Poetry Friday – Lara Saguisag and Valerie Bloom

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Award-winning poet Lara Saguisag introduces her Personal View, written for PaperTigers last year, with the rather unpromising line:

I must confess: as a child I didn’t like poetry very much.

That perception might have continued had she not been blown away by listening to poet Valerie Bloom – read Lara’s article, where she muses on this transformation and “The Many Possibilities of Children’s Poetry“.

I have yet to lay my hands on a copy of Lara’s Children of Two Seasons: Poems for Young People (Anvil, 2007) so instead, as we in the north of England move towards sharp, chilly mornings, I direct you to the poem “Frost” by Valerie Bloom – and make sure you listen to Valerie’s own exquisite reading of it too. It’s taken from Valerie’s The World is Sweet (Bloomsbury, 2001).

This week’s Poetry Friday round-up is taking place at Big A little a

The Tiger’s Bookshelf: The World of Cultural Literacy

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Happiness of Kati

This month on PaperTigers, the question was posed, “And what better way to become globally literate than by exploring stories set in different cultures, whether next door or on the other side of the globe?”

This is a haunting question, especially when considered with the remarks made earlier this year by writer Lara Saguisag.

She pointed out that books written for children contain the values of the culture in which they were written, and that these books are often viewed through the prism of Western values and Western cultural norms.

Our current Tiger’s Choice, The Happiness of Kati, was rejected by a smart champion of middle-grade fiction because, she said, “It just didn’t grab me.” Her remark made me wonder how many books are cast aside because the unfamiliar cultural values made the characters seem too simplistic and the story too laden with a moral message that in American culture seems too heavy-handed.

If we in the world are going to understand each other, then we must do our very best to understand our different cultural values–and what better way to do that then through literature? And what better time to do that than in childhood?

Children need books that are windows and books that are mirrors, as Patsy Aldana was quoted as saying in a recent PaperTigers post. It would be a great mistake to dismiss a book because its cultural values are distant from our own. The adventure promised by reading is not only that of enjoying the delights of a well-told story, but also of increasing our empathy and understanding, as our world draws closer together and becomes more intimately acquainted through the pages of a book.

The Tiger’s Choice: Looking at Naming Maya

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Naming MayaI gobbled Naming Maya when I first read it, swept up by its story, its characters and its sense of place. I’ve reread it several times since that first rapid perusal, and with each new reading I find another facet of the story.

There are so many things about this book that I long to discuss with other people who have read it too. It makes me wish I had a daughter so I could talk it over with her – and that leads me to believe that it’s a perfect selection for a mother-daughter book group. What do people who have daughters think? Is this a book that you would choose to read with girls in your family?

“Language can make you a stranger in many places, but only if you let it,” Maya observes in a place where Hindi, English, and Tamil all compete for her attention. How does Kamala Mami bring Maya’s family together in spite of their differing languages and customs?

Shared history and memory both are unifying and divisive in this novel. How does Kamala Mami’s chaotic flood of memories help Maya to live with her own?

In an earlier PaperTigers post, Filipino author Lara Saguisag discusses how different values and different dreams lead to varying forms of childhood. How do cultural values and the protection that they can offer contribute to the differences between Maya and her cousin?

And perhaps most of all – did other readers immediately go out in search of Indian food when they finished reading this book? I certainly did!

"Who is the Filipino Child?" – SCBWI event highlights

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

The Philasia branch of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators kicked off the new year with a speaker event featuring award-winning Filipino children’s book author and SCBWI member, Lara Saguisag.

The author of There’s a Duwende in My Brother’s Soup, Tonyo’s Wishes and Cat Eyes, and co-editor with April Yap of Nine Supernatural Stories, Laura Saguisag’s newest book, Children of Two Seasons: Poems for Young People, was published in December of 2007, after winning the 2006 Writing for Children Chapbook Series, a writing competition organized by the Writing Program of The New School University, in New York, known for its commitment to creative writing. The poems in the book, illustrated by emerging Filipino illustrator Hubert Fucio, describe the everyday adventures, thoughts and feelings of young children, as well as their take on simple things such as animal sounds, grandparents’ stories, etc.

Held on January 7th at Fullybooked, a bookstore in Makati City, Philippines, Lara’s talk focused on exploring notions of childhood and “Filipino-ness” in Filipino’s children’s literature. When I asked Lara why this topic, she responded:

I spent the past three years writing in New York City. I was very excited to be there, but it slowly dawned on me that my idea of childhood was very different from that of my American peers, and how our writing for children was greatly affected by our different notions. Many of my classmates often thought I was writing “too young” for my intended age group, so I came to realize that that was because the children I knew in the Philippines seemed to me much more “dependent” than their American counterparts.

It may seem very obvious to state that children in the U.S. are different from children in the Philippines. I do feel, however, that many children’s book writers tend to assume that there is a “universal” kind of childhood (childhood as a happy time, free of labor and worries, a time for children to be protected), when, largely, this is a conception of childhood that began among Western middle-class families.

Lara, who is a Presidential Fellow at Rutgers University in New Jersey, NY, where she is completing her PhD in Childhood Studies, began her lecture with a simple question: “Who is the child?” (more…)