May Tobias-Papa is a founding member of Kuwentista ng mga Tsikiting (KUTING), the group of Filipino writers for children, and Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang INK), the organization of Filipino illustrators for children. Her works include Can We Live Without Trees?, The Luckiest Girl in the World, Christmas in February, Estrellita: The Little Wishing Star, Tuldok, among many others.
Araw sa Palengke, illustrated by Isabel Roxas and published by Adarna House (2008), was named as one of the Best Reads at the 2010 National Children’s Book Awards (NCBA).
It was the happy result of circumstance. My publisher, Ms Ani Almario, had wanted a book to introduce kids to the market. I happened to have this picture book story in my head about the first time my mom brought me to the market when I was 3. That week that I got the email from Ani, my mom and I had been poring over my baby albums. My son was already about two that time and I had just quit my teaching job at UP [University of the Philippines]. As we reminisced, my mom told me the story again, of how her suki put fruits, and kakanin because they were so amused with me and my little bayong.
Since Araw sa Palengke is a picture book, the illustrator played an important role in the creation process. How was your interaction with illustrator Isabel Roxas?
I wrote two drafts for the book, which were subjected by Adarna to a survey among schoolchildren. My first draft was the one chosen by the kids. After this, Ani asked me to submit studies for the approved story. I am a published illustrator of children’s books but I opted out. For many years I had worked as an art director for advertising agencies, and I knew from the start, even as I was writing the story, that Isabel Roxas’s style was perfect for the book. A little girl drawn in Isabel’s style danced with a little yellow bayong in my head, and she had this tiny voice. The story practically wrote itself. My desire for Isabel to illustrate the story was greater than my desire for another chance to write and illustrate a book.
It feels special to be cited. When I wrote the book, I had no idea it would resonate the way it did with readers. To me, it was just a straightforward recollection of my first experience in a market. Of course, I had to reconstruct the experience, and I did it methodically, structuring it based on the five senses, and in this order: sound, smell, touch, taste, sight.
The language was intentionally plain, unembellished. The National Children’s Book Award is different from the other awards for literature or illustration for children’s books in such a way that it recognizes all the quality effort that goes into one book—the writing, the illustration, the production, and how all of these work well together. My worry about a lot of Philippine children’s books had always been that the fancily-written and lavishly illustrated stories do not genuinely appeal to kids as they do to teachers, critics, or students of literature or art. I like writing and illustrating books that authentically connect with children. The NCBA reassures me that books like the ones I like to help create will prevail somehow in children’s book industry which has been a bit commercial of late.
Having come from advertising, I am always appreciative and cognizant of the power of emergent media. As a mother of a young child, I saw the potential of the book app in teaching. I was a very willing guinea pig for Adarna’s first book app.
What future book projects can we expect from you?
I have long wanted to do chapter books and a graphic novel. I have several notebooks with ideas for them. I also have offers to write for some publishers. So many things, though I couldn’t find the time to get around to doing them because of my other projects (that are not related to children’s books). I’m afraid I can’t really talk about the books I want to write, because, at the rate I’m doing, somebody might beat me to them, hahaha.
And any words to Sambat Trust’s readers?
It is inevitable; a book always transforms you that you are never quite the same person who opened and then closed the book. Whether it’s a step away or kilometers away, you are always in a different place, with a different point-of-view, for sure.