she fretted and sighed to herself, moving silently over the ocean waves, gazing mournfully at the mirror surface of the sea.’

“At night the water was cold and dark, and though she heard her 77 sisters calling for her with low whistles and traveling whispers, Luisa ignored them purposely.” How can one not continue reading after that beginning?

There are more stories: “Chun” by Marivi Soliven Blanco; “The Man Who Hated Birds” by Leoncio Deriada (who writes in English, Filipino, and Ilonggo); “Pan de Sal Saves the Day” by Norma Olizon-Chikiamco, who edits Food Magazine, “The Gem” by Lina B. Diaz Rivera, and “The Blanket” by Maria Elena Paterno, who has written several books for children.

Also from Tahanan Books is The Termite Queen and Other Classic Philippine Earth Tales as told by Sylvia Mendez Ventura, illustrated by Joanne de Leon. Among the stories are “The Great Hog Earthquake” and “Volcano of Love and Death”.

Water tales must of course accompany the earth tales: The Girl Who Turned Into a Fish and Other Classic Philippine Water Tales by Maria Elena Paterno, illustrated by Albert Gamos. And water being gentler than the violent earth, some stories are ‘The Gentle Giant,” “The Fairy Wife,” “Peregrina and the Magical Tree,” and “Sirena.”

Filipino children’s stories seem incomplete without a reference to, or the inclusion of Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang by Severino Reyes, the sarswelista who wrote the famous Walang Sugat and some 50 other plays. The stories appeared in the weekly Liwayway magazines. In this introduction, Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera explains the context.

“There was a time in the history of our literature in the twentieth century when story telling was an activity rooted in the oral tradition of our forbears. At that time the magical exploits and adventures that enthralled the imagination of children were often still experienced through the voice of a parent, an old-maid aunt perhaps, or an elderly neighbor skilled in the art of weaving events into worlds. In those days reading was a skill put to work only in the classroom, for written materials for children were penned in English. For children eager to be part of the exciting world of adults living and loving and fighting, or raring to undergo experiences that would leave in their minds the stamp of maturity, the living voice of a ‘Lola Basyang’ was the magic thread leading to a realm they would like to claim as their very own.”

There was indeed a Lola Basyang, recounts Pedrito Reyesm son of Severino. Gervasia Guzman Zamora was real grandmother whose real grandchildren gathered around her chair nightly after supper, for stories which she told, fueled by her betel chew.

Let me now jump from worlds created for children, mythological universes, imagined people, spirits of our early faith, grandmother’s invention, writer’s fantasies – to a real world of mountains, skies, and of course, magic. The magic of reality.

The Living Mountain is a book celebrating Mt. Apo, published by the Philippine National Oil Company, with photography by George Tapan. It is large-format book with colored photographs, but should not be called a coffee-table book, because it should not be left on coffee table for display. It is a serious, informative book that generates thought, concern,ideas.

Just the pictures make leafing though it worthwhile: water-drenched mosses and fragile mushrooms: mountain mists; peak allegedly split by an enraged god of mountain; trees and ferns; flowers and plants; the Philippine eagle and little insects; frogs and birds.

The essays are for us and out time: The Living Mountain; Tapping Steam Power; Understanding Biodiversity; Inventory of Diverse Biodiversity and Conversation: Status, Issues, and Prospects; Conservation initiatives in Mount Apo. These presentations by experts are complemented by a Directory of Pertinent Laws, Policies and Guidelines on Biodiversity, and a Glossary of Species.

The bookjacket blurb explains that Part 1 is a narrative on the mountain and its resources, people, and diverse species. Part II provides an overview of conservation issues and programs. The purpose is to “provide the baseline for determining how the environment has fared for better or worse decades hence.” The book “represents the ardent, earnest efforts of the company to respond in a unique way to what can be the most difficult challenge of this generation.

Does our world survive? Do we survive?

DepEd Teacher Contributor

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