9-27-2010 Miscellany

Monday, September 27, 2010
* Check out the website of the Philippine chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators!

* Then check out the latest issue of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. The essays section features children's book authors Margaret Hui Lian Lim, Emily Lim, Adeline Foo, and Sarah Brennan. LOVE. :o)

Love, love, love, love, love!

9-25-2010 Miscellany

Saturday, September 25, 2010
* New blog alert! Filipino children's book author/illustrator May Tobias-Papa has a new blog, Little Wishing Star. May is charming, her work is charming, and her new blog is charming. Ch-ch-check it out!

* The Philippine Board on Books for Young People (promoters of literacy, the love of reading, and children's books in the Philippines) also has a new blog. Be sure to watch that space!

* Korean American children's and young adult author Paula Yoo is a guest blogger over at angry asian man. She gathered several librarians for a roundtable discussion on Asian American children's and young adult literature. EPIC.

* During the Manila International Book Fair last week, I gave a presentation on blogging about children's and young adult literature. =D

* ETA: And ooohhh, check out this site. It "contains reviews, articles, interviews, recommendations and blog posts related to: books and multimedia (in the English Language) for Muslim children and young adults (Islamic as well as some general fiction and non-fiction) . . . tips and issues surrounding reading, books and literacy"!

Guest Blog Post by Tutu Dutta-Yean

Monday, September 20, 2010
Hi, everyone! I have another special guest today: Tutu Dutta-Yean. She's at Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind to share a bit about herself and her work in children's literature. Welcome, Tutu!

About the Author

Tutu Dutta-Yean was born in India, but she grew up in Malaysia. She has traveled and lived in Japan and France as a student and later in Singapore, Nigeria, New York and Cuba as the wife of a diplomat. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from University Putra Malaysia and also devoted a few years researching this subject for a master’s degree in the University of Malaya before embarking on a career in public relations.

Her lifelong interest in culture, folklore and children’s literature inspired her to research and write her first book, Timeless Tales of Malaysia. Since then she has published two more books: Eight Fortunes of the Qilin and Eight Jewels of the Phoenix.

She has a teenaged daughter, Shona, who was born in Singapore. At present, Tutu is living in Havana, Cuba.

How Tutu Became a Writer

I've always been interested in folktales, legends & myths even as a child and I accumulated quite a large collection of stories (mentally that is). For me these stories are little capsules of culture, history and also human nature. A six-week trip to Tokyo, Japan in 1978 as a young student sponsored by Japan Airlines, was perhaps a turning point. I was fascinated by Japanese culture and especially by their traditional theatres – Noh and Kabuki. I found the stories, which are mostly based on a mixture of legend and history, very haunting.

But I only started researching and writing folktales in earnest about 10 years ago. I think my interest was piqued when my husband Yean was posted to Lagos, Nigeria from 1999-2002. Coming into contact with a very different culture usually gives one an alternative perspective on life! While in Lagos, I was a member of the African Book Group of Lagos. It was a very useful experience as some of the members of the Book Group taught me to analyze books in terms of plot and character.

A posting to New York from 2002 to 2005 gave me the confidence to be a writer. I had the opportunity to attend talks by writers in bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, which finally made me decide that I could write a book of my own. From New York, it was back to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I met up with an old friend Eleanor Chen. She invited me to join the Rumah Ku Children’s Book Writers Circle. With feedback from the group, the manuscript for Timeless Tales of Malaysia was accepted by Marshall Cavendish Malaysia. I decided to undertake the illustrations myself as a cost-saving measure!

About Timeless Tales of Malaysia

I started the project by researching Malaysian folktales i.e. traditional stories that originated in Malaysia. There are some stories that almost every Malaysian is familiar with such as 'The Princess of Mount Ledang' and the 'Sang Kanchil' stories, but I was looking for the not so familiar stories. I read about a hundred stories and selected eleven which I personally found interesting and which inspired me to do more research.

The stories came from various sources - a few I heard about or read in childhood, some from Internet discussion forums on history and folklore, a few from newspaper articles (travel writers) and some from published books. Sometimes the story is just a fragment and I piece it together from a few sources. When the same story appears in several different versions, I select one version but sometimes I combine two or three different versions into one story!

I made the selection based purely on the fact that the stories appealed to me. First of all, they must have an interesting plot and the possibility of character development and perhaps a surprise or twist at the end. But more importantly they have to 'speak' to me.

The stories in the book are ‘retold’ and not ‘translated’. When you translate a story, you try to write it as close to the original as possible, but in a different language. Retelling a story means that this is your own interpretation of the story; with your own characterization (dialogues) and description. It’s true I read/heard most of the stories in Malay but I try to understand (internalize them) them and then re-tell them in my own words. It was quite challenging especially when I come across words such as ‘huma’ (hill paddy) etc. and when the original is in old Malay.

The one thing I realised when researching these stories is that folktales are quite universal. For example one of the stories, ‘The Tanjung Blossom Faerie’, is about seven fairies who come to earth to take a bath in a beautiful pool in the forest. The youngest sister loses her cloak/scarf or selendang and is unable to return home.

Regarded as a national folktale in Malaysia, this particular folktale clearly originated from Penang as Tanjung was the old Malay name for Penang. There are also similarities with another folktale, 'Tanjung Bunga', which is known to originate from Penang. The bunga tanjung (Mimusops elengi) is a fragrant, night-blooming flower.

This motif of the seven fairy sisters taking a bath in a pool appears in folktales in Japan, Korea and China. In Japan and Korea, it is about the hunter who stole the fairy maiden’s magic cloak thus preventing her from flying away. We don’t know where the story first originated from but it could be based on the ancient Chinese folktale ‘The Weavermaid and the Herdsboy’.

Even more surprising, this same motif of seven fairy sisters appears in an Iban legend called ‘Jelenggai’, also found in the collection. (The Iban is a tribal group from Sarawak, a part of Malaysian Borneo).

So from studying folktales we can see that stories travel all over the world!

Tutu, the motif of the seven fairy sisters taking a bath in a pool appears in a Philippine folk tale too! Thank you so much for this informative blog post. =D

Illustrator Interview: Bru

Monday, September 13, 2010
Let's continue getting to know the winners of the first Philippine National Children's Book Awards! =D In my last post, I interviewed Gidget Roceles-Jimenez, the author of the excellent Can We Live on Mars?: A Book about Space (Adarna House, 2009). Today, I have the privilege of interviewing Bru, the book's illustrator. Bru has brought along some illustrations from the book to share with us.

Hi, Bru! And welcome! It's great to host you on my blog.

What did you like most or find the most interesting about Can We Live on Mars?: A Book about Space?

The whole thing was fun. There was no one thing that stood out. It was a challenge actually, but I really enjoyed illustrating this book (except for the mechanical drawings of spaceships. It's like drawing cars. I am so not a gearhead).

[Click on the image above to see a spread from the book. This image is courtesy of Adarna House. All rights reserved.]

How would you describe your illustration style for Can We Live on Mars?: A Book about Space? What influences and inspirations did you draw from while working on the book? Can you please guide us through the creative process you used while working on the book?

The Little Golden Books style was one peg, it has such charm and a great hand-drawn feel. Fitting for the title and cover page, although I rendered these on the computer. Adarna let me come up with my own characters and style and I am very thankful for that freedom. The Adarna science series always has main characters that act as the kids' guides through the book. My girl was loosely based on Princess Leia, and the boy on Astroboy. I also gave each kid a pet—a cute green alien dog and a space monkey—as secondary characters. They were loosely based on Laika the Soviet space dog, and monkey astronauts; animals who were historically launched into space before it was deemed safe for humans. The gang gets to live out little slice-of-life space stories in the book.

I always start with thumbnail sketches which Adarna goes over. Once they green-light the studies, I ink my characters on paper then color these digitally. Working on the book was very tedious; there was a lot to illustrate! In the beginning, I had difficulty nailing a look that was both educational/factual and fantastic/whimsical, but once we got over that black hole, it got easier to draw the gist of the text. I kept it fun and kengkoy [funny or goofy] but still informative (it is a learning book after all). I also interjected sci-fi and pop culture references when I could.

How would you describe your studio?

Organized chaos :) Masarap magtrabaho dito [It's a pleasure working here.] (except for Cubao dust). It's a very creative space.

Please visit this link. This is our studio. [Bru is one-half of Electrolychee.] Our good friend Mitch Mauricio shot us for her creative spaces blog a while back.

What is your typical workday like?

We try to get to the studio before lunch. But that's not happening right now, maybe when we get our biological work clocks in sync with the rest of the world. So, we sleep in, have lunch, go to the office, draw, paint, eyes on the computer, then back home for dinner. Some days if we have meetings in the morning till afternoon, we spend the rest of the day out-checking out bookstores, Booksale branches, malls. Some nights we go grab drinks with friends, catch a gig nearby, or if [my partner] Marcus' bands are playing. Pretty normal.

Do you have any rituals when working on illustrations?

I have to really be in the mood. I research a lot. Sketch a lot before hunkering down to do the final illustrations. We always have the radio/music on (sometimes Marcus plays LPs he bought at thrift stores on his old vinyl player; yesterday we were listening to the Pointer Sisters!). Starch and snack attacks are for sudden hunger pangs especially when we're working [many hours] straight, but generally a good meal before or after work is more rewarding.

What does winning a National Children's Book Award mean to you?

It's a wow. It makes me proud of the group's accomplishment. It really is a team effort. I hope more schools/government agencies support local publishers' endeavors, such as Adarna's.

What's next for you?

In kid's book publishing? I hope to illustrate my first kid's story book. I really have difficulty illustrating a running narrative, which my partner Marcus can do blindfolded.

Bru, thank you so much for stopping by my blog for a chat and for sharing your illustrations!

Author Interview: Gidget Roceles-Jimenez

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Gidget Roceles-Jimenez is the author of the excellent Can We? science book series from Adarna House. The series includes Can We Live on Mars?: A Book about Space, which won a Philippine National Children's Book Award this year. Can We Live on Mars? makes astronomy interesting, accessible, and relevant to Filipino children. Today, I have the great pleasure of sharing an interview with the book's author!

Gidget, welcome to Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind!

Why do you write nonfiction for young readers? What is it about nonfiction that you find so appealing?

In the 10 years I have been writing, I have been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to write poetry, creative non-fiction and non-fiction for young readers. I started off writing poetry because I used to love reading funny poems to my children at night. Our favorite poet was Shel Silverstein. Other times my kids would prefer we make up stories instead of read them. Since my husband loved adopting all sorts of animals in our house, many of our stories ended up being about them. In time, I ended up writing some of these stories as poems and having them published as the I Like Myself picture book series under Tahanan Books. This is actually how I serendipitously ended up writing children’s books.

My educational background involved a lot of research. I got both my undergraduate and masters degree in business economics. As I got more comfortable writing for children, writing both creative non-fiction and non-fiction children’s books seemed like a perfect use of both my skills and my new found passion.

{Below are pictures of Gidget with her beautiful family and some of their pets! (Tortoises photo credit: Kathy Chua)}

What are the specific challenges and rewards of writing nonfiction for young Filipino readers?

I learned a lot from writing the Adarna House Can We? nonfiction series. We had to test some of the basic scientific concepts on some primary schools. The results helped all of us working on the series refine the way we presented the concepts. Getting feedback from the kids about what appealed to them and what they didn’t understand helped us make the books more interesting for them to read. I appreciated Adarna’s meticulous efforts to ensure that the books were really able to relate to their target audience.

It is nice to hear feedback from parents and teachers that their kids actually learn a lot from the books. They even try to do the experiments that we put in the books and actually enjoy them. One of the nicest rewards of doing this series was seeing a whole room filled with an exhibit of the Can We Plug into Lightning? experiments done by some kids in a public school in Tagaytay. It gave me the assurance that the kids really understood what we were trying to present to them in the book.

Can you please guide us through the research and writing process you used for Can We Live on Mars?: A Book about Space?

The book Can We Live on Mars? was the third and last installment to the Can We? science series of Adarna House. Writing this book proved to be the most challenging of the three books in the series. After publishing Can We Drink the Ocean? and Can We Plug into Lightning? Adarna wanted a third book to complete the series. I was quite surprised that they wanted it to be about space. They said it was a favorite science topic among many of the schools we used to test the first two books in the series. I was a little hesitant at first, as I knew the Philippines didn’t really have an active space program. I knew this would require a much more creative approach to presenting it within a Philippine context.

However as I did my research it became clear that the Philippine “space” program really evolved out of the need to find a scientific approach to preventing national disasters such as typhoons. Through Adarna’s contacts, I got a lot of information from technical experts affiliated with the Manila Observatory at Ateneo de Manila University and University of the Philippines NISMED Observatory. They were particularly excited as the book was scheduled to come out on the 400th year anniversary of the first time Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei used a telescope to see the moon, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter.

With more digging, I found out that although we didn’t really have an active space program, we did have some local astronomers that have made significant contributions to recent important discoveries such as the existence of Jupiter’s third spot.

And despite our limited involvement in the world’s “Race for Space” programs, it was most important to show Filipino kids the way our notable astronomers have tailored our studies of the skies to help us in the Philippine context especially during our unpredictable typhoon seasons.

{Click on the image below to check out a spread from the book! (Image courtesy of Adarna House. All rights reserved.)}

{Here is Gidget with Bru, the illustrator of Can We Live on Mars?.}

Gidget, who are your favorite authors of nonfiction children's books? What are your favorite nonfiction children's books? Why are they your favorites? How have they influenced your own work?

I like non-fiction books like the Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary and Martin Brown and the Horrible Geography series by Anita Ganeri and Mike Philips. They are able to present boring historical facts in such a creative and interesting manner that allows you to both enjoy and understand them. Although I have yet to write something about history or geography, they have just made me more aware of how we can make reading and learning more fun for kids.

What are you working on now?

I am collaborating on a non-fiction book for kids on organic gardening and another one that can probably be categorized as creative non-fiction. The final draft has not yet been approved on this one so I am not at liberty to say too much about it yet. I don’t know when they will come out yet. Hopefully soon!

Thank you so much, Gidget! I can't wait to read your new books!