Many of us grew up reading storybooks that tell the story of princesses in distress, knights in shining armour, and a happily ever after. While these are highly entertaining and cause our daughters to daydream about someone sweeping them off their feet to whisk them towards their perfect life together, these magical stories hide life's harsh realities from the child’s young mind.
In the last 3 years, Filipino readers have seen the rise of groundbreaking children’s storybooks. These stories boldly discuss issues such as gender, equality, human rights and non-traditional families that are not commonly featured in children’s storybooks. Understandably, some parents may view these topics as too heavy, sensitive and even controversial for their children to understand.
Nonetheless, there are parents who believe that -- depending on the age -- introducing social issues to their children little by little, and in a language they will understand, has its merits. These brave Filipino writers have weaved creative narratives to help you explain these concepts to your children in a light and honest way.
1. Ang Bonggang Bonggang Batang Beki by Rhandee Garlitos
This happy book narrates how a family’s acceptance gives Adel, a young effeminate boy, freedom to express his true self and enjoy his childhood. The illustration of Tokwa Penaflorida provides the perfect background to the colorful adventures of Adel as he grows up.
Young readers will be fascinated with Adel’s bubbly disposition and unique choices. He loves anything pink and not the color blue that boys are usually conditioned to like. He enjoys cleaning and doing house chores while boys his age spend all their time playing outdoors. Adel and his “beki” (term used for effeminate boys) friends will prove that staying true to one’s self will make you a happy and confident person.
Parents may find themselves in a situation where their children become curious because they have a playmate who acts and moves like Adel. This book will help parents to explain the importance of having families and friends who respect their loved ones for whoever they are.
Rhandee Garlitos, author of Ang Bonggang Bonggang Batang Beki, says that his book is not “about homosexuality in children but effeminacy in young boys.” Imparting the crucial role of the family and the community in raising children who are confident of themselves is the most important lesson that this book shares to its readers.
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Ang Bonggang Bonggang Batang Beki is published by Chikiting Books. You can get your copy in leading bookstores.
2. Ang Ikaklit sa Aming Hardin by Bernadette Neri
This book shares the story of a non-traditional family and how a little girl faces the challenges of having two mothers.
Author Bernadette Neri courageously dispels assumptions that unconventional families can't build happy and strong family bonds. CJ de Silva puts across this brave message to the readers through her very real, warm and vibrant illustrations.
The author also shared in one of her published interviews the reason why she decided to self-publish the book. Big publishers of children’s books felt that readers are not yet ready for this sensitive topic. "How children develop and mature should not be based on the gender of the ones taking care of them. It's the society that dictates the idea of children being incomplete if they don't have a female mother and a male father," shares Jennifer Padilla-Quintos, Ikaklit's book designer and mother to Gaby, 7 and Joaquin, 4.
Ikaklit breathes new and fresh air into Philippine children's literature. It's a storybook that bravely discusses social realities that parents are too afraid to confront, accept and explain to their children.
Ang Ikaklit sa Aming Hardin is available at UP Press Bookstore (UP Diliman) or at UP Diliman Gender Office (2nd Floor Benton Hall, Palma Hall Annex, Roxas Street, UP Diliman, Quezon City).
3. Baryo Maligaya at ang Halimaw by Eddie Sarmiento
The story narrates how the people of Baryo Maligaya defended themselves from a monster which has caused trouble and destruction to their peaceful land. This progressive children’s storybook was written by Eddie Sarmiento, a political prisoner and one of the 13 peace consultants of the National Democratic Front, inside his prison cell.
The author dedicates his collection of stories to his children whom he misses a lot. His fervent wish is to be able to personally read these stories to them in the near future.
This book views children not as passive members of the barrio but active participants in their fight against the evil monster. The children of Baryo Maligaya join hands to destroy the deadly monster using their slings and stones. Depicting children as strong, independent and agents of change makes this book brave and unconventional.
Baryo Maligaya at ang Halimaw is part of Susmatanon: Mga Kuwentong Pambata (Susmatanon is Waray for “fiction”), a compilation of 6 children stories written by political prisoner Eddie “Ka Edong” Sarmiento.
Some may find the topics featured in these three books as too serious and not for children's young minds to absorb. On the other hand, parents can also view these storybooks as helpful tools to open their children's minds to social realities. These stories will help them remind their children to be always respectful of others and take part in building a better future for all, differences notwithstanding.