Books of our time

by Gabrielle Borromeo
(Manila, Philippines)

Published in the Daily Tribune Life
September 1, 2012

We live in a modern world where buildings stand next to each other, malls are a bridge away, factories are near residential areas, and concrete pavements have covered the soil. Sometimes, nature is no longer visible: trees are nowhere in sight, soil is exported far from people, and the kind of air children know is the kind spewed by air conditioners. To a city-born and -bred child, animals are as real as a picture in a frame.

The threatened extinction of nature is nowhere near a joke even if the human occupants of this planet are oblivious to it. There are already so many animals that only ancient history has witnessed; and now what’s left of nature is deteriorating because of the demands of a modern lifestyle.

What else can be handed down to the next generation except the surviving beauty of life, of nature itself? Imagine never seeing an elephant or a giraffe, having to only see them in your imagination. In the balance of life, preservation is the key to existence.

“When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money,” quotes a Native American saying (listed in the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs 2009). One hopes this gets people thinking for when people do, people start doing.

The launch by Bookmark Inc., in partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines of a five-book collection, A Sea of Stories, written by Carla Pacis is a step towards this kind of awareness. The collection was written for the WWF’s Sulu-Salawesi Marine Eco-region (SSME) Program and its area, which spans the bountiful seas of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The author, who has won a PBBY-Salanga Writer’s Prize in 1998 and a Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature in 1995, is also a professor who teaches art, literature and creative writing at the De La Salle University.

The five books, The Jin and the Turtle, Dragon Boat, Mapun, Grandmother’s Gift and the Manta Ray Journey are all different in context, but the same in the aim to educate children on the beauty, fragility and importance of SSME seas. It also seeks to inspire people of all ages — even adults — to conserve, preserve and protect the rich coastal resources and the culture of the Philippines.

Hard truths

The book entitled The Jin and the Turtle tells about a story of a young girl named Tima, who is forced by her father to go out at night to the beach with many others to find food, specifically turtle eggs. They would wait quietly for a turtle to come to shore and lay its eggs. When done, the turtle would head back to sea and these children would get the eggs to bring home for their families, resulting in the extinction of this specie of turtles.

It appalled me to read a story of children preying on turtle eggs and worse eating them. These are not usually the kind of books I would usually read, but this is what people actually need to hear to be aware and help make a difference.

For this book, the illustrations were made by Jeanne Tan, a fine arts graduate of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman. Her illustrations on the book are very nostalgic and somewhat dark. The book is painted with the feel of gloom; it is scary how the sadness can pull you in as well. The darkness stems from the threat to which the natural elements of this world are subjected.

Pacis’s next book, Dragon Boat, tells a story of a lad named Mubin, who is tested with his patience to win the race. The illustrations are done by Edrick Raymond Daniel, also a fine arts graduate of UP Diliman. His drawings look like they were drawn from a pencil and painted very colorfully, capturing the liveliness of the story and of Mubin’s determination to win the race.

Grandmother’s Gift, on the other hand, is a book about a little girl Harija, who dreams of going to school but cannot do so because of lack of money. Her family’s source of income only comes from selling colorful, artistic mattresses people would buy. She aches to study, but she knows it is impossible for now; she can only sneak a glimpse of the children studying in classrooms.

One day, the mayor visits their house with a foreigner, who is very interested in the mattress made by her grandmother. Even if it has a sentimental value to the grandmother, she parts with it for the education of Harija.

The story illustrates the treasure that is education, taken for granted by the privileged. Reading a story like this awakens one to one’s own chance at education. Children who read this can appreciate what they have so they will not waste it.

The illustrations of the book are done by Seth Clarece Estacio, an art teacher and coordinator at the Little Farm House Holistic Education and Development Center in Antipolo City. Though his drawings are not very detailed, he draws them in a cartoon-like style, which is very appealing to children. The colors he used are vivid and filled with patterns.

Manta Ray Journey, a folktale about the Badjao people, is a story of how they came to live in the different islands of the Sulu Sea. The illustrator, Lloyd Niguidula, a special education teacher and art lover, is perhaps one of the best illustrators for the books of Pacis. His art is balanced in color and the sketches are detailed; the ripples of the water on page 15, for example, are quite realistic and the man on the same page is accurately drawn.

Mapun is a book about a couple, Jamil and Amirah, who go out to catch fish while other people go to sleep. Often they have to venture further out to the sea than the other fishermen to ensure a catch. No fish would mean no money to buy food. While in the sea, the two are caught in a storm and separated.

A jin (supernatural beings that can assume any form) saves the wife from drowning and brings her back to her husband. The couple resides in a new shore and has two children. The couple is given a second chance to live as long as they promise that their family would never eat turtles and its eggs.

Illustrations are made by Jose Gambia and Herbert Miguel Consunji. Gamboa is the founder of Comic Biographies Inc. and his works can be found in www.comicbiographies.com and www.facebook.com/thepacquiaocomic , while Consunji is a painter, illustrator and designer. He studied industrial design at the De La Salle University College of Saint Benilde, visual arts at the Australian National University and Ecole National Superieure Des Beaux-Arts Paris. Their drawings are realistic and detailed. The colors are mostly dark, but it is only because the art is trying to show a story at night. Though waves are crashing from one page to another, the pictures are still appealing to children.

During the launch, the original illustrations were exhibited and went up for sale, while the author and artists took their time to sign books and to entertain guests who came to support them.

For more information, contact Bookmark at 895-8061 to 65, e-mail bookmark@globelines.com.ph or visit the Web site
www.bookmarkthefilipinobookstore.com

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