Augie Rivera is a founding member of Kuwentista ng mga Tsikiting, a group of Filipino writers for children and young adults. Some of his books include Alamat ng Ampalaya, Magnificent Benito and His Two Front Teeth, Alamat ng Sibuyas, Batang Historyador series, Elias and His Trees, Ang Lihim ni Lea, Mantsa, and XILEF. His works, including translations, are recognized by several award-giving bodies.
Can you tell us the story behind this story?
I originally wrote this story in 2000 for a series of historical fiction for children called Batang Historyador (published by Adarna House and UNICEF in 2001; still available in bookstores) featuring stories of Filipino children from five significant eras in our history: Pre-Spanish, Spanish Occupation, American Occupation, Japanese Occupation, and Martial Law years.
Isang Harding Papel was supposed to be my story for ‘Martial Law’ but I changed my mind and opted to write a new story instead, set before Martial Law or the First Quarter Storm (FQS). This was Si Jhun-jhun, Noong Bago Ideklara ang Batas Militar. It’s a story of Jhun-jhun and his older brother who was involved in rallies and demonstrations before the declaration of Martial Law.
So the Hardin story has slept in my ‘baul’ (wooden chest) for 14 years. Last year, I read it again, did some revisions, and submitted it to Adarna House. They showed it to the EDSA People Power Commission (EPPC) and this became their next book project.
One of the most important skills that children need to develop is the coping skill necessary in dealing with changes and unexpected events in life. In Isang Harding Papel, the child character Jenny has to grow up separated from her mother. She has to make sense and learn to cope with all these difficult changes happening in her life, of course with the support of her mother and grandmother.
As this story is a historical fiction, how did you manage being descriptive of the period’s milieu while making it accessible or relatable to present child readers?
When I wrote Isang Harding Papel, there was a conscious effort to make the story not too hardcore or in-your-face ‘taas-kamao’ but rather focus more on the character, to make Jenny believable and childlike, so other children can easily relate and empathize with her. Through Jenny’s story, I hope that the present day child reader will get curious and will want to know more about the history and the conditions and struggles of children during this dark period in our past.
How is this book different from your other historical fiction works, especially from Si Jhun-jhun, Noong Bago Ideklara ang Batas Militar?
The inspiration for Jhun-jhun was an imagined scenario—a street scene after a violent rally dispersal vis-à-vis the children’s street game of ‘tumbang preso.’ Isang Harding Papel, on the other hand, is loosely based on the real life experiences of Jenny Cortes, a cousin-in-law whose mother was a political detainee during the Martial Law years.
As with my other historical fiction for children, a lot of research went into the making of this book. Aside from interviewing my cousin who gladly shared her experiences with me, I also interviewed other people who grew up during Martial Law, and read several books on the topic, before I developed my story.
I’ve always been a history buff, so I really enjoy writing stories like Isang Harding Papel. Plus I also grew up during Martial Law so it was an opportunity for me to look back at my own experiences and use them as details to add more nuances and texture to the story.
I just had an initial meeting with Rommel Joson, the illustrator, and Adarna House to discuss the story, where I brought a prop— a sample makeshift flower made from tissue paper by my wife. Other than that, there wasn’t much collaboration. Rommel pretty much did his own thing. I know he did a lot of research too, and it shows, and I’m very happy with the new layers and meanings his illustrations gave to my story.
And any words for the teachers, students, and librarians who have now access to your book?
Actually, one of the reasons why I decided to revisit the story and submit it for possible publication is in reaction to the many revisionist takes in our history being spread now on social media, i.e. that Martial Law wasn’t so bad etc, etc. One way to counter this is by educating our children about history.
We should stop ranting that children nowadays have ‘no sense of history.’ As Martial Law babies who are now grownups and some are now parents too, it is our responsibility to let them know about our history. Ikuwento natin sa kanila ang kasaysayan.
I think that in the K-12 curriculum, as early as grade 2, lessons on nationalism, human rights, and even Martial Law are now included. That’s good. This book hopes to do its share by giving teachers, parents, and librarians a springboard when discussing with children what actually happened during this most difficult time. The lessons of the past will help young readers develop a deeper love of country and love for history.