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Fil-American Champions Filipino Culture in Her Children's Books
ILLUSTRATOR Robbie Bautista via Kickstarter
  • In the Philippines, where there is close to 200 different languages, an abundant source of folklore that could serve as beautiful children's books have gone largely untapped because the stories are spread by word of mouth. Now an independent children’s book publisher from abroad has taken the initiative to have these tales from lesser-known Filipino languages be written and read by young kids.

    Christina Newhard is a Filipino-American graphic designer based in Brooklyn, New York. While she doesn't speak any Filipino language (she was born in Manila and staying here for 10 years before migrating), she's very attached to her heritage -- her mom is from Cabanatuan and her dad is a New Jersey local, who has spent 20 years in the Philippines. To keep in touch with her Filipino roots and also challenge herself with new design ideas, she has decided to put up Sari-Sari Storybooks, a company that creates and publishes multi-lingual Filipino children's books for 5- to 8-year-olds. The stories they produce champion the diverse communities across the country, such as the Ivatan, Cebuano, Chavacano, Waray, Aeta, and Maranaw.

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    "Sari-Sari Storybooks is an answer to the question, 'How can design support Filipino culture in a meaningful way?" Christina told SmartParenting.com.ph via email. "Creating these books in under-represented Philippine languages is a way to pass on both language and cultural pride to the next generation. They make visible the amazing diversity of Philippine languages and cultures -- not every country in the world can claim that treasure. Children's stories are so visually striking and imaginative, they can influence not only children, but the adults who buy books for them," she explained.


    For four years now, Christina has been developing Sari-Sari Storybooks and recently put up a Kickstarter campaign to help fund publishing of its first three series of books -- Melo the Umang-Boy, an Ivatan tale from northern Luzon; Kalipay and the Tiniest Tiktik, a Cebuano tale from the Visayas; and Amina and the City of Flowers, a Chavacano take from southern Mindanao.

    "It's important to Sari-Sari Storybooks' mission to represent Philippine diversity equally, and include Muslim and lumad characters in the stories as well," said Christina on choosing what stories to publish. While there stories are new, they are not made up. Christina had to do a lot of research to write them. "It's important that children from each language group recognize their culture in the stories, but universal enough for all children to enjoy," she said.

    The Ivatan story, Melo the Umang-Boy, co-written by Christina and friend Alyssa Sarmiento, who is also in charge of book development for Ivatan and Aeta stories, went on trips to Batanes to talk to elders, teachers, children, artists, and community leaders. They also spoke with Dorian Merina, an Ivatan-American who created the Laji Project, which produced the album Laji: Indigenous Oral Poetry of Batanes to help preserve Laji (Ivatan songs) and the linguistic diversity of the Ivatans.

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    Christina also had help from translators. For instance, the Chavacano story, Amina and the City of Flowers, which is about weaving in Zamboanga, was developed through interviews by translator Floraime Pantaleta with the province's residents, and Christina's interview with friend and textile entrepreneur Kat Palasi of Abek Home + Culture, who talked about Yakan weaving.


    For the book Kalipay and the Tiniest Tiktik, Christina visited the Cebuano Studies Center at the University of San Carlos, where she found a copy of the book The Creatures of the Philippine Lower Mythology by Maximo D. Ramos, to be able to write about the vegetarian manananggal (yes, you heard that right).

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    While Sari-Sari Storybooks is U.S.-based and had partnered with several organizations to connect the books directly with the young Fil-Am reader, Christina says she definitely wants them to be available here in the Philippines, too -- and not all for profit. Sari-Sari Storybooks plans to give copies of the books to local libraries here as well. The Library Renewal Partnership, a non-profit dedicated to building libraries throughout the Philippines, and the Soar High Knowledge Foundation of Lanao are set to receive free copies of the books to help make it accessible to more young kids, if all goes well.

    As of this writing, Sari-Sari Storybooks's Kickstarter campaign is already nearing its target amount, but no quite there yet. Hopefully, the books will be out in February next year for digital copies and in July 2017 for hard copies

    "I hope to see these stories being read widely by children in the Philippines and the U.S. (and elsewhere), and used in classrooms as teaching tools," Christina shares. "If they inspire children to create their own stories in their own languages, that would really mean Sari-Sari Storybooks have served its purpose," she added. 

    Sari-Sari Storybooks has three more new stories lined up for production, stories from the Waray, Meranaw, and the Aeta. To support Sari-sari Storybooks and its Kickstarter campaign, click here. For more information, visit its website, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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