I have loved bookstores, and what I could get from them, even as a small child. I would ask for books — not toys — as gifts from my parents, relatives, and even my parents' friends, even before I could read them myself. It came to a point that my parents would put a limit on how many books they would buy me on a single trip to the bookstore (three, if I remember correctly).
I think it's because stories were — and remain to be — naturally very alluring to me. And it just so happens that stories were in books too. “What happens next?” and “Tapos, ano nangyari?” are my favorite questions whether I say it aloud or just in my head. And my love of books has turned to films, TV shows, role-playing games, good conversations (I’m a listener more than a talker) and in whatever else form stories come in.
My first love though, undoubtedly, are children's books. Though my shelves are also filled with reading material for grown-ups (a.k.a. boring books without pictures), once a month you'll find me carrying a haul of books meant for kids 2 to 8 years old.
A lot of my favorites are local books because they are so relatable. You see characters wearing slippers and having dark hair, and the homes actually look like the houses we have here. This, to me, makes reading a richer, more personal experience — it's like finding little boxes of surprise on the page.
Also, for around Php100, you can get a high quality, bilingual, local children’s book for several hundred less than if you bought a book from a foreign publisher. Win-win!
If your kiddo is like me and adores enthralling stories, intriguing characters, illustrations that jump off the page, and a generous sprinkling of whimsy, I recommend these three:
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1. Porcupirate Plans the Day
By Robert Magnuson; Published by Hiyas Php150
I am lucky that my copy is signed by writer and illustrator Robert Magnuson, but that’s beside the point (and just me bragging). Children’s books whose text have rhyme and rhythm are so appealing and Magnuson’s tend to always be.
Apart from the rhyming text, I particularly like Porcupirate Plans the Day because of its almost effortless ability to touch the heart. The story is about a little porcupine that eagerly wants to spend a day all to himself, playing games, eating treats, and having fun. But a lot of things always seem to get in the way. All turns out well though — just not in the way he expected. When I’m sad, I just pull this out and I feel better. It’s a gem.
Words by Rene O. Villanueva; Art by Haru H. Sabijon; Published by Adarna House Php99
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I love this book possibly more than any other children's book I own. This was given to me as a present when I was still little. My copy does not have the same cover as the one in stores now and the pages are not glossy and tend to tear. I admit, it's worn out — but for good reason: I’ve read it a lot.
It holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. Undeniably, sentimentality is one of them. What takes the cake though is the idea of a paper boy, already weightless and unbothered by our foolish world, wishing on a star to become human (and, unknowingly, with it all the terrible implications that being a child living in the slums of Manila brings).
By Aaron Randy; Published by Anvil Publishing Php195
This is a very recent favorite which took me quite a while to appreciate. The book is meant to introduce kids to the alphabet but I think it does better as a wordless, interactive storybook. The alphabet, for now, can take a backseat.
As an introduction to letters, it does not do so well. Each letter is meant to correspond to an animal illustrated in the book but some of the creatures are either too foreign or don’t look much like they would in real life. Despite this, I adore FIREEE! because it’s just so darn fun and, importantly, it tells its story so well. Parents, there are many details you can point out to your kids to make this book so enjoyable.
To briefly tell you about it, the animals are on their way to put out a fire and they’re all lined up holding the water hose. In the procession, Donkey (for the letter D) is still trying to get out of his pajamas and into his fireman’s suit. Behind him is Crocodile (for C) driving the fire truck — but he can’t see because Donkey’s shorts have blown into his face!
Skunk stands in front of Rhino who is wearing a gas mask but Rabbit, who is standing on Rhino’s snout, has passed out from Skunk’s stinky fart. Fantastic!