LIKE ALL other transactions involving money, buying books is governed by the rule caveat emptor — let the buyer beware. In the case of children’s books, the buyer is usually one of the parents. The more “book-wise” parent, of course, is often the one who also devoured a lot of books as a child.
YOU CAN tell which generation a person belongs to by how they learned to read and the books they loved as kids. For the prewar generation up to martial law babies, it was either Pepe and Pilar in English or Nene at Benito in Filipino. These books also caused several generations of dogs to be named either Tagpi or Bantay, although sometime during the ‘60s, children in private schools began learning to read without the help of Pepe and Pilar or Nene and Benito, but may recall John and Jill, and a dog named Spot.
SUCH a wonderful time to be a kid — a kid who reads, that is.
Now bookstores offer an enclave for children’s books, where children of all ages can lounge and browse their favorite books for free. And the selections are as varied as the kids who drop by.
As early as 2002, students of media and members of academe were cataloguing and analyzing the relationship between Filipinos and the keypads of their mobile phones. For example, history professor Vicente L. Rafael, then with the University of California at San Diego and now with the University of Washington (Seattle), quoted from and interviewed various members of Jose F. Lacaba’s Plaridel Papers mailing list to write his essay “The Cell Phone and the Crowd: Messianic Politics in the Contemporary Philippines.” It remains interesting reading until now and has the added bonus of capturing the mood of — shall we call it text empowerment? — during the heady demonstrations against President Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada. (And lest we think that texting is another case of “Only in the Philippines,” Rafael recently informed me that the essay has been included in other books on media, in the United States, Italy, and India.)
MALAYBALAY, BUKIDNON — ‘Ustadz! Ustadz! Ustadz!’ Repeated shouts pepper the air as the children call the teacher’s attention. The teacher has just asked a question, and it seems everyone wants to answer. Finally, the teacher calls out a name, and the rest of the children settle down.
WHY IS it that despite our supposedly high literacy rate, many Filipinos can barely read and write? Why haven’t we been able to develop a reading habit among Filipinos?
Straightforward questions about something so fundamental. Yet there are no easy answers to such a complex problem. Worse, the problem of nonreading lies at the heart of why the Philippines is so uncompetitive in the world economy and why so many of our people continue to live in poverty or barely escape it.
THE SHELVES are filled with new books, and there are colorful tables and chairs ready for readers. There is even a storytelling nook strewn with mats and pillows for those who would rather stretch out as they flip through the pages of their favorite books or while listening to tales being read aloud to them. On one wall is a mural that livens up the room all the more, while children’s artworks are proudly displayed on another.
WE’VE always made much of our being a highly literate people, but somehow that hasn’t made us into a nation of readers. Surveys have shown that our primary sources for information are radio and television, and years of annual book fairs have done little to prop up our ever-struggling local book industry.
© 1989–2019 All rights reserved. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.