• Mom We Love: Children's Book Illustrator Kora Dandan-Albano

    She uses her art to continue to encourage kids (and their parents) to have fun playing traditional Pinoy games.
    by Rachel Perez .
  • Mom We Love: Children's Book Illustrator Kora Dandan-Albano
  • You may not know or recognize Kora Dandan-Albano, but you—and your child—may know her work. She is the woman behind the art of several Filipino children’s books such as the Pilandok series, Alamat ng Ampalaya, and All About the Philippines, to name a few. And she has been at it for over 20 years, choosing to work from her home in Baguio.

    It was during a recent trip to the Pine City that we stumbled upon Kora’s postcards that brought on wistful childhood memories. Called the “Laro Tayo” series, it was based on her oil on canvas paintings that depicted kids in Filipiniana attire and playing traditional Filipino games such as sungka, trumpo, luksong tinik, patintero and the like. Millennial kids don’t know these games anymore, and it was this unfamiliarity that encouraged Kora to create the series.

    Kora spoke to us about her firm belief that traditional Filipino play is “way better than any apps in this digital age,” her efforts to raise her two girls, Nimai, now 17, and Sara, 15, to have the same passion as she does for Filipino culture, and how she has successfully managed being a work-at-home mom.

    How can we get kids to play these traditional Pinoy games in today's digital world?
    It should start with us, the adults. When we had a family reunion on a beach early this year, I brought with me some board games, trumpo, tumbang preso, Chinese garter, and my kids and nephews and nieces enjoyed playing them even though most of them are in their teens--some of them are in their 30s and have kids of their own! After the reunion, they were thanking me for it. For the most part of our three-day reunion, cell phones and gadgets were either off or ignored.

    A few months ago, I gave four sets of wooden tops to my 10-year-old nephew who never played a trumpo in his life. I told him he can keep one, paint or design it if he like, then distribute the others to his friends. And that’s exactly what he did. When the kids’ parents saw the boys trying to make the tops spin, they took turns in teaching them. The experience made the parents nostalgic about their own childhood, and they ended up teaching and playing piko with their kids as well. My nephew is now very good at spinning his painted top and very proud of his accomplishment.

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    In your experience, what lessons do these traditional games teach our kids? 
    Kids learn values like patience, cooperation, teamwork and pakikisama in playing these traditional games. But more than these, I think kids acquire valuable social and life skills. They are given the opportunity to practice skills like taking turns, waiting, and sportsmanship. They also become good in reading other people’s body language by engaging in games like patintero and tumbang preso. You need to know how to read your opponents’ mind, facial expression and bodily movement in order to win these games. I think we call this skill “marunong tumantya” in Filipino.

    Playing these games also help kids develop self-confidence whenever they win or when they master a set of skills in playing a game. They also develop the ability to accept defeat without being pikon. These traditional games also promote friendship and camaraderie among the kids. Children who are shy may overcome their awkwardness when playing these games because they can forget about themselves while enjoying the activities. Kids also hone their skills in developing strategies and negotiation tactics whenever they play them. They also encounter opportunities to solve problems among themselves. They learn how to settle disputes, how to deal with the madaya. Not to mention, kids become healthier when they engage in physical activities like these games.  

    I’d like to believe that kids who play these games will grow up smarter and wiser in life than those who spend most of their time in front of computers. May paghuhugutan sila ng coping strategies when they are faced with real life problems as adults.

    Kora Dandan-Albano art

    You’ve been working from home even before your kids were born. Tell us what it has been like for you.
    Motherhood and my career have been intertwined from the start. It’s kind of organic, not compartmentalized. I have learned to be flexible along the way.

     When the kids were very young, I created the illustrations for my children's books on our dining table between meals. It was a conscious choice because my youngest daughter was found to have language developmental issues when she was three years old. I felt the need to be constantly present, and the dining table was the best place to work because it's between the living area and the kitchen of our little apartment. I could watch the kid and be involved in everything they do while I was working. My "sounds" while doing my art during that time were Blues Clues or Dora the Explorer.

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    How did you spend quality time with your daughters when they were young?
    We used to play sungka, memory games and other board games. We were also big on pretend play using plastic character toys from fast food freebies, wooden blocks, empty boxes of soaps, etc. Using colored chalks, we drew roads on the living floor and did a lot of “floor time,” a concept we got from a book written by Stanley Greenspan. My husband is also an artist, so there are times when everybody is busy drawing or doodling. All four of us even came up with an interactive mural on the concrete fence of our previous home.

    At present, we bond by watching movies together or going to the book launch of their favorite authors. Only last weekend we had the pleasure of listening to Edgar Samar and Manix Abrera talk about their works at Mt Cloud Bookshop. Sometimes we go to the park or a museum. We also enjoy discussing the books that we’ve commonly read. Or we can be just simply hanging out and chatting over dinner at home.

    Kora Dandan-Albano art

    What are your favorite things to do if you have time for yourself? 
    When the kids were little me-time was spent doing the grocery shopping or browsing at the neighborhood bookstore before heading to the supermarket. But now that they are teenagers and I have more time, I love learning new things by attending creative workshops like knitting, soap making, etc., the latest of which is a loom weaving workshop conducted by an Igorot weaver from Bontoc. 

    I love sewing and I wish I have more time for it. I own a sewing machine and I sew throw pillow cases, simple curtains for my home and my kids' costumes for school programs when they were still in grade school. Baking simple treats and cooking new dishes also give me pleasure.

    Reading books is also a favorite. When the kids were still actively playing on the street with the neighborhood kids in the afternoons, I used to bring out a book and a chair in front of our gate and read there while "looking after" the kids at play.

    Kora's paintingss are also available as note cards, post cards and signed art prints. You can purchase them in: Museong Pambata in Roxas Blvd., Manila; Prism Gallery, G/F Island Tower Condominium, Salcedo cor. Benavidez Sts, Legaspi Village, Makati City; The Manila Collectible Co. at Chamber #8, Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila; Mt Cloud Bookshop at Casa Vallejo, Upper Session Road, Baguio City, and in BenCab Museum at #91, Km. 6 Asin Road, Tadiangan, Tuba, Benguet.

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