Critic Interview: Irene Ying-Yu Chen

Sunday, December 13, 2009
The spotlight is on Taiwan today! :o) To introduce us to children's and young adult literature in Taiwan is Irene Ying-Yu Chen. Irene is a children's literature critic in Taiwan. She is also the assistant regional advisor of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Taiwan. Her academic works are published in Taiwan and abroad and her most recent publication is “Monkey King's Journey to the West: Transmission of a Chinese Folktale to Anglophone Children” in the January 2009 issue of Bookbird: A Journal of International Children's Literature.

Irene kindly sent me a copy of her latest publication and I found it a fascinating introduction to and discussion of "Monkey King." "Monkey King" is retold in English literature as a signifier of Chinese culture, but it can also bridge cultural gaps and stimulate cross-cultural literature for children. One of the "Monkey King" versions Irene analyzes is Gene Luen Yang's young adult graphic novel American Born Chinese. If you have access to Bookbird or Project Muse, I recommend you read Irene's work.

And now I present my conversation with Irene about children's and young adult literature in Taiwan. Thank you very much for answering my questions, Irene!

How would you define Taiwanese children's literature and young adult literature?

It is not easy to answer this question. I can only say what Taiwanese children used to read was mostly translated works from English and Japanese texts as we are a minority culture/market. But we are making more home-made publications as we are more and more aware of stories around us. Many authors and illustrators are creating exciting works for children in and out of Taiwan to know more about Taiwan, from picture books, fictions, to dramas, animations, and films. If I dare to define Taiwanese children's and YA literature, I would say it is at present a creative process to explore Taiwan, and to define ourselves.

That is so beautiful!

What are the current trends in children's and young adult publishing in Taiwan?

Recent popular genres would include various ways creators try to show the world and Taiwan via abridged biographical works. PBs about ecological concerns are quite popular as well.

For younger children, we encourage them to read good picture books. However, in the most recent decade, parents and teachers notice older children still prefer picture books to fictions as there are fewer words and less trouble to read. Therefore, publishers adapt western chapter books for children to upgrade to the next reading level. There will be a great many pictures, and with different reading levels, there will be a couple more hundreds of words per book. We in Taiwan call them bridging books -- a bridge for children to step from PB to fiction. These publications aim to encourage older children to read more literally than visually.

Bridging books sound interesting, Irene. What are the challenges and rewards of being a writer or illustrator for children and young adults in Taiwan?

The challenges are quite a few. In addition to publishers' general preference of translated works to local arts, the growing yet unstable market means a writer or an illustrator may need to find some other ways to support themselves financially, at least at an early stage.

However, many artists have worked hard and make their name and Taiwan shine on the global stage. I know some artists have a sense of responsibility to introduce Taiwan in their works, and I guess their success is the best reward. Many Taiwanese artists also have their advantages as the most known Chinese-language children's book creators. They broaden their markets to other Chinese-language markets such as Singapore, China, Malaysia, etc.

What children's and young adult books, authors, and illustrators from Taiwan would you recommend?

I would first recommend Lai-ma and Chang You-ran [Click here and here to see some of Chang You-ran's work!!!]. They are illustrators whose dedication and care for children make their works among the best in Taiwan. Lai-ma's works are filled with childlike innocence and humor. Chang has amazing patience to work on one of his picture books for more than seven years. His works leave traces of his environmental concerns and his love of this land. I cannot love their works more.

As for YA fictions, I would recommend works by Lee Tong and Syaman Rapongan. Lee's works are more about country life in the 1980s. Syaman's works are not targeted to children, but children read them anyway. His works are set in Orchid Island where Tao people reside. The Tao people is one of Taiwanese aboriginal peoples, and they make their living by the ocean. As a result, Syaman's stories are ocean-oriented, and offers the readers a new reading experience. I strongly recommend his Black Wings, a story about four Tao boys and their dreams.

What is it like to be the assistant regional advisor of SCBWI Taiwan? What kind of work do you do for this role? Can you tell us about some of SCBWI Taiwan's activities this past year? What are some plans for next year?

As an ARA, I am working on hosting local events in Taipei and promoting Taiwanese artists on the global stage. Our illustrator coordinator Ariel Pang and I always try and keep people aware of how we may help. It's not easy, but I am proud to say the efforts are worthwhile as more people start to treat children's and YA creators as professionals in a positive perspective.

In 2009, we invited Serge Bloch to 2009 Taipei International Book Exhibit (TIBE) and held writers' and illustrators' critiques. Our RA Jessie Huang held a series of illustrator and editor panels in Yunlin (mid-western part of Taiwan) which had very nice feedback. We are going to have Davy Liu, an outstanding illustrator and animator in the USA, to Taiwan next week and share with us his expertise and passion. It's very exciting!

For next year, we will keep hosting events in TIBE. We are inviting Canadian children's artists to Taiwan and we are looking forward to it! We will consider increasing the critiques for writers and illustrators as requested. Also, as our SCBWI-Taiwan Facebook fan page has increasing participants from around Taiwan and abroad, we may try to hold a co-exhibit on-line. There are many things going on, and we're open to any possibilities.

Here are some pictures from SCBWI Taiwan's activities:

TIBE: Let SCBWI Introduce Your Works to the World - Experiences from Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. From left to right: Shuchiung Chang (Eslite Children's Bookstore general director), Kathleen Ahrens (former SCBWI Taiwan RA and present international regional advisor), Holly Thompson (SCBWI Tokyo RA), Mio Debnam (SCBWI Hong Kong RA), and interpreter Angela Lu.

"A Writer's Path": Donna Jo Napoli with members of SCBWI Taiwan

"Marketing Your Children's Book and Yourself": Karen Lynn Williams with members of SCBWI Taiwan

Thank you so much, Irene! It appears children's and young adult literature in Taiwan is blossoming quite nicely. I can't wait to explore the books!

Some Illustrations from Iranian Children's Books

Saturday, December 12, 2009
Thanks to my lovely co-worker and poet friend Chloe who let me know about this:

A Journey Round My Skull has three blog posts featuring some illustrations from Iranian children's books. If you are interested, as I most certainly am, click here for the first post, here for the second, and here for the third. I particularly like the third batch of illustrations. Below is my favorite featured illustration. It's from Long Neck Gazelle written by Djamsheed Sepahi and illustrated by Yoota Azargeen. Simple, unique, fun, playful, and expressive.

Most of the illustrations are from the 70s. Now I can't help but be intrigued about the children's and young adult literature scene in Iran in the 70s as compared to the scene there now.

Bonus: A Journey Round My Skull also has a blog post on an illustrated Iranian book of poetry for children from the 70s.

Happy exploring!

Author/Editor Interview: Mio Debnam

Sunday, December 6, 2009
I'm excited to present this interview with Mio Debnam! Mio is a children's and young adult book writer and editor, and the regional advisor of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Hong Kong. Read my conversation with Mio below to learn all about her work, SCBWI Hong Kong, and the children's and young adult book scene in Hong Kong.

Welcome, Mio!

Please share your love story with children's and young adult literature. :o)

My love of books started when I was just a tot – my parents read to me a lot, and I loved hearing stories. With regards to reading, I think I can pinpoint the birth of that interest, to when I was about six, and I had my tonsils out.

You know how, for many kids, the only silver lining to a tonsillectomy is limitless jelly and ice cream? Well, sadly for my poor mother, I hated both, and went on a hunger strike. To persuade (bribe!) me to eat liquidized soup, Mum went down to the second hand bookshop and bought me the full set of Enid Blyton's Secret Seven series... I can't remember what I did with the soup, but the books I devoured... and asked for more!

By the time I was better, I had read every single Enid Blyton book in the shop - a considerable number - and was ready to hit the library and bookshop to expand my horizons. I haven't stopped reading voraciously since!

As well as the manuscripts I read for work, I read a wide variety of published books: from picture books, to MG and YA novels, graphic novels and adult books – both fiction, and non-fiction. I read them partly to keep up to date with the market, but mostly for pleasure.

I can’t remember really ever ‘giving up’ children’s books, but I did go through a period when I read mostly adult literature in my late teens and twenties. However, I renewed my acquaintance with children’s lit with a vengeance about sixteen years ago when my first child was born – it is so wonderful sharing all my old favourites and discovering new treasures with her, and with my son too.

I know some adults turn their noses up at children’s books and think them somehow inferior, but just because their language may be simpler, and they may be slightly shorter, doesn’t mean they aren’t any less well written, or less gripping, or that they don’t deal with many of the ‘real’ issues that affect us all, be we young or old. Perhaps the recent spate of cross-over YA/Adults hits means that others have become aware of this too – I hope so!

What was your path to publication as a writer for young readers?

I can’t remember when I wasn’t scribbling stories! I wrote little stories and poems all through primary and secondary. I was the editor of the school newspaper in secondary school, and when I went to university in the UK, I worked on the college newspaper too. However, I’d always thought of writing as something one could only do as a hobby, so after I graduated, I turned my sights away and worked in finance - for over a decade. Somewhere in the middle of that decade, the urge to write started to niggle, and I began going to writing workshops and critique groups... I got my first story published in a literary magazine almost by accident, when the chap running a short story workshop submitted it for me... First I knew of it, was when I got a phone call from the acquiring editor – what a rush that gave me!

I’ve always written for both adults and kids, but I have always preferred to write for kids. Maybe it’s because I remember so clearly what it was like to be a kid, how I felt, what I thought... Arrested development? Maybe!

I sold my first middle grade historical novel about ten years ago, but it was never published as the company folded - very disappointing. But since, I have had a middle grade fantasy (Earthxia – Cash City published by The Big Picture – sadly out of print now), several educational readers (including Pirates of Cheung Chau – which was the most popular of the six I wrote) and four picture books published (of which Jifu’s Twist of Luck published by Haven Books is the best known).

[Mio doing Jifu's Twist of Luck readings at bookshops:]

What are your (literary and non-literary) influences and inspirations as a writer?

So many books have made me laugh and cry, shout or whimper. They have all been inspirational, but it’s hard to pinpoint one. But my biggest influences are my writer friends - most of all, the many people who have supported and encouraged me in the SCBWI family – in particular, those who have been in the critique group with me for so many years. It's their insight, their friendship and their encouragement which have kept me writing.

You are also an editor. What led to your becoming an editor? What are some of the books you edited?

When I gave up finance to spend more time with the kids, I decided to go back to my great love – literature... I wasn’t sure one could make a living as a writer of fiction, so retrained as an editor.

I did courses, and also worked with some good editors, watching what they did, and asking them to look over what I did, to learn the ropes (mostly as free labour in exchange for knowledge!). Being the critique group coordinator for the SCBWI group for about six years also helped me hone my sense of story/editing skills.

At first I did all sorts of editing: from copy for charities, magazine work and business and technical stuff, I took anything and everything on, to practice and improve. I did tons of work, and took any courses that came my way, including online courses... and slowly managed to migrate to the good stuff – fiction! I’m lucky in that I can now pick and choose the work I do, and can specialize in children’s literature, though I do take on occasional adult projects if they pique my interest.

I've worked on a whole bunch of disparate books, from a biography (for adults) to dry business text, from textbooks, to picture books, to novels (both for adults and for kids).

Most of the stuff I've done in the last five years has been for young readers – from picture books for toddlers to teen novels.

The most recently published book I edited was a YA thriller called The Spider’s Web – set in Hong Kong. [Ed. note: The Spider's Web was published in Hong Kong October 2009. It will be published in the US and Canada May 2010.] It was fun to work on, and it's a great read too, thanks to the author Adrian Tilley's tight plotting. In coming months, the same publisher - Haven Books, under the Young Haven imprint - will launch another two books both MG/early YA which I've edited.

The first, which is called Chase to the Brazen Head, is a seat of the pants adventure story with Chinese historical themes, by Greg Payne. The second is a fantasy set half in Ancient China and half in Lancashire by an author called Peter Cain.

Another project I worked on recently as an editor, was a series called Kids4Kids 2009. This series started with a competition, where primary aged kids wrote and illustrated their own picture books – sometimes alone, sometimes in a group. Three winners were picked for publication. The kids/schools who participated in the project have undertaken to sell the books, once published, so that their proceeds can be given to charity. This year’s recipient will be Room to Read.

It was a privilege to be able to work with such talented kids. The quality of some of the writing was amazing.

You were editor-in-chief of two daily children's newspapers for four years. Can you tell us a bit about those newspapers and your experience working on them?

The two newspapers are called the Daily7 and the Daily10. They are aimed at primary school kids – and their goal is to get the kids to read for ten full minutes a day (apparently the average length of time an adult spends reading the paper each day). We cover news around the world, as well as having in-depth feature articles. In the fun weekend edition, we feature art and writing from readers, as well as games, jokes etc.

I'd been an editor for many years when I got this job, but I'd never worked on anything daily, with such a tight deadline before, so it had a steep learning curve!

It was a great experience... lots of fun, and also the content was very interesting – I know all sorts of obscure facts now and I’m pretty good at Trivial Pursuit!

The hours were tough though, and I found myself working longer hours than when I was in the financial markets, so after four years, I took a back seat, and went back to fiction editing. I am glad I did the job though, because, apart from learning that writer’s block disappears when you haven’t got the luxury of time, I learnt to be really tough with myself when I was writing. The tight wordcount of a newspaper column means that every single word has to count for something.

The best bit of the job was the fact that there was so much interaction with the readers. They sent in their art, asked questions, and sent in their writing, for consideration to be published. I love working with young writers!

Do you consider yourself more of a writer than an editor? Or more of an editor than a writer?

In recent years, if you look at my output, I’ve been more of an editor than a writer due to time constraints, but I’m hoping to make more time for my writing in 2010. I miss writing!

How would you define children's literature and young adult literature in Hong Kong? What are the challenges and rewards of being a writer for children and young adults in Hong Kong?

The scene is small, but definitely growing! We have a number of small presses who publish children’s books in English, and a larger number who are working in the Chinese language. The good thing is that because the market is much smaller, the publishers here are far more approachable than they are in the US or UK – and more willing to help writers work with their material until it is up to scratch. However, the challenge for most writers in HK is becoming known outside of Asia!

Who is the best-known children's book writer in Hong Kong?

There are quite a few writing and illustrating in Chinese, but although I’ve flicked through several of them on the shelves, I’m not very up to date with their names (I can’t read Chinese!), so I’m going to talk about English books...

Hong Kong’s bestselling children’s author, is without doubt, Nury Vitacchi. He writes for all ages, and is a lot of fun to read! His latest books - the Jeri Telstar series, are illustrated by Eamonn O'Boyle, who also illustrated many of his picture books. He is known internationally for his Feng Shui Detective series.

The other author I should mention, although she is not strictly Hong Kong is Roseanne Thong (she’s presently living in the US – but she had a lot of China based picture books published by major US publishers whilst living here).

What are the current trends in children's and young adult publishing in Hong Kong?

I think the trend is, sadly, away from picture books, which are expensive to produce, and more towards novels, especially those which may have crossover appeal. However, I think the picture book will never completely die!

In terms of Chinese language publishing, I think things are looking rosier. Many years ago, I’m told, it used to be the case that parents had no patience for fiction and reading for pleasure. They bought only educational books for their kids... so as a result, even the fiction which was produced was didactic and not fun to read. I think of late however, there has been a trend towards more reading for pleasure, and whilst a lot of that need has been filled by translations of books which have been hits abroad, there are now university courses in Chinese for writers and illustrators of picture books, and also the first ever Chinese language picture book competition was held this summer, so hopefully the writing and illustrating culture will continue to grow.

What is it like to be the regional advisor of SCBWI Hong Kong? What kind of work do you do for this role? Can you tell us about some of SCBWI Hong Kong's activities this past year? What are some plans for next year?

Being the RA of SCBWI is wonderful – it has allowed me to meet and exchange ideas with all sorts of literary people, both those aspiring to be writers and illustrators, to those who are well published, to industry professionals.

To date, as an RA, I’ve planned and organized events through the year. I look after the books, keep track of the members, oversee critiques and act as the conduit of news etc to the SCBWI family around the world.

This year has been extremely busy for us (and for me in particular!) so I’m happy to say that within the last couple of months, two very capable members have agreed to take on the positions of critique coordinator and event manager... phew!

You asked for a rundown of what we’ve done... well, apart from a very active monthly critique group, we’ve had a number of other events:

January: Social dinner – where apart from catching up and networking, we shared our favourite children’s books.

Feb: We invited Laura Rennert, Senior Agent of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency USA (the top agency for children’s lit) to HK, to give two talks open to the public, as well as share a members only lunch with us.

March: We had a series of members only dinners, starting with a dinner talk with award winning Aussie writer, Susanne Gervay, then one with Elizabeth Laird (another award winning UK writer of MG/YA) and Tony Ross (he needs no intro!).

April: A public talk with writer illustrator Barbara McClintock followed by a members only dinner with her.

May/June: just the regular critique meeting

July/Aug: summer hols

Sep: Autumn social with a mini workshop on breaking writers block.

November: a 2 day event including personal one on one critiques/talks/dinners (some public, some members only) with Alvina Ling – Senior Editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, NY.

[Members of SCBWI Hong Kong with Alvina Ling:]

And later the same week, a dinner talk with Chris Cheng – another award winning writer and educator from Sydney.

[Members of SCBWI Hong Kong with Chris Cheng:]

We’re quiet in Dec – just our regular critique meeting, but in 2010, we hope to have a New Year social (maybe with a small craft workshop). We have a dinner planned with Canadian Author Deborah Ellis in early Feb, then dinner with some of the visiting lit fest children’s book authors in March... and if all works out, we’ll be inviting an Art Director from a big publisher in NY to come for an Illustrators’ Day in early June.

I haven’t thought any further than that!

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing the last round edits of a MG novel, have just started first round editing of another YA thriller, and am evaluating a fantasy novel – all for work. With regards to my own writing, I’m editing a pic book and have a MG novel in progress. I’m also working on a commercial writing project too, but can’t talk about it quite yet!

Thank you so much for sharing, Mio! I wish you the very best for your writing and editing.

Quick Shoutout

Saturday, December 5, 2009
Happy First Anniversary, Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators Korea!!! =D

Video: Yusof Gajah

Friday, December 4, 2009
While doing a bit of research on Malaysian children's and YA books, I came across a video introducing Yusof Gajah, an artist and award-winning children's book writer and illustrator. Yusof also represents Malaysian writers, illustrators, and publishers of children's and YA books for international rights. (Woohoo - Malaysia in the heart, world on the mind!)

These books from Yusof are on my Christmas wish list. I LOVE HIS ART AND ILLUSTRATIONS.

Check out the video below. A couple of parts are in Malaysian, but most of it is in English.

The Asian Festival of Children's Content

Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Here's something I really want to attend. REALLY. WANT. TO. ATTEND.

The very first Asian Festival of Children's Content will be held in Singapore on May 6 - 9, 2010. It will be organized by the Singapore Book Council and The Arts House.

The vision of the festival is to provide the world’s children with quality Asian content for education and entertainment. Its mission is to foster excellence in the creation, production, and publication of children’s materials with Asian content in all formats, and to facilitate their distribution and access, first in Asia and then to children worldwide.

The objectives of the festival are to:

Develop children’s materials with Asian content for information, education, and entertainment
Promote the publishing of Asian children’s content in all formats
Provide children in Asia and the world with ready and easy access to Asian content

Now, if that doesn't say "Asia in the heart, world on the mind," I don't know what does.

Here are some of the festival's programs:

Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference
ASEAN / India Writers and Illustrators Dialogue
Asia / Australia Writers and Illustrators Network
Asian Children’s Librarians Seminar
Asian Children’s Publishers Symposium

The target audience:

Writers, illustrators, digital artists, producers, and designers of children's content (comics, books, e-books, graphic novels, videos, films, and educational games)
Librarians and institutional buyers
Broadcast media executives
Literary agents
Media distributors and vendors
Multimedia professionals
Vendors of educational products and services

Some of the confirmed speakers include:

Murti Bunanta, president and founder of the Society for the Advancement of Children’s Literature in Indonesia and the Indonesian Board on Books for Young People

Daphne Lee, publishing editor of OneRedFlower Press, a new imprint for Malaysian children’s and young adult books

Atanu Roy, illustrator of over a hundred children's books, games, and educational aids in India

Uma Krishnaswami, author of a dozen books for young readers and faculty of the Vermont College (USA) of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults

Eddie Tay, professor of children’s literature, creative writing, and poetry at the Chinese University of Hong Kong

Click here to see the flyer for the Asian Festival of Children's Content.

Thanks to Jenny Desmond Walters, regional advisor of SCBWI Korea, for the tip on this event!

So who's going? :o)

Author Interview: Candy Gourlay

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tall Story is about Bernardo, an 8 ft. tall boy (a giant!) in the Philippines, and his half-sister Andi in the UK. I really enjoyed reading Tall Story. It's an interesting story and I love so many things about it: How it is about family, Filipino legends and superstitions, and basketball. Its melding of British humor and Filipino humor. Andi's strong and fresh voice. How the main characters seem so real that a part of me thinks there really is an 8 ft. tall boy named Bernardo in the Philippines with a sister named Andi in the UK. I love how in Tall Story there is the question of how belief in legends and superstitions affects how one reacts to events... And does something happen (or not happen) because of a person's belief (or lack thereof) in a legend or superstition?

Tall Story is for children aged 10+ and will be published by David Fickling Books in the UK (June 2010) and the US (early 2011), and by Cacho Publishing House in the Philippines (date to be announced). Today, I am excited to present an interview with Tall Story author Candy Gourlay

Candy is a Filipino writer who lives in the UK. In the Philippines, she was a journalist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. In the UK, she was the London correspondent for the news agency Inter Press Service and editor of the pan-European magazine Filipinos in Europe. Candy moved to the UK in 1989 after she married Richard Gourlay, who was the Manila correspondent for the Financial Times of London. Richard and Candy have three children.

Hi, Candy! 
What was the spark that set you off writing Tall Story?

I have always been fascinated by gigantism and had the germ of an idea -  a teenager who suffers from gigantism.

As an awkward teenager, I felt like a freak - a lot of teenagers, the uncool ones like me, feel like that, don't they? I thought: what if you really were a "freak"? Maybe, a giant?  

And then, my sister (Joy Ramos) told me the story of Ujang Warlika.

When her husband, Bong Ramos, a former PBL [Philippine Basketball League] player turned PBA [Philippine Basketball Association] basketball coach, was coaching Aspac Texaco, an Indonesian team, he was asked to turn Ujang into the equivalent of Yao Ming, the Chinese giant.

The thing was, Yao Ming at 7 feet 6 inches was genetically tall ... and Ujang who was 7 feet 4 inches was not tall, he was a giant - he suffered from the disease called gigantism, caused by an overactive pituitary gland that overproduces growth hormones. Ujang ended up spending a lot of time hanging out with my sister's daughter Camille, who is a tiny but formidable basketball player. Camille now plays for La Salle [University] and the Philippine Women's team. Poor Ujang died of his illness.

Please guide us through your writing process, particularly the writing process you used for Tall Story. What influences and inspirations (both literary and non-literary) did you draw from while writing? What were the challenges and rewards from writing Tall Story?

The Philippine legend of Bernardo Carpio is an important part of Tall Story. Can you tell us a bit about the legend and why you incorporated it into the novel? Did you do a lot of research on the legend, or did you rely on the stories you heard growing up?

When I started writing Tall Story in September 2008, I only had that tiny idea - about a teenager with gigantism. I thought of setting it in the UK, but the UK is not a basketball playing country (even though my sons love it, they discovered basketball watching PBA games in the Philippines).

I thought of setting it in the United States - but that would have been super risky, never having lived in the States.

I asked myself what I did know?

I read everything I could find about giants, all the folklore and all the legends. This brought me to Bernardo Carpio, the Filipino legendary giant. I read all the different versions of the Bernardo Carpio story and realized that through the years it had been adapted by storytellers to suit the times - Bernardo Carpio was a metaphor for the resistance against Spain, he was an explanation for a lot of geology in the Montalban area, and he was even a Christ metaphor in the early 1900s. Nick Joaquin wrote a wonderful time travel story featuring Bernardo Carpio in Pop Stories for Groovy Kids, retellings of Filipino stories published in the 80s. That decided me - I was going to tell my own version of Bernardo Carpio and other Filipino folk tales.

I really set out to reflect a Filipino sensibility, despite the story being set partly in London. I had a fear that some Filipinos might not like the way I portray them, given Pinoy sensitivities about their image in the rest of the world. But I set out to capture that unique sense of humour that I miss so much living abroad - our love of poking fun at the way we have domesticated English, the spiritualism that borders on superstition, the rich storytelling seam, the showbiz dramatics, the sense of family and belonging. I hope Pinoy readers will recognize how lovingly I wrote it .. fellow expatriates might feel the undercurrent of homesickness that underlies the whole novel which is the lot of the Filipino abroad. I suspect this will be a constant feature in all my novels!

Was it difficult getting an agent? What was the path to publication for Tall Story?

I have been trying to get published for nine years. I know this because I recorded the date when I started writing my first novel. Tall Story is my fourth!

That first novel was set in London with English characters and had a gripping enough first chapter to have the whole manuscript invited back whenever I sent it out. But I didn't know the ups and downs of plot or in-depth characterization, and had a slew of rejections. I had so much to learn.

I decided to throw myself into the process of learning. I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and tried to attend every event and volunteered for anything going. I thought I would also use my journalistic skills and report on what I learned in a blog - which continues to this day - Notes from the Slushpile.

But it was only when one agent told me, "Why are you writing about English characters? A first novel should reflect the author's experience." that I realized that I was not mining the wealth of experience and story that my heritage had to give. It was only when I started setting my stories in the Philippines and using Filipino characters that my writing really came alive. After that flurry of rejections with my first novel, I became more cautious. I didn't submit my novel to every agent I ever met or heard of. I concentrated on learning to write rather than getting published.

In 2008 I won a place in SCBWI's inaugural Undiscovered Voices anthology with an excerpt of Ugly City, my dystopian fantasy set in a city suspiciously like an extreme Manila. The agent Hilary Delamere had already read another novel of mine and called to tell me she liked it BUT ... after a bit of discussion, she asked if I had anything else. I sent her Ugly City and three days later she signed me up.

Where were you and what were you doing when you found out that your novel was going to be published? What were your first thoughts and feelings? How did you celebrate the good news?

I'm afraid I didn't believe it. I was sure I'd heard wrong and it was only when I actually met my agent at an event a few days after she told me that I felt I had permission to tell the world. Over the years, I guess I'd become overcautious and my default position was rejection. It was really hard to take in the news. I celebrated in little ways with my family and friends. I think it was only the reaction of my 10-year-old friend Hugo that convinced me it was really happening. Last summer I read chapters of Tall Story to Hugo and a bunch of other children.

Candy: Hugo, my book is going to get published.
Hugo: (slightly bored) Which one?
Candy: Tall Story.

And after that I thought it was so cool too!

How are you going to promote Tall Story? What are your plans for its release?

I have not really made plans that far ahead, although June 2010, the launch date in the UK is coming very fast. I want to do some fun stuff online, maybe make some YouTube videos with the kids which I love doing anyway. I will have to redesign my website of course ... and I am hoping my brother Armand Quimpo who is a cool motion graphics animator will make me a book trailer. I'm definitely going home to the Philippines for the Philippine launch but it's still early days so watch this space!

The two main characters in Tall Story, siblings Bernardo and Andi, make important wishes on a wishing stone. What are your wishes for Tall Story?

Do I get three wishes?

One of my big wishes has already been answered: that a Filipino publisher will take it to a Filipino audience. That has always been so important to me and I made that clear to my agent from the moment we started talking about selling my books. My second wish would be that my readers would love my characters as much as I have come to love them. And my third wish? That the book might inspire kids to read more ... and to write.


Thank you, Candy!!! I can't wait for the world to read Tall Story.

[My copy of Tall Story was provided by the author.]

Author Interview: Perpilili Vivienne Tiongson

Sunday, November 29, 2009
I love "I Hate My Mother!": Magnetic levitation, a grain of rice & 3 women (Cacho Publishing, 2007), so I feel honored today to be able to interview its author, Perpilili Vivienne Tiongson ("Perpi"). "I Hate My Mother!" is emotionally powerful young adult fiction with an authentic voice. Click here to read my blog post about the novel and here to read my review of it for

And now introducing... Perpilili Vivienne Tiongson!

Welcome to Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind, Perpi!

Why do you write for young readers?

Why not? I regard this question as if I am being asked, "why invest in the young?" Whether they are readers or not is not as important to me as the fact that they are young. Many have said it in so many ways: The children are our future. So we should invest in them. I have children of my own, and when I think about the world that they will inherit, I have to do everything I can to ensure that it's a world worth passing on. I can't imagine a world without stories. So, whatever I can do to make sure there will be stories for young readers of whatever age, I try to help.
Can you please guide us through your writing process?

Hmmm. Tricky question. My writing process is still evolving. In my earlier years as a writer, I could never begin on a blank computer screen. I had to do it manually - with pen and paper. After the blank staring for hours, when you eventually get a sentence going, I usually wait till I've written out at least a paragraph or two before transferring to the PC. And always, when I start all over (like continuing to write the next day), I have to read through my previous text, rewriting/revising some, then adding on. Everytime I stop and restart, I read through before adding again. It's a painfully long process, but nothing ever comes out if I just read the last line and add from there. I feel like the reader will know I stopped here and just connected this part later because it's not as cohesive as the other parts. You know like when you don't finish a book in one sitting and you have to put it down and pick it up sometime later? You can't just pick up from where you left off. You kinda have to read a few sentences/paragraphs/pages back just to refresh the plot.

When I think I have all of it down, I put it to sleep. For a day, a week, depending on how much distance I can put between me and the manuscript. Then I read it all over again for one last revision. Sometimes, that means going through the entire process again. Not until I feel like I've got nothing to change do I think it's done, at least from my end.

As for ideas, they come from anywhere. You just have to have discipline to bring a notebook and pen with you all the time and take down notes. You'll never know when they'll come in handy.

What inspired and motivated you to write "I Hate My Mother!"?

A mix of things. It started out as a short story writing assignment. But friends who reviewed it would always say it seems like there's more. So I decided to write it out as a novel. The story became three chapters, until I added more and more chapters, until... In terms of inspiration or motivation, I would say a bit of it is personal. (Which I think answers the next question.) I went through a phase when I thought I hated my mother. And at that time, I felt like I was the only one. So I felt like I had this dark secret that I had to keep lest I was found out. All my friends didn't seem like they were going through what I was going through, and I really felt like I was going to burn in hell for hating my mom. So it's my way of reaching out to people, YAs especially, to let them know that they're not alone. That perhaps they would find their own "resolution" in my book, or in any other YA book for that matter. At the very least, I am hoping YA books are like best friends you can run to.

"I Hate My Mother!" feels so intimate, so intensely emotional. Are any parts of it autobiographical? Where did you draw all that emotion from?

I think like any writer, you can't help draw from your own life. So in a way, yes, parts of it are autobiographical. But I don't mean that scenes or events are exactly as they happened in my life. Like I may use my life to draw parallel situations. For example, in trying to live out the fight between Bell and her mom, I might draw from a different situation where I might have felt intense emotion like a big fight with my sister (whose name happens to be Aileen, not Cory :D).

I do believe that all writers write about themselves, one way or another. Even if for example I were writing about a male character, some parts of that character will echo some parts of me, my personhood. I don't think you can escape that.

What were the challenges and rewards of writing "I Hate My Mother!"? What was the path to publication for the novel?

In the early stages of my draft, one of my greatest challenges was convincing adults that hating your mom was a normal teen phenomenon. And this was at a time when my novel wasn't even titled, "I Hate My Mother!" (The first title was Mother's Grain of Rice.) My adult readers felt HATE was too strong a word. It was a time when many adults still saw YA as an extension of children's lit - safe and sanitized. They feared it would only cause more teenagers to hate their mothers/parents. They could not imagine how a 16 year old could hate her mother so. One of my readers even said, "I hated my mom when I was a teenager, but I don't hate her now." That was exactly my point, I wanted to say. :D

I'm not sure what you mean when you say, "path to publication," but there was nothing extraordinary about the process I took. I sent my manuscript to the publisher, prayed a lot and crossed my fingers hoping to hear what I wanted to hear. I didn't exactly hear it the way I envisioned it. It was more like, "I can publish this, but not in this form." And I was thinking, "ok, what exactly did he mean?" It took almost 4 years of revising based on the publisher's comments before I was formally offered a contract to publish.

What do you hope young readers will experience or take away from the novel?

In my critical essay on YA Novels, I said that YA novels can be a safe place. A safe place to explore, to experience, to experiment. Literature, we say, is vicarious living - living through the experience of others. So let's take advantage of it. If you've never known what it's like to feel strongly about your parents, the book might help. You can feel angry with or through Bell, but hopefully in the end, you'll feel her sadness too, and come to your own realizations through hers. But I don't want to limit it to just hating your mom. It can be about anything - going on an adventure, telling a lie, falling in love... The book just serves as a possibility, an opportunity.

What are your favorite children's and YA books? How have they influenced your own work?

Believe it or not, I started my love for reading through horror/suspense books and films. Peter Straub, Stephen King, Agatha Christie... I even had a crush on Peter Cushing ( I thought he looked more vampish than Christopher Lee). This was when I didn't really know about YA lit. When I discovered YA, I liked Robert Cormier, Lois Lowry.. Nowadays, I like the books for younger readers (maybe because of my kids!). [Ed. note: Check out the picture of Perpi's beautiful family on the right!] Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss will always be on my list. But there are so many others. There's also the local writers like KUTING [a group of Filipino children's book writers]...

Because of this mix of horror and children's, I think my writing always has that dark side to it, which I hope I get to mask in humor.

What are you reading now?

I am trying to read L'Engle again. I've been wanting to write a sci-fi or fantasy for boys. 

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am working on a short story for intermediate readers. I am also hoping to work on a collection of narratives I wrote several years ago. But soon, I would like to get started on a sequel to "I Hate My Mother!".  

I would love to read a sequel to "I Hate My Mother!" Perpi, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions about your novel.  

[I bought my own copy of "I Hate My Mother!"

About the Blog / Review Policy

Saturday, November 28, 2009
Thank you very much for your interest in this blog! Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind is a children's and YA book blog about: children's and YA books set in Asia, children's and YA books with Asian characters, children's and YA books with characters of Asian descent, Asian children's and YA book authors and illustrators, and children's and YA book authors and illustrators of Asian descent.


I happily accept books for review. If you would like to send me a book for review, please email me so that I can give you my mailing address.

I will feature every book I receive (through a review or an author/illustrator interview, etc.). However, I cannot promise a positive feature for a book. I will be honest about both the strengths and weaknesses of the book. I also cannot promise a specific date for posting about the book. But every book will get featured.


Yes, I accept electronic copies of books for review. Please email me before sending an electronic copy of a book. My guidelines for electronic books are the same as my guidelines for books.


I love interviewing authors and illustrators (and really anybody in the children's and YA book world)! If you would like to request an interview, please email me information about the author or illustrator and his/her work. It would be best if I received a copy/e-copy of one of his/her books so that I can ask the best questions and even accompany the interview with a review of the book.

Blog Tours

Yes, I participate in blog tours. Email me to inquire about my interest in a tour. For a blog tour, I will need a copy/e-copy of the book being promoted.


I would be glad to host giveaways/contests for the benefit of my blog readers. Email me to inquire about my interest in a giveaway/contest.

Thank you so much for considering Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind! I look forward to working with you. :o)


Publishing Giant Acquires Giant Novel - Written by a Filipina!

Thursday, November 26, 2009
Press release (originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on November 13, 2009):

David Fickling Books is enormously proud to announce the acquisition of a new stand-(tall)-alone novel, TALL STORY!

TALL STORY by Candy Gourlay is an outstanding and highly original novel for 10yrs+. The deal was negotiated by Hilary Delamere from The Agency and David Fickling.

This is a book about Bernardo, a boy who lives in the Philippines, and Bernardo is tall. Not just tall, he’s 8ft tall. Bernardo is actually a GIANT! In a novel packed with humour and quirkiness, Gourlay explores a touching sibling relationship and the comedic results of two very different cultures colliding.

Editorial director, Bella Pearson, knew there was something special from the first page: “It isn't often that I am in fits of laughter one minute and in tears the next - TALL STORY is one of the warmest, funniest, most moving books I've read in a long time - and Candy Gourlay is a rare and new voice in children's fiction. We are feeling immensely excited (and smug!) to be able to add her name to the DFB list.”

Candy Gourlay was born in Manila during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. She was in her twenties when she moved to the UK after covering the revolution that overthrew Marcos. In addition to journalism and writing for children, Candy is involved in a range of media: blogging, designing websites and even creating
YouTube videos.

Candy is passionate about embracing and exploiting the digital world to promote books, meeting other likeminded people and reaching out to younger readers online. She runs the popular blog Notes from the Slushpile for aspiring writers. TALL STORY will be Candy’s first full-length published novel.

TALL STORY will be published in June 2010 in hardback and will be launched with widespread digital publicity and buzz; David Fickling Books in the US will publish later in the year and Hilary Delamere has negotiated a separate edition to be launched in the Philippines by Ramon Sunico’s Cacho Publishing House.

For more information about Candy Gourlay see:

For more information about DFB see:

Notes for Editors

David Fickling Books is publisher of quality picture books and fiction, and is home to some of the most bestselling and highly acclaimed authors including Philip Pullman (published by DFB in the UK only), John Boyne, Mark Haddon (published by DFB in the UK only) and Jenny Downham. Its authors have won all of the major literary prizes including the Costa Children's Book of the Year, the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, and most recently the Carnegie Medal. David Fickling Books is an imprint of Random House Children’s Books UK and Random House Children’s Books in the United States and is based in Oxford, England and New York, USA.

For more information please contact:

Georgia Lawe, Deputy Publicity Director at RHCB
T: 020 8231 6413 or E:

Author Interview: Sang Pak

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on November 11, 2009.

Today, I welcome debut author Sang Pak to Into the Wardrobe! Sang has English and Psychology degrees from the University of Georgia and is a denizen of Georgia, Southern California, and Seoul. His coming-of-age novel, Wait Until Twilight, was published in August. :o)

Sang, what motivates and inspires you to be a writer?

Writing makes me feel connected and gives me a sense of purpose and meaning.

Can you tell us a bit about your debut novel?

Wait Until Twilight is a story about a high school boy, Samuel, who comes across a set of deformed triplets and their psychotic adult brother. Samuel finds himself obsessing about the triplets, though he is repulsed by them. All this coincides with re-emerging emotional memories of his dead mother. It’s a southern gothic / coming of age tale full of grotesques, adolescent life, and violence.

Why did you write Wait Until Twilight? What's the story behind the story?

The story is based on a set of dreams I had one summer a few years ago. Over a two week period I had many vivid dreams I wrote down all set in high school. So I put the pieces together and fleshed them out into a novel.

What were the challenges and rewards of writing Wait Until Twilight? What was the path to publication for the novel?

The challenge was getting a strong central story arc for the disparate vignettes that comprised the book. Once I got the story arc it was fine. Getting published took a few years of submitting to agents until one of them loved it and was able to get a deal with HarperCollins.

Where were you and what were you doing when you found out that your novel was going to be published? What were your first thoughts and feelings? How did you celebrate the good news?

I think I was about to go out on a Friday night when my agent called me to tell me about getting the deal. My thoughts and feelings were basically it’s about time I finally got published!

I had drinks with friends! Woohoo!

What are your favorite coming-of-age novels? How have they influenced your own coming-of-age novel?

I love the psychological exploration and transformation in Demian by Herman Hesse and I love the humor and youthful angst of Catcher in the Rye by Salinger.

Well, the aspects I love about them, I hoped to incorporate those aspects into my novel. The psychological exploration of Demian and the humor and angst of Catcher. Also these novels showed how a coming of age novel can be done in a literary style without being boring....

What do you think is the importance of coming-of-age novels?

A coming of age novel is more or less a story of transformation, which is always interesting and relatable. It just so happens to be in the framework of child to adult.

What books would you like your own work to match or surpass (in terms of writing, impact/influence, popularity/sales, or awards)?

I really can’t say. I can’t compare. I don’t think I’m competitive enough!

What is your strongest or favorite memory from when you were Samuel's (your main character's) age (16)?

Wow so many. But what comes to mind this moment is just the impression of driving country roads with friends without a care in the world.

Are you working on another novel right now?

Yes I am but I don’t talk about them until they are finished! I’m superstitious that way!

Sang, thanks so much for stopping by and chatting with me!

Book Review and Author Interview: Chenxi and the Foreigner by Sally Rippin

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on September 5, 2009.

"Every student watched Chenxi and the foreigner and every one of them had something to say about it."

It is April 1989 and eighteen-year-old San Francisco native Anna White is visiting her father in Shanghai. While in Shanghai, Anna, who is an artist, will learn traditional Chinese painting. One of Anna's classmates at the Shanghai College of Fine Arts, Chenxi, has been assigned as her translator and tour guide. Anna falls head over heels in love with the handsome, mysterious, and talented Chenxi.

There are student protests in China while Anna is there, and Chenxi is one of the students protesting the Chinese regime. When Anna is forced to return to the United States, the protests culminate in what the Chinese government calls the June Fourth Incident, but the Western world calls the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Chenxi and the Foreigner, by Australian children's/YA author and illustrator Sally Rippin, is a very brave YA novel about being a wai guo ren (outsider/foreigner), obsession and infatuation (how Anna feels about Chenxi), and the economic growth and political and social tensions in China in the late 1980s. It's a gently powerful novel that is amazingly honest in its portrayal of life in 1980s China and of the life of teenagers in general.

The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feel of China are very much alive and authentic in Chenxi and the Foreigner - in everything from how the Chinese speak English to how life is like in the Chinese countryside to how the Chinese treat foreigners. We see the country through the eyes of Anna, who is curious and open to the culture but definitely has the confusion and natural biases of a wai guo ren, but the tone of the novel is never condescending or disrespectful. And China is never exoticized.

This is an important novel that I was sorry to put down once the story had ended. I didn't want to leave Anna. I didn't want to leave Chenxi. Most of all, I didn't want to leave China.

[The North American edition of Chenxi and the Foreigner is from Annick Press (2009). The Australian edition is from Text Publishing (2008). I read an electronic copy of the North American edition sent by Annick Press.]

Into the Wardrobe is the last stop on Sally Rippin's blog tour and I had the great pleasure of interviewing Sally. Thank you so much, Sally!

What was it like as an Australian partly growing up in Brunei, Hong Kong, and China? What are some of your strongest or favorite memories from Asia?

I have very strong memories of all these places: they have become part of who I am. Even Brunei, I was very young, but I remember my Ah Ma (my nanny) washing my mouth out with soap for having said a rude word in Malay. I’m sure I can still remember the taste of soap! I remember my best friend lived in a houseboat, and my Ah Ma and I would have to walk across all the other houseboats tethered to the port to get to his. I remember, too, my parents asking me to ask things of my Ah Ma, because I could speak Malay and they couldn’t and not understanding why if they wanted to ask her something couldn’t they just ask her themselves! I’ve lost all my Malay now, unfortunately, but I think having grown up in Asia as a child meant that when I went to live in China as a teenager, I picked up Mandarin very quickly. I still speak Mandarin Chinese but it has become very rusty, though when I go back to visit my father in Shanghai I’m always surprised at how quickly it comes back.

Wow, that's amazing, Sally! I wish I knew how to speak Mandarin.

How has partly growing up in Asia molded you as a person? How has it influenced your writing and illustrating for children and young adults?

It influences everything. From the stories I choose to tell to the technique of illustration I use. Many stories I write for children are about Chinese-Australians. I am particularly drawn to exploring stories of outsiders whether they be new immigrants, artists or troubled teenagers. These are the characters I most identify with from having been called a ‘foreigner’ much of my own life.

I studied Chinese painting for three years in China and still use brush and ink for many of my illustration work today. Even when I am painting in a way that may not be recognizably Chinese, I am very influenced by Chinese composition and, like traditional Chinese painters, I am always aware of the importance of white space.

(Above is a picture of Sally as a teenage art student in China. Below are some of Sally's illustrations influenced by Chinese art.)

Your three years in China studying traditional Chinese painting inspired Chenxi and the Foreigner. The novel is even dedicated to the real Chenxi. Who is the real Chenxi? How much of the novel is fact and how much of it is fiction?

There is a lot of my novel based on my own experiences studying in China and events of the time, but the love story between Chenxi and Anna is invented. I imagine many writers combine their own experience with imagination. For me this is the key to creating a story that feels authentic and true. The ‘real’ Chenxi was my best friend in Shanghai and I am still in touch with him even though we haven’t seen each other for years. He now lives as an accomplished painter in Austria. The invented Chenxi, is a composite of many of my friends, all the best bits of course, plus lots of imagination. That’s one of the best things about writing – you can create your ideal guy!

Chenxi the character is certainly interesting and attractive as a very independent and rebellious artist!

What were the challenges and rewards of writing Chenxi and the Foreigner? What was the path to publication for the novel?

Without knowing it, I began writing the first drafts of Chenxi while I was still living in China in my early twenties. While I was living in China I wrote lots of short stories, letters and diary entries that I was then able to use later to pull my novel together, a process that took many drafts and many years. Before Chenxi, I wrote another novel, basically to learn how to write a novel. It was never published but an editor at Penguin took an interest in it and encouraged me to write something for Young Adult readers as that was her particular area of interest. I re-wrote the novel three times, under her guidance, over a period of three years while I was living in the South of France with two small children. Eventually the editor left Penguin and wasn’t able to take the novel with her to her new publishing house but by that time the novel was polished enough to send elsewhere. It was published with a new publisher, went out of print, and then was picked up by Text Publishing in 2008. They have since sold it into five countries – so, to my joy, almost twenty years after I first began writing it, it keeps on living!

I'm not surprised that it keeps on living. It's quite a lovely novel.

What do you want readers to take away from Chenxi and the Foreigner?

Firstly, a love of my characters, and secondly a love of place. I would love readers to become interested in China after reading my novel and to hopefully have an insight into a fascinating and culturally-rich country that is changing so rapidly that my novel seems to have now become a piece of history!

You have me there, Sally! I want more of Anna and Chenxi. And I hope you write more novels set in China.

What is your favorite response to Chenxi and the Foreigner from either a critic or a reader?

I received a lovely review from a young Chinese-Australian reader who thanked me for introducing her to a period of history that she hadn’t been aware of, even though she had been born in China soon after those events. I guess the new edition of this book has given me the opportunity to revisit and document a significant time in Chinese history, particularly now that I know that it has become a taboo topic in other forms of Chinese media. I would hate to think that the hundreds of protestors who lost their lives in Tiananmen Square and many others in the months afterwards, could simply be erased from history. I rewrote the new edition of this book in their honour.

(Sally provided these pictures of student protests in Shanghai in 1989.)

Do you have a message for readers in Asia?

Not particularly, I am just so thrilled to find a readership there! I would love to hear from anyone in Asia who has read any of my books – if there is anyone out there? :)

Check out the other stops on the blog tour to learn more about Sally!

Tea Time at Annick Press

The Book Muncher

Cindy’s Love Of Books


Hey! Teenager of the Year

Also, check out Sally's blog! She has recently posted photos from her time in China.

Playing It Safe by G.T. Los Baños

A Filipino YA novel in English

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on August 12, 2009.

"It all began that day we went up against the Mountaineers for the interclub university softball championship. I guess knocking a girl unconscious with a softball is just about as weird as it gets when it comes to starting any sort of relationship, but anyway, here's how things happened on that crazy, glorious afternoon:

The game was sort of a grudge match: the two toughest organizations on campus, the Mountaineers and my team, the Outsiders, squaring off for the school's interclub softball championship."

Playing It Safe by G.T. Los Baños (Cacho Publishing House, 2007) is about sports, university life, and relationships. It's about Jon Garcia, a sophomore college student on the varsity wrestling team, and Sheila Prado, a member of the same university's varsity swim team, and how Jon falls for and pursues Sheila... Or is about how Jon falls for and fails to pursue Sheila? After all, he does plays it safe. But everything goes Jon's way - until Sheila implies that she wants a bit of traditional Filipino courtship (flowers and the whole works), which Jon doesn't believe in.

For a love story, Playing It Safe is heavy on Jon's exposition, light on action and dialogue between him and Sheila or any other character. And on that note, Jon and Sheila's story has its cheesy moments. But I could not stop smiling while reading. I even had to stop every few pages because I would hunch over laughing. I was so amused and so entertained by Jon's story, and I found Jon and Sheila, their lives, and their relationship so interesting and so refreshing. (There aren't many Filipino YA novels in English about sports, university life, and relationships!) Plus, the writing is incredibly engaging. There's also the fact that Playing It Safe is a fun and accurate portrayal of life on a Philippine university campus. My only disappointment with this novella is all the typos. Apart from the bad proofreading, it is very good!

The ending of Playing It Safe is a real cliffhanger. I can imagine some readers will be dissatisfied with this and burn with curiosity about what happens with Jon and Sheila. I was satisfied with the ending because it raised great questions about, yes, playing it safe in relationships and about whether or not a little bit of traditional Filipino courtship is still desired and/or relevant.

[I bought my own copy of Playing It Safe. G.T. Los Baños was one of my college English teachers. He was so cool and such a good teacher that when my younger brother got to college, I recommended he take Mr. Los Baños' class. My brother really enjoyed his class too!]

"I Hate My Mother!": Magnetic levitation, a grain of rice & 3 women

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on August 6, 2009.

A Filipino YA novel in English

"I Hate My Mother!": Magnetic levitation, a grain of rice & 3 women (Cacho Publishing House, 2007) introduces readers to finding a mother's wisdom in a grain of rice, the parallel between human relationships and magnets, and Bell, her mother, and her sister Cory.

This book made me happy. Not because it's a bright and cheery novel - in fact it has its funny moments but is mostly a serious novel. But because good books make me happy, and this is definitely a solidly good book.

I have heard once that children love their parents and then love them again as adults. "I Hate My Mother!" is about that time in between, when teenagers "hate" their parents. Written in that unique way Filipino teenagers use English, and generously peppered with Filipino words and phrases, "I Hate My Mother!" traces the transformation of Bell's awe of her mother's wisdom as a little girl to her bewilderment, annoyance, and frustration with her mother as a teenager.

But as the years went by, it only became harder for me to understand anything Mommy would say. Even in my most patient moments, no beam of light would shine on me or on Mommy's words. Parang* I was losing all capacity for understanding.

But then again, more and more, I would come to believe it was my Mom who was losing all her wisdom.


Kasi** while I was getting wiser, Mommy was getting dumber. Like she was losing the wisdom Dad always talked about when I was a little girl. And she was losing it fast.

In this novel, Perpilili Vivienne Tiongson gives readers an almost pitch perfect portrayal of the INEXPLICABLE rage many teenage girls feel towards their mother.

I just wanted to feel nothing. For once, to feel like nothing's the matter with my Mom. To just watch her walk across the hall, or even into our room, without having to avoid her, without having to pretend that I was too busy to talk to her or pretend I had not noticed her at all. To not cringe at the way she chewed her food when we sat at the dining table. To not shudder at the slightest touch of her hand on my back. To not ice over at the words "I love you."

There is no clear, neat, happy ending for this novel. No resolution between mother and daughter. But the ending does satisfy in that there is hope. And as one cannot help but get emotionally involved with the story, the ending is also satisfying because it gives readers plenty of room to work out their own thoughts and feelings.

Needless to say, I recommend this book!

Loose English translations of the words in Filipino:
*It was as if...

[I bought my own copy of "I Hate My Mother!".]