What’s just as awesome as the new series of children’s books that promotes language renewal by targeting young speakers of Ivatan, Cebuano, Chavacano, Waray, Ayta, and Meranaw?
Answer: One of these books, Kalipay and the Tiniest Tiktik, is about a creature in Philippine Folklore (my favourite topic)! This makes me happy.
A Kickstarter campaign was launched on October 2nd by Sari-Sari Storybooks, and it took less than two weeks for them to reach their $14,000 goal! This means that their second and third books are heading to the printer and that a fourth may soon follow. Don’t miss your opportunity to support this culturally important venture and to pre-order your copies of these beautifully storied and illustrated children’s books. Pledges at the $5 level get you an e-book, while $30 gets you a printed copy of all three. All titles will include English translations, so these are not just for Filipinos – they are also excellent tools to help teach all children about other cultures. It is worth noting that those pledging from within the Philippines for printed copies, get 2 for the price of one! So if you contribute $30, you get 6 books instead of 3. The campaign ends on November 1st.
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE CREATORS:
Christina Newhard, a Filipina-American graphic designer, is the passionate founder of Sari-Sari Storybooks. She was gracious enough to talk to us about the process and challenges of creating such a culturally important venture. Happy Garaje (the illustrator of Kalipay and the Tiniest Tiktik) also talks to us about how she transformed a horrifc folkloric creature into a child friendly cultural and social learning tool.
What motivated you to start Sari Sari Storybooks?
A desire to push back against how Filipino culture is devalued in the world, or not seen at all. That feels like the legacy of several hundred years of colonialism, and it’s maddening.
I was also in a career rut, stuck in the same job for 15 years, and not having the courage to leave. Those feelings led me to think about other possibilities for work, as a designer who wanted to stretch my creative muscles, and as a Filipino-American wanting to connect more deeply to the country I was born in.
What were some of the challenges you faced with developing these books?
The usual things project creators face: Money. How to start. Getting on a plane to Manila and thinking, “oh my god what am I doing.” A whole lot of waking up at 4 am with anxiety about failure.
There’s also challenges that come with trying to develop a project from the other side of the world, trying to figure out the best ways to communicate and connect from abroad. I never used Facebook or Viber until I started this project. In the end, though, it was necessary for me to be physically present in the Philippines for months at a time, to meet people, to learn about the different language + cultural groups, to learn about the publishing industry. Carving out time for travel, and not losing my design clients while I was away from New York, took some juggling.
I was lucky to have the encouragement of friends like Alyssa Sarmiento-Co (my first collaborator), and many others who were generous with their connections to artists, cultural advocates, translators, publishers, teachers, etc.
Identity seems to play a strong role your books. Are there any specific cultural identity issues you see happening within the Philippines and among Fil-Ams that you wanted to address?
Simply to be proud of our Filipino roots, and to be curious about learning more. There’s a complex and rich cultural history in the Philippines—there’s a lot to learn about.
Being a mythology based website, I’m drawn to the story of Kalipay and the Tiniest Tiktik. What made you choose the Tiktik over some of the other popular creatures in Filipino folklore, like the kapre and tikbalang?
Manananggal (and variations like the tiktik) are the most fearsome creatures of Filipino folklore—but aren’t the darkest monsters the most interesting? The manananggal is unique to the Philippines (although there’s some similarities to the chupacabra of Latin America and the krasue/ahp/kasu of Thailand/Cambodia/Laos). She’s the legacy of Spanish colonialism in the Philippines, and yet ironically she’s resisted Westernization for hundreds of years. She’s a resilient monster.
On another level, a lightbulb went off for me when I realized the manananggal is also a parenting tool. Parents use scary stories about them to get kids to listen when reason doesn’t work. There was something emotional in that idea for me, that parents protect their children in ways that they simply can’t understand in the moment. It made me think of my own mother, and how I empathize with her now in ways that I couldn’t, when I was a child.
That was the origin of “Kalipay and the Tiniest Tiktik”—the tiktik was metaphor for all the dark, unexplainable things in the world that a parent must protect their child from. And what happens when the child ignores their parent and befriends the monster? That isn’t the story I ended up with, but it was the starting point for creating Kalipay and Gamay.
For many readers, this will be the first time they’ve heard of the Tiktik. Were there any hurdles in staying true to the folklore, while not inadvertently creating something too horrifying.
It’s a fine balance between not “Disney-fying” the tiktik, and appealing to young readers. I didn’t want to erase her core characteristics, but an earlier version of “Kalipay” had Gamay attempting to eat Kalipay’s baby brother. That was just too edgy for 5 year olds (though it would have been fine for pre-teens). In this new version, Gamay is a vegetarian (no baby-eating!), but her constant vegetable-eating is like an insider joke.
It’s really about introducing the creatures in an age-appropriate way, and not about avoiding them altogether. There’s already a precedent in stories like the animated film, “Dayo,” and Virgilio Almario’s charming story, “Ang Tikbalang Kung Kabilugan ng Buwan.” Dark creatures like zombies and vampires are so normalized these days, they’re printed on baby onesies and breakfast cereal boxes. Kids love cartoons like “Hotel Transylvania” and “Monsters, Inc.” If the darkest fairy tales of Europe can be adapted as children’s stories for a global audience, then Filipino folklore deserves that sort of cultural acceptance, too.
Will we be seeing more Philippine mythology and folklore from Sari-Sari Storybooks in the future?
The fourth book in the series, “Sandangaw” by Voltaire Oyzon, includes a lesson about apologizing to fairies. The other stories currently in the series don’t have the folklore as core themes, though. If I can get to create more stories beyond the six in production, perhaps yes! The folklore is surely ripe for children’s storytelling.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ILLUSTRATOR, HAPPY GARAJE:
How did you first become involved with Sari-Sari Storybooks?
Christina found us on the web. 😀 (We’re happy that she did!)
What are some of the ways you incorporate Philippine culture and heritage into your illustrations?
Our work in general: The Filipino people’s ability to find the good in even the most difficult situations is influential in most of the illustrations that we do. The feeling of kinship and hope is one of the things that we try to express in our art. The sun and the sea are also recurring elements as they are a big part of Philippine life.
For this project: we took a look at the colors of our environment – like how the roofs of lined-up houses make patterns and how different materials used create interesting textures. We also tried to include shapes (whether obvious or more subtle) that are inspired by traditional Filipino art, like weaving.
The Tiktik is generally known as something quite horrifying. How do you approach creating a visual interpretation for children?
We had a discussion about this with Christina and she pointed out how some of the modern animated or illustrated stories have become so good at making traditionally horrifying characters (like vampires) softer or even humorous. So we tried a similar approach in designing Gamay, the tiktik.
Her look is inspired by nature. There are leaves in her hair and there’s a mix of different patterns on her dress (leaves, flowers, and some Filipino tribe-inspired motifs).
When her body splits in half, we tried to make it look playful so that it would look like the top half is emerging from a flower while the bottom half looks like dancing flower petals.
We also tried to make her long tongue look like a ribbon. We found it especially funny that she is a vegetarian tiktik 🙂
THE 3 TITLES FOR THIS CAMPAIGN INCLUDE:
“Kalipay and the Tiniest Tiktik” (a Cebuano Tale from the Visayas)
Kalipay makes an unusual new friend in Gamay, who has a long tongue, bat-wings, and is a devoted vegetarian. This is a story about the power of friendship, play, and what it means to be different. Story by Christina Newhard. Illustrations by Happy Garaje.
“Melo the Umang-Boy” (an Ivatan Tale from northern Luzon)
Melo is a painfully shy little boy living with his grandmother and uncle. One day he visits a magical, busy city on the bottom of the ocean, filled with talking sea creatures. Disaster strikes the city, and he must overcome his shyness to help the sea creatures rebuild. Story by Alyssa Sarmiento-Co and Christina Newhard. Illustrations by Jaypee Portez.
“Amina and the City of Flowers” (a Chavacano Tale from southern Mindanao)
Amina, a young Yakan weaver, is homesick for Basilan, but she finds inspiration for her loom in the diversity and color of her new home, Zamboanga City. Story by Christina Newhard. Illustrations by Robbie Bautista.
Jordan is a Canadian documentary director/ producer. He made the 2011 feature length documentary THE ASWANG PHENOMENON - an exploration of the aswang myth and its effects on Philippine society. Currently he is in post production for "The Aswang Project" web-series, which will feature 6 myths from the Philippines. The TIKBALANG, KAPRE and BAKUNAWA episodes are available to watch on YouTube.
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