My Favorite Children’s Books at 25

This was the first novel my mom bought for me. She challenged me to finish it in one summer when I was in second or third grade, I think. Thank you, mom! You made me the avid reader I am today.

My love affair with books started as far back as my earliest memories of childhood. I remember reading illustrated fairy tales like The Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks with my twin sister. This happened before we started going to kindergarten. I know this because we stayed home all day just reading whatever could be read at home. This meant an eclectic selection of illustrated Bible stories, superhero comics, fables and fairy tales, magazines, newspapers, and my mom’s Reader’s Digest subscription. I’m sure my sister and I only understood half of what we got our hands on but boy did we read! I have an even earlier memory of begging my dad to read me anything before bedtime. He would pick up an anthology condensed by the Reader’s Digest and read me stories like Tom Clancy’s The Patriot Games (a strange choice now that I think about it after having taken child psychology courses but this completely explains why later on I would fancy espionage novels in elementary school).

My love affair with books started early but it wouldn’t have blossomed into complete bibliophilia if not for my mother who bought books for me when she had the spare cash, borrowed books for me at a local book rental club when I had completely overrun the books at home (including her Harlequin titles…), and later signed me up and paid for my lifetime membership in the very same local book club. By then I was in fourth grade? reading both Nancy Drew and Frederick Forsyth novels. That’s an odd combination, yes. My access to age-appropriate books was really sporadic at best. It depended on what we had at home and what books got donated to the public school I attended. I read children’s books and books for adults all at the same time (perhaps it’s the reason why I was too serious as a child!).

Maybe I’m compensating now for that lost childhood or whatever because let me confess, I have a growing collection of children’s books accumulated in the past three to four years. I’m a teacher and I guess that’s a convenient excuse (an excuse I tell myself when making budget decisions!) for hoarding reading materials. I’m a secondary school teacher though so…it’s a pretty weak argument. But you know, I find that the best children’s books have something important to say to adults, too. In fact, I’m really of the conviction that we would all be better off if we never stopped reading children’s books, ever.

So to help young readers get started on their own love affair with books and to lure my adult friends into reading children’s books, I’ve come up with five of my most favorite children’s books of all time at age 25 (I realize this line up could change and it will give me reason to revisit my top five next year, won’t it? A snicker for my forethought! >:3). Here goes!

Xilef is a story by Augie Rivera illustrated by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero. It won the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 1999
Xilef is a story by Augie Rivera illustrated by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero. It won the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 1999

#5 Xilef is fifth in my list. This story is lighthearted, playful and zany what with the busy cartoon illustrations of Xilef and the way he perceives the world around him. The book cover depicts Xilef as an intergalactic superhero protecting planets from devastating asteroids. But Xilef has bigger problems than these space rocks and he has to rouse himself out of his daydream in order to face bullies and chase after words flying out of his books. Xilef is a story about a child’s dyslexia and how he gains the help of adults around him to understand why letters dance and tease him so. The teacher in me admires this book for choosing to brave this subject matter and providing teachers like me with a means to broach this topic with children. But more importantly, the reader in me admires this book for deftly creating round characters in thirty pages. Xilef is actually the least quirky character in this story. After all, he has a six-toed teacher who could be an alien, a dad who looks like he could crack up a room of stern principals, and mysterious Miss Maya. Really, it’s a book that shows how an illustrator can work magic on an already excellent story.

I used this book to tutor a cousin who had difficulty reading and made some activity sheets for him. I’ve uploaded them here and if you can put these to good use in your classroom or for your daughter/son/nephew/niece/child-in-need, feel free to do so!

#4 Anluwagi 
is Tagalog for carpenter which would be “panday” in my native Cebuano. It’s written by Genaro R. Gojo Cruz, a name that always turns my head when I’m binge-ing on children’s books at the National Bookstore. Children’s books by Filipino writers abound where the world of the story is decidedly middle to upper class. Genaro’s stories stand out because his stories tend to revolve around the social milieu of the working class Filipino. Certainly, there are other books out there doing the same thing but I admire how he doesn’t make a spectacle out of poverty or disaster. The focus is still on characters, on people, and what they do given the circumstances.

Anluwagi, for instance, is about a carpenter who lives in the slums. Although I grew up in a barrio, the neighborhood carpenter was to us also a significant member of the community as he was a skilled artisan. It’s because of this background that I can understand the son’s admiration and desire to be just like his father. I like how this story ends so much when the father tells his son to be an architect instead. It is soooo Filipino – the parent dreaming bigger dreams for his/her children – but it’s said so subtly, so offhand by the author speaking through the father. Yet it means so much and it’s moments like this in a book written for children that convinces me adults should be reading children’s books. For adults who had parents like the anluwagi in the story, this book will evoke nostalgia and I think, help them understand their parents better, after all these years. This book might even make them cry!

This book is part of the Batang Historyador series sponsored by the UNICEF.
This book is part of the Batang Historyador series sponsored by the UNICEF.

#3 Si Pitong, Noong Panahon ng mga Hapon is the book that first got me really excited about children’s books. I’m a social studies teacher so you can infer easily enough why. Add to this the fact that Augie Rivera actually wrote an entire series of books reimagining the experiences of children throughout Philippine history. There’s Diwayen who came from a time before the Filipino nation was born, followed by Segunda from the years spanning Spanish colonization, Juanito from the American years, Pitong from the Japanese invasion, and Jhun-Jhun who speaks from the years under Martial Law. There is just so much you could do with these stories in your classroom whether in the elementary, secondary or even university level. You can talk about symbolism. You can even talk about the story’s limitations as I once did about how the guerillas are downplayed in Pitong. These books are just begging to be read and put to good use in any classroom.

This story was written by May Tobias-Papa and illustrated by Isabel Roxas.
This story was written by May Tobias-Papa and illustrated by Isabel Roxas.

#2 Araw sa Palengke is a pretty straightforward story about a little girl accompanying her mother to the market but it is rich with illustrations that are abuzz and alive with the bustle of the typical Pinoy palengke (tiangge in Cebuano). The main character is brimming with curiosity and the illustrations are right there with her in its playfulness. It’s a book that children can easily relate to and it’s accessibility allows any creative teacher to build activities around the story. Given the potentially heavy topics in my fourth and third choices, Araw sa Palengke is a fun read to balance things out and liven up the mood.

#1 Bear by Himself is actually not written by a Filipino writer but I just could not not include it in my top five. To this day, it is the children’s book that means the most to me. I am forever grateful to the ambivalent random universe for throwing this beautiful book my way one fateful Booksale hunt.

This book is perfect for introverts! I wish I had come across it earlier as a child so I could have accepted my need for bouts of solitude sooner. It’s another testament to why adults need to read children’s books. My copy is actually no longer with me. I donated it to a book drive for Mangyan kids around two years ago. I know I love a book to death when I feel a great obligation to give it away in the hope that it finds its way into the hands of a child who needed to dwell in its world as much as I did.

So that rounds up my top five books at twenty-five. If you’re an adult reading this, I hope you will find it a duty to spread the love of book reading to the children in your lives. These books are readily available online or in the bookstore nearest you if I’ve somehow managed to convince you books matter! You can also borrow my copies. It would be my pleasure to lend them to a fellow reader!

Feel free to share your own list of favorite books in the comments below or better yet, make a post about it, too.

This post was written as part of the National Children’s Book Day 2015 Blog Tour. Want to come up with a list of good Filipino books for the children in your life and the child in your heart? Check out the Philippine Board on Books for Young People’s FB page for more book recommendations!


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