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Raise a Bilingual Child! Start With These Children's Books in Cebuano, Waray, and More
PHOTO BY courtesy of Christina Newhard and Sari-Sari Storybooks
  • If your family enjoys traveling, or you dream of traveling the Philippines, you’ll definitely want Sari-Sari Storybooks on your bookshelves. These books will whisk you away to different Philippine regions and immerse you in their language and culture.

    The series currently has four bilingual stories from different islands: Kalipay and the Tiniest Tiktik (Cebu: Cebuano-English),  Amina and the City of Flowers (Zamboanga: Chavacano-English), Melo the Umang-Boy (Batanes: Ivatan-English) and Hi Sandangaw (Samar: Waray-English). Also set for release in 2020 is Jalal and the Lake, a Meranaw story by Hanna Usman.

    The stories are based on core Filipino values such as Bayanihan, humor, resilience, and respect for elders. The themes are also unique to the Philippines where we have weaving, migration, and the supernatural. More than just physical books, Sari-Sari Storybooks has put the beating hearts of Filipinos onto its pages.

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    Amina and the City of Fowers/ Si Amina y el Cuidad de Maga Flores. Written by Christina Newhard and illustrated by Robbie Bautista.
    PHOTO BY Sari-Sari Storybooks

    Launched in 2016 through Kickstarter funding, Sari-Sari Storybooks is the passion project of Filipino-American Christina Newhard. Christina was born and lived in Manila until she was 10 years old. Her family migrated to the US, but her heart never really left the Philippines. Christina shared some more details with us in an email interview with Smartparenting.com.ph:

    SP: Why did you choose to have your stories in different Philippine languages instead of Filipino?

    Christina Newhard: Language holds culture. The Philippines has 181+ unique languages, which places it near the top of the global language diversity index. That's unusual, and I think it's so important for children to know this, to be proud of our cultural diversity, and to be curious about other Philippine languages. Making these books is one small thing I can do to support that curiosity and pride.

    SP: How do you select the cities/provinces in your stories? 

    Christina Newhard: I aim for language balance in the series (with an equal mix of stories from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao), and also think about balancing smaller languages against larger ones. I also think about general themes that might pair well with a language, such as a Yakan weaving story for a Chavacano book set in Zamboanga City, or ocean biodiversity and elder relationships being themes in an Ivatan story.

    Non-Filipinos have never heard of a tiktik or a manananggal. That's what surprises them the most! 
    PHOTO BY Sari-Sari Storybooks
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    SP: How have your books been received by Fil-Ams in the US?

    Christina Newhard: With a mixture of excitement and disbelief, especially if they hail from one of the language groups represented. I was quite surprised by how emotional some Chavacanos in the U.S. [has] been on seeing Amina. An older Chavacana I met in San Diego was teary-eyed on seeing the book and said it was the first time she'd ever seen a book in Chavacano. I've also become good friends with an Ivatan-American based in New York, my friend Xenia, and we met because she was so moved by the existence of Melo the Umang-Boy.

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    Melo the Umang-Boy is a wonderful tale of self-discovery that ignites the imagination.
    PHOTO BY Sari-Sari Storybooks

    SP: The illustrations in all three books are insanely beautiful. How did you select the artists and did the illustrators have free reign to interpret the stories?


    Christina Newhard: The most important thing to me is a unique visual voice, a style that isn't just like everyone else. Then I think about what type of story it could pair with. For example, I reached out to Robbie Bautista a few years before I even had a story for him. I loved his shape-based, colorful style, which felt fresh and contemporary, so when Amina was written, I already had him in mind for that book. I also try to find artists from the same language group as the story, if possible, but I'm not rigid about it.

    Yes, I aim to give the illustrators free reign. I give feedback as we go, but people do their best work when they're trusted to use the skills and style they've been chosen for. I'm a visual designer myself, so I know how stifling it is to be micromanaged by a client. I try to let the illustrators do what they do best, and just get out of the way.

    Little Sandangaw is just a handspan tall and he wants to do all the things that bigger children can do, but no one ever lets him. But he proves to everyone that anyone can do anything if they set their mind to it.
    PHOTO BY Sari-Sari Storybooks

    SP: Did you love books even as a child? Do you have tips for parents on how to encourage their young children to read books in this digital age?

    Christina Newhard: I did, I read all the time when I was a kid! I adored books, and especially fairy tales.

    I've heard that sitting and reading books with children at a young age gives them a positive association with books, so for parents, I'd suggest doing as much of that as possible. My second-grade teacher would give us stickers for reading a certain number of books that we marked in a book journal—sticker motivation worked for me. So I'd suggest playful things like that, bookmaking activities with kids, and turning library and bookstore visits into an event that ends in a child getting to choose beautiful books to take home.

    Sari-Sari Storybooks retail for only P200 each and are available at selected FullyBooked outlets, Mt. Cloud Bookshop (Baguio City), iRead Bookshop (Ormoc, Leyte), and online at pumplepie.com.

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