Thursday, December 31, 2015

Monthly First Post of 2015

In retrospect and in keeping up with a blogging tradition, here are the monthly first posts in the blog for the year 2015. The first sentence of the blog post for each month is a link to the complete article.

December - First of all, I wish to thank everyone who prayed for me and my family during our medical crises.

November - Rainbow Rowell is back with Carry On, a fascinating but sad depiction of magic and man's obsession with power.

October - It is the eve of World Teacher’s Day and I write this — a short piece on the teaching role of a school librarian.

September - This is one of my favorite illustrations in our new book, Big Sister (Lampara House, 2015).

August -  Museo Pambata has chosen me as one of the six storytellers to be included in the roster of artists and creatives who push for the development of literacy and children's rights.

July - Dare Me Again is a novella set in the Dare to Love series by Carly Phillips.

June - I will be taking on Concurrent Session 1: Children's Literature 101 for Librarians. I hope to see you there!

May - It's Mother's Day on May 10!

April - This is the new school library of the Laguna Sino-Filipino Educational Foundation.

March - Early in February, I joined the peer mentoring program of International Librarians Network's.

February - This is the Valentine's Day post I promised to do a few weeks back.

January - Yes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Janus Project 2015 - 2016

Here is a writing project I mean to do in the coming days. Before January 1, I will be posting 10 highlights and disappointments of 2015. In the first week of January, I will be writing about the three 3s: game changers, things I focused on; and things I forgot. Whew.

This is going to be a lot of thinking. Like going on a retreat and filling up a journal. It can be stressful but, cathartic too. I call this the Janus Project as it will help me recollect my 2015 at the same time, push me on to 2016.

Thanks to Rica Bolipata Santos for this writing challenge!

Back to Beacon Fair: Storytelling Workshop

Post Christmas Reflections: Family, Friends and Comfort Food

My Nanay Leony at 86 years old.
The three days before the New Year is a welcome break. Preparing for Christmas festivities, no matter what scale or magnitude, is stressful. I am glad that part of Christmas is over. For me, it was a time to strengthen family ties and friendships; to focus on caring for myself; and to look after my children's health as well. The stomach infection I had last month made me realize a lot of things. For one, I need to downsize on speaking engagements. I must select writing projects that I can realistic do given a time frame. I have to finish my book projects before jumping into a new endeavor. These and many more!

Boy, I really need to sit down and think things through. And yes, I have to keep my day job.

For the time being, my holiday break has been for family. The four of us went out and watched a movie before Christmas. I visited my parents and relatives on Christmas day. I cooked for a family reunion in my husband's side. I missed a great deal of reunions with friends before Christmas, but this week, I will be doing some catching up with them. And in between were the appointments and consults with doctors - mine and my children's. My kids' had their heart monitor results out already.  So far, all is good. My mammogram results will be out next week and I choose not to worry or else, I will ruin a good holiday break. I pray for this to last till New Year's and, hopefully, in the years to come.

Christmas is indeed a time of coming home.

One of my childhood's comfort foods: INUTAK
Visiting my lola last Christmas, I indulged in a comfort food of my childhood. Inutak with cheese ice cream! Memories of childhood came flooding in. After school, I would drop by Aling Loleng's inutak store to buy a cup and eat the sweet delicacy on my way home. I learned that Aling Loleng has died but her inutak lives on. It is just pitiful that I only get to eat inutak at Christmas time. I can buy one medium sized box, but the ice cream to partner it with has to be right. It has to be cheese sorbetes - the Pinoy ice cream that is sweet and salty. A perfect combination to the glutenous inutak.

As for my lola, Nanay Leony is 86 years old and she can still host the family get together in Comembo. The barangay is very near Pateros. I went to school there. I walked to school from our house in Comembo by crossing a bridge over Pateros river to the town proper. Yes, I grew up in a small town where everybody knows everybody. What stories I told my kids that made them draw up a family tree. The eldest, Nico, was very much interested that he made another one for my husband's side of the family. He seem to find answers there as to who he is and what he aims to become in the future. On the one hand, Zoe is still exploring her interests and choices.

I will definitely go through an inventory of my life in 2015 with the goal of pushing forward to 2016. That is another stressful endeavor, but necessary. I have always shared my life and my stories publicly with the hope that others may find inspiration from it. I know that doing this helps me amplify meaning in my own as well.

Friday, December 25, 2015

We Wish You A Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

12 Days of Christmas Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015
JJ Abrams, Director
Lawrence Kasdan and JJ Abrams, Writers

With renewed hope, my family and I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We were not disappointed. We enjoyed the movie because, really, who cares about Anakin Skywalker's ascent to Jedi-hood and his descent to Darth-ness? Well, OK... I sound cocky. But really, a better script could have done the prequels justice. So, when the Force awakens, 30 years after Return of the Jedi my husband and I are more interested to know where Luke, Leia and Han left off. We know there were books, comics and online games on the saga, but, the movie experience is a stand alone entertainmnet fare we both looked forward to.

I like Rey, because, finally, a girl Jedi coming into terms with herself and her powers. This one is for my daughter. I like Finn, because, I have always wondered what goes on in those storm troopers' mind. I like BB-8 because he is fast. Maz Kanata is the closest thing I can attach my Yoda fascination to and it seems she holds the secret to why the Luke's light saber was in her care, in the first place.

I love how TFA paid homage to the Millenium Falcon, to Han and Leia, to Chewie, to C3PO and R2D2, coming back to life. The force is so strong it can resurrect dormant droids! I thank JJ Abrams for restoring my childhood. Though, Han Solo died at the end of this episode, I look forward to many things: how evil is Kylo Ren going to be since his act of murder is beyond redemption; the potential of Rey's friendship with Finn; the secrets that Maz Kanata will reveal; and Luke, oh Luke. You better make up for Han's demise!

And so, as we dread the coming Metro Manila Film Festival, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has given me a good amount of cinematic happiness despite the death of my childhood crush. Such is life that joy and sorrow live side by side.

12 Days of Christmas Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

Re-posting this, because we love it! Sharing the love!

Rise of the Guardians, 2012
Peter Ramsey, Director
David Lindsay Abaire, Screenplay / William Joyce,  Author

What do Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and the Easter Bunny have in common? They're all guardians. Guardians of children from all over the world. It's a conceit too big to make it believable. The magical visuals and metaphors used in the story helped me suspend my disbelief.

What worked

Thanks to high tech CGI animation, the film's ambition to make magic worked wonders. What appeared real to me: the golden strands of the Sandman weaving dreams on top of sleeping heads of children; Jack Frost producing ice and icicles on everything he touches and breathes on; the Boogeyman's sinister shadow that casts doubt and fear; the black mares with gleaming eyes depicted as nightmares that snuff out dreams of gold. DreamWorks did its homework so, as far as animation is concerned, they got the prize in the bag.

 I've nothing much to say about the script as I find the sub-plots cluttered and a few bits misplaced. For example, the elves and the yetis. They're all adorable but too much of them were used as comic relief. Perhaps, this was an attempt to lighten a story that's too philosophical for kids in the preschool age?

The movie is really meant for adults, like me, who've had their share of lemons thrown at them by life. Childhood is magical and wonderful. Growing up breaks the magic and wonderment. Children are trusting and honest. Grown ups operate on deceit to get what they want and are more fearful of their evil, if not, imperfect selves showing out for others to see. Such contradictions were made palpable through the use of childhood folk lore and images that we're familiar with - Jack Frost, Santa, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, the Sandman. Each represent a virtue or an aspect of childhood: play, wonder, memories, hope and dreams. Stuff that children believe in. Stuff that adults find once again in the children they care for and love.

What did not work

Apart from the cluttered script, the movie left me with a big lacuna on the Man on the Moon. I'd be looking up on William Joyce's novel from which the movie was based on. And this is actually a good thing, thinking about it.

Rise of the Guardians is a feel good movie. I'm glad I'm a parent and that I work with children and teens. If not, I'd have chucked the movie out the window as an attempt to water down Gaiman's conceit in American Gods.

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12 Days of Christmas Movie Review: The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton, Writer 1993
Henry Selick, Director
Touchstone Pictures

Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King and Halloween celebrity had an attack of ennui. In his ruminations, he stumbled upon Christmas town. There he found joy and wonder in the cold winter snow. Bent on understanding this source of happiness, he brought in all the tidings and trimmings of Christmas in Halloween town. So enamored was he, that he even assumed the role of Santa Claus.

This animated movie is one of my favorites to watch with the kids at Christmas. They grew up watching Jack Skellington sing, dance and make himself look foolishly cute in Selick's amazing stop motion animation. We love the music and the soundtrack. Danny Elfman is an amazing musician and his baritone fits Jack Skellington's personality well.  Sally's character is the true hero though. She stands by Jack no matter what and made a great effort to save Santa Claus from the Boogey Man.

In the end, Jack realizes how things are and how they need to be left as they are. Happiness is everywhere. Jack found it after one big blunder. Going back to Halloween town to redeem himself by saving Santa Claus just in time, he got the girl and lived horrifically ever after.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

12 Days of Christmas Movie Review: English Only Please

Re-posting because, the Metro Manila Film Festival is just around the corner.

English Only, Please
Director: Dan Villegas
Story and Screenplay: Dan Villegas
Antoinette Jafaone and Anjeli Pessumal

Yes. I jumped on the bandwagon and I was not disappointed at all.

What worked

1. Derek Ramsay and Jennylyn Mercado. It was my first time to see a movie starred by these two actors. I confess, I had no idea how good an actor Jennylyn Mercado is. In the movie, she plays a simple girl but her presence screams star appeal. She lights up the screen like a 24 karat diamond ring. No wonder she's the one chosen as the Starstruck grand winner.

Her portrayal of Tere Madlansacay is very accessible. Tere is your everyday girl and Mercado essayed the role effortlessly. She's your BFF and go-to-girl. She's the loyal and hardworking daughter. She gives, so much, until it hurts.  In the end, she looks at herself and decides she has not given enough. This is her only flaw and one that can be easily forgiven, if not, tolerated at least. I find myself rooting for her to end up with that nice Fil-Am guy, Julian Parker.

Derek Ramsay as Julian Parker, the brooding, angry, broken hearted Fil-Am who went out on a limb to avenge his pride is just WOW. For once, Ramasay's character is not bent on seducing a vulnerable woman. His quiet and tempered portrayal of a man who found love in a hopeless place is way sexier. Like Tere, his only fault is to fall in love and have his heart broken all over again. So I wish the same thing for Julian: to find the girl he deserves.

Since this is a romantic comedy, they did find each other and a chance at happily ever after. Together, Derek and Jennylyn make a formidable couple. So charming is their chemistry that I am praying for a sequel.

EOP FP Page:
2. The script. I like the slow moments in the movie. Goodrom-coms have this element. It allows the viewer to listen to conversations and to look at the non-verbal language that transpire between characters. Luckily, the casting director picked the right actors because, Ramsay and Mercado are opposites who are so good to look at. You put two different characters together and you start to understand what the message of the movie is all about. Language is never a barrier between people who truly love each other. Things may be lost in translation, but it is in speaking the truth from the depths of the heart that we find clarity and freedom. Plus, there is enough external and internal tension between the two that kept me through the finish line. That ending where Julian and Tere jumped into the bus leaving for Manila holds a lot of promise for a part two. How much will they give and go for love? What challenges and conflicts will they face in the next stage of their relationship?

Sadly, one of the producers who happen to be a former co-teacher and FB friend confirmed there won't be any sequel.

3. Love and Language. I enjoyed the movie's play on language and how, in some way, it was like an invisible character that brought Julian and Tere together. The scriptwriters are smart in putting in that vocabulary spiels in between scenes. It was humorous and done with enough wit. No crying spells and dramatics. Humor will always save the day. Just when Cai Cortez was about to cry over Jennilyn's lot, she sucks in juice from her balut and with it is an acceptance of things as they are.

The many forms and ways of loving were also depicted with care and humor. Those numerous "Motmot" scenes, single motherhood, family dynamics are springboard conversations about love, sex and relationships that can be taken up with among young people of today.

What did not work

I just wish there were more scenes that showed Derek Ramsay immersing and appreciating the Filipino culture to fully justify his line: Fil-Am ako (or was it laki ako sa US), pero pusongFilipino.

Overall, English Only, Please is a well thought out film. Its actors were well chosen too. At last, here is a movie in this year's Metro Manila Filmfest that doesn't dumb down its paying audience. Thank you to its producers, scriptwriters and director for empowering us to think, to feel and to laugh with you!

Monday, December 21, 2015

12 Days of Christmas Movie Review: RPG Metanoia

RPG Metanoia, 2011

Re-posting because the Metro Manila Film Festival is just around the corner 

What worked

The story and the script - The story is about an eleven year old boy named Nico who is addicted with online computer games, particularly RPG Metanoia. He and his friends frequent an internet cafe where they play online. For Nico,  a computer at home that hangs every now and then could not satiate his addiction for the game. Soon an online tournament will take place and he and his friends are all eager to participate. Having discovered the Helmet of Destiny, an item that would lead them to victory, Nico and his friends were confident at winning the tournament. During the tournament, he failed to heed his friends' advice losing the game in the process.

Just when I thought I've seen this one coming, the plot takes a turn for the better. Nico's story arc was surprisingly good and well crafted. From a self  centered only child, sheltered and fearful, he transformed into the story's hero that everyone will cheer for.

The supporting characters - Thanks to endearing and interesting characters in the movie! Nico has parents, who, despite their limitations, try their best to fill gaps in Nico's life. He also has friends who, despite himself will tell him the truth and can accept him, faults and all. If not for them, Nico would have turned out like the villain, Sargo.

Among Nico's friends, it is May, the girl next door, who showed him what he's been missing all along - real games played in the streets or in Filipino, larong kalye. With his boy barkada (gang) they spent the remaining summer days playing patinetero, piko (hop scotch), taguan (hide and seek), and tumbang preso. It is in playing these games where in Nico learned life lessons. Being good at virtual games does not equal to the vicarious experiences learned through play. Besides, Nico was able to overcome his own    insecurities. In the end, he became better at computer games because he established a healthy relationship with his friends thus, strengthening his character.

The visual metaphors and avatars - The band aid straps on Nico's leg; the first rain drop on Mark's knee;   the avatars of Nico and his friends are some of the reasons why the movie has lasting impressions. And yes, they are all good ones. Life is filled with growing pains. You get bumped and bruised, hurt and wounded. But hey, that's what it is to live and grow. Seasons come and go but true friends are forever. The Filipino has a very unique and diverse culture. Be proud that you're Pinoy!

The depiction of the modern Filipino child - It is the handling and depiction of the modern Pinoy child that I find most effective in RPG Metanoia. Nico is current and relevant. One may counter  that his character is too ideal or stereotypical, but to me, it is just but right to give him a good set of middle class parents and supportive friends. Put these all together and the movie is a certified Philippine Children's Literature material. Children have RIGHTS and the adults who take care of them is responsible to ensure that these rights are expressed and exercised.

As far as the 3D animation is concerned, I can say that it's a good start. Then again, I always go for content and the storytelling rendition. In many ways, the creators and producers of RPG Metanoia have succeeded in making it a movie that can be enjoyed by kids and kids at heart.

What did not work

I was looking for a solid closure on Sargo/Cel at the end. I'm not satisfied seeing him attend May's birthday party. Other than that, I have no more complains.

Congratulations to the creators of RPG Metanoia! Here's hoping that they continue creating satisfying stories rendered in relevant and meaningful medium in the future!

12 Days of Christmas Movie Review: Love Actually

Love Actually, 2003
Richard Curtis, Director and Writer

What is not to love in a movie that has everything and everyone? Collin Firth. Hugh Grant. Emma Thompson. Alan Rickman. Liam Neeson. Martin Freeman. With cameos by Rowan Atkinson and Claudia Schiffer. Directing this ensemble cast, with a script that weaves in and out of these Londoners at Christmas is impressive. Love is in the air at Christmas and even after the season. Indeed it is all around, including heart break and the misfortunes that come with loving.

My favorite pairs:

Harry and Karen (Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson): Theirs is a test of fidelity where Harry flunked big time. Emma Thompson's Karen is the ideal wife and this makes the cheating husband the absolute villain in the relationship. Her control and composure in keeping things together for the children is a situation that many couples can relate to. That they shared a meaningful look at the end of the movie, in Heathrow Airport, says a lot. 

Jaime and Aurelia (Colin Firth and Luica Moniz): Love conquers all, including barriers in language. Jaime had to take lessons to speak Portuguese. He ran after Aurelia and proposed. One of the funniest moments in the movie.

Karl and Sarah (Rodrigo Santoro and Laura Linney): Love, no matter how intense, does not always work out the way you want it. This makes you think of the "one who got away."

The British Prime Minister and the President of the United States (Hugh Grant and Billy Bob Thornton): The British PM kicked the US President's ass. All for his love of country. Didn't he become bolder at pursuing Natalie after that episode with the press? Love can do that! 

Sam and Daniel (Liam Neeson and Thomas Broadie-Sangster): Amazing how a father can show his own brand of loving to his stepson. Watch Titanic together! Support him all the way to run after the love of his life, because, really All I want for Christmas is You!

Of course, in between are the cute story lines on friendship, on moving on, and finding love in places you least expect it. It's Christmas and it's a romantic time of the year!

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

12 Days of Christmas Book Review: Unholy Night*

*This is a re-post from a previous book review in the blog.

Unholy NightUnholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Seth Gahame-Smith's Unholy Night, the Holy Family was aided by Balthazar, a cunning thief who escaped his own execution, to leave Bethlehem. Together with Melchyor and Gaspar, the trio defended the Holy Family from Herod's men and out to the desert. Balthazar, Melchyor and Gaspar are names associated with the three wise men who gave gold, frankincense and myrrh as gifts to the baby Jesus. In Grahame-Smith's fiction, the three men are wise indeed, but not in a scholarly manner to which the Bible described them to be. They are thieves and criminals out to save their own skin from Herod's fatal punishment. This the conceit to which the book was built upon. Blasphemous? I say it's a work of genius.

What worked

I've often asked who were the Wise men, the Magi. At the feast of the Epiphany, our parish priest would make us all believe that they were scholars from the East who understood the meaning of the messiah's coming. In my own imagination, I see the wise men as sages, astronomers, philosophers who knew something else was going and average people have no knowledge of this. They remain mysterious, if not, mystical men of history. Grahame-Smith filled in this gap and defined the Wise men as great sinners who found redemption not from guilt, but from acts of justice, remorse, forgiveness and love.

I like it that Joseph and Mary were depicted as real people subjected to weakness but strong in faith. This is the strength which assaulted Balthazar internally. Grahame-Smith provides his hero a rich back story to bring out this internal struggle. Using the child Jesus as a metaphor of hope and blind belief, Balthazar came to forgive himself in the end. As for Melchyor and Gaspar, their redemption came, thirty three years after.

Pontius Pilate and the Roman Army were given a moment to shine as well. Pilate is yet another enigmatic character I hope some fictionist would unravel. Herod was characterized as the ultimate monster king. His evil deeds are enough to set the backdrop of a world in constant chaos. Thus, Jesus' coming to this world, quiet and with no fanfare, remain a puzzle I of the Catholic faith so continuously try to solve.

Grahame-Smith's violence and gruesome narrative did not offend me, in fact, I found it entertaining. Perhaps I was still angry at something or someone to have enjoyed it. It was therapy reading the book. There are some events in life like death and injustice that need to be experienced to see truth and peace. Like the journey to the desert and into Egypt, such an experience is not an easy one to take. This is where we need, not just guts and toughness, but a lot of courage. A lot of faith.

What did not work

The inclusion of magic seemed off, like the warlock from the west. The angels appearing in a dream were fine by me. The warlock came out of nowhere. Grahame-Smith tried to cross genre, but I found this piece misplaced in the novel. It would have worked for me, if Herod was assisted by one of his own priests to glamor up himself and do a trickery on Pilate's army.

Over all, it was a good read. I like Grahame-Smith's bending of history. Here in Unholy Night, he new enough of religion and faith to respect Joseph, Mary and Jesus. I think I am ready to read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

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PBBY Pasko and Publishing News

 Here I am with one of my favorite groups of people: the PBBY!

Before attending to the series of doctor appointments that week after APEC, I managed to join the PBBY peeps for the annual Christmas party. What joy! As always, conversations focused on what matters to us: children, books, reading, art and culture. We celebrated the triumphs of friends. We missed the ones who weren't able to come. We remembered Atty. Tony Santos and recognized the big gap he left behind in the service of public libraries. We looked back at projects we accomplished this year. Cognizant of a growing industry, we couldn't help but dream for a more vibrant children's book industry in 2016. While we closed our book for 2015, we are looking forward to 2016 because, it is National Children's Book Awards in July!

Apart from this exciting news, Anvil Publishing has been at work with us for the book project that has taken nearly five years to complete. The second volume of Bumasa at Lumaya is a project we hope to launch in 2016. My how-to-do-it article on setting up libraries for children is included in the collection.

Friday, December 18, 2015

12 Days of Christmas Book Review: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a childhood favorite. Though my first experience of the story is through an animated TV movie, it only fueled me to read the book. As always, the printed format provides a different experience.

Reading the beginning line, Marley was dead: to begin with, filled me with intrigue and made me laugh. How can a Christmas story begin with death? Surely, dead men tell tales. Ebeneezer Scrooge, Marley's business partner, had it all coming. Not only did Marley's ghost haunted him on Christmas Eve, but three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future paid him a visit as well. What a haunting! This is the best part, at least to me, in the novella. The ghosts were used to mirror Scrooge's need for reflection and introspection. It had made all the difference for him to change his heart. The man who has forgotten how it is to be human redeemed himself in the end.

A Christmas Carol is one of the few books I re-read at Christmas. Now that I am older, I take the book as my reminder to be brave and courageous. The need to constantly face our demons or the ghosts that haunt us is a recurring phase we all need to go through life. I still laugh at the wit and dry humor of Charles Dickens, that hasn't changed at all. But while some visitations of the past afford us resolutions to help us see perspectives in the present time, the experience may not at all be Scrooge like. I suppose, what matters is journeying on with life with a smile and a steadfast heart. Because, really, that is what hope is all about.

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Catching Up: Filipino Fridays #4: 5 Revolutions That Changed the Way I Read

This is the last in the meme and it is a topic worth reckoning.

What are the five revolutions that changed the way I read?

1. JK Rowling. She introduced me to fantasy. And to canon. Reading the Harry Potter books, made me reach out to Tolkien, CS Lewis and more British writers. She also changed the way I look at the author and reader relationship. Imagine my delight when she answered a letter that I wrote to her for my book club in school! She sure does know how to please the fans. And her marketing team is just brilliant!

2. Book to Movie Adaptations. This helped me in reading engagement as well as being enriched with the literary and filmic experience of stories.

3. Ebooks and epublishing. I am leaning more and more on my Kindle, but I stay loyal to the print. I am also curious about self publishing. Given the time, I would venture into that realm. I have a Wattpad account, so maybe, re-activating it is a start.

4. Social Media. My news source and gossip channel is Twitter, FB and Pinterest. I also make use of social media to promote my books.

5. A Busier Philippine Book Industry. A lot has happened the past five years! The slow but measured growth of Philippine YA; Komikon; Booklatan; the annual book fairs; the National Children's Book Awards. The book industry is changing and growing and, in our experience in Manila, Filipino readers are more visible now than ever.

What will the next five years look like?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

12 Days of Christmas Book Review: The Saga of Santa Claus

The Saga of Santa ClausThe Saga of Santa Claus by M.D. Couturier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Saga of Santa Claus is an origin story of Norse background. It narrates the beginning of the Yuletide gift giving tradition; the man behind the happy red suit; the elves who helped him make toys; and other little bits of Christmas traditions we all recognize and practice. Take for example the stockings filled with gifts and the mistletoe that hangs on every homes' door or window. These practices are unique to western culture but, from where I am from, families have adopted the custom despite the absence of snow and mistletoe. Perhaps, people are attracted to the idea and the novelty of it all. Mark Couturier explains why it is so and it amused me that Thor is the reason for this.

There are is of course, the presence of the Norse Gods in the story, like Odin and Frigga. There are fairies and goblins too. A magic ring and a magic sleigh complete the gifts bestowed upon the chosen one. The book starts out as a legend and finishes off into a myth that children of all ages will find delightful.

The best part for me was Valdor's climactic turn into the kind hearted man that he truly is. Spoiled from childhood, this crown prince story arc is a classic, almost canonical change spelled the difference in the entire novella. It is a good read this Christmas as we keep in mind the message of the season despite turbulent times. Kindness and compassion, friendship and humility, will save us from our greedy, selfish selves. Valdor experienced this through friends who stuck with him and strangers who didn't give up on him.

I believe that every man and woman, and child, has that constant companion who will love him or her, no matter what.

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School Library Assessment and Evaluation Tool

In my training with school librarians last October, a professional development activity organized by Scholastic Philippines, I talked about assessment and evaluation tools for school libraries. The PowerPoint presentation can be viewed in this post: School Library Improvement: Assessment and Evaluation.

Now here is the assessment and evaluation tool I designed using the DepEd School Library Guidelines of 2011.

Library Reading Promotion For Christmas 2015

In keeping with a Christmas tradition, our library is giving away candy canes for book borrowers. Sweets are treats for teens who read and for those who are reluctant to read. What I do is to spread books and display them on tables and open spaces in the library. Showing the book's cover is visually appealing. Put a sweet candy beside it doubles the appeal. Since the week started, my staff at the circulation desk has been busy dispensing books and sweets at the same time.

This promotional strategy sounds like the carrot on a stick technique, but, it keeps the circulation stats moving and teens reading.

I take note of reading responses as we go along. There is this grade 10 student who wants to study in the UK so he printed out a list of the Best British Books of the 20th century. The poor kid came to me for help, asking how to start a reading list. While the titles are a combination of easy and light reading, there is also stuff there that is pretty serious literature. So, I cautioned the boy and started him off with enjoyable reads. I recommended Roald Dahl, JK Rowling and a Gaiman novella. He finished each book by the said author in a month. He is now reading the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. I look forward to his transition to the different genres as motivated by his own choices.

Speaking of reading responses, we also launched the Christmas Reading Passport two weeks ago. It is easy to do.

1. Students get a reading passport.

2. The reading passport is designed to encourage students to read four books on the themes of hope, peace, joy and love. There are four questions to be answered, one for each book. This way, students are guided on their book choices. Recommended reads, a list of books about the themes are sent out via email lists to everyone.

3. The passport and the books are taken home over the long holiday break.

4. Students come back after the break with the passports filled out. They submit this to the library staff.

5. They get a token from the library.

Now, what do I do with the filled out reading passports? I use it to inform me of what books our teens enjoy and don't enjoy at all. I use the information form the passport as basis for acquisition purchases, as well as developing more book lists that would encourage and interest them to read. My next project is to do a compilation of the Best Reads by Griffins Who Read. This is like a book buddy journal where short reviews are put together. I envision this as a guide for incoming high school students who are charting their reading journeys. As their school librarian, I am their willing reading companion.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

12 Days of Christmas Book Review: Landline*

*This is a re-post from a previous entry in the blog. Because, Christmas is coming home.

LandlineLandline by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Georgie McCool's marriage is in trouble. Her husband leaves for Nebraska a few days before Christmas bringing their two daughters along. Georgie chooses to stay in Los Angeles to work on a big script with a bosom friend and work partner, Seth. Torn between her career and her marriage, Georgie is pressured to make a decision with the help of an unlikely gadget from the 90's.

What worked

This is a classic Rainbow Rowell novel: the quirky characters; the witty dialogues; the wonderful promise of conflict to come that is established on the first sentence of chapter one; the exciting middle parts that make you want for more when you reach the last page. These are all there for the taking. But this time, Rowell drove me closer to home. In Landline's pages, I found myself as an adult.


Her story is my story. And I feel validated. For this I am thankful that there is a romance writer out there who amplified the beauty of a married working woman's dilemma.

What may not work for some readers (but definitely worked for me)

Not all readers, women especially, will easily grasp the choice Georgie made at the end of the novel. But if you have been lost in love, then you will understand Georgie's choice. It doesn't help that Georgie arrived at "the choice" through an analog phone. Then again, this intervention from a 90's gadget is, as I take it, a metaphor of going back to what is basic and fundamentally essential in Georgie's relationship with her husband, Neal.

In moments when we are led astray by our own decisions and life is slowly falling apart, all we need to do is to go back to the beginning of things to find our balance once more. Isn't this romantic? That is why the rotating telephone intervening between time and space in Georgie's past and present relationship fits in the novel's plot. It is Neal and Georgie's connection to where their story of commitment began.

But the question of using another object to bring Georgie back to basic remains. She could have read letters, diaries, looked at pictures, even watched videos of their time together. No. Listening is different from looking and reading. Looking and reading involves cognition. Listening involves the emotions. Georgie needed to know what was going on affectively with herself and with Neal. The telephone conversation provided her with that affective knowledge. She needed to listen to Neal and to herself to understand the most important thing in her life at that moment.

And then, Rowell pulled another trick from her bag: Neal at Georgie's door step making his choice and taking that leap of faith.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Catching Up: Filipino Friday # 3: 5 Ways I Can Support Filipino Authors

This is uber late. But.

How can I support Filipino authors?

1. As a school librarian, I will consistently keep an Author Visit program where authors talk about their books to young readers. On the side is a book sale where, after their talk, they can sign copies of their books bought by readers.

2. As a storyteller, I will keep on telling stories written, and illustrated, by Filipino authors.

3. As a blogger, I will review their books and feature them in my blog. I will also participate in blog tours of their books and pimp them to the heavens!

4. As a PBBY member, I will encourage them to continuously join the annual Salanga Writer's Prize. In the board, we shall always seek help from other organizations and agency in the conduct of workshops where they can produce manuscripts for submission to publishers. Through the PBBY, we shall continue the Children's Book Fair held every year during the National Children's Book Day. We shall also keep our eyes and ears open for conferences, contests, grants, writing retreats and off shore publications.

5. As a KUTING member, I will participate in the workshops to help my writer friends become better at their craft. I hope they return the favor.

Mabuhay ang Filipino Author!

12 Days of Christmas Book Review: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (The Herdmans #1)The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You don't mess around with the Herdmans. They are the town bullies and their goal in life is to wreck havoc on everyone they cross paths with. So, just imagine the horror of the community of this little American town when they all volunteered to portray Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in the annual Christmas Pageant. What follows is a humorous narrative that turns out to be sweet and tender.

Told in the point of view of a secondary character, it was easy for me to look at the Herdmans from a more objective lens. The voice of the narrator is consistent in telling the story as it is, as it happens, with no judgement or prejudice. The narrator is an observer. She reveals the Herdmans' notoriety from experiences of family and friends. It is through these descriptions where the rising conflict was established. Will the Herdman's ruin the almost perfect Christmas Pageant of the community? Or will there be a saving grace somewhere.

Because this is a Christmas story, there is grace -- everywhere!

No, it wasn't the perfect Christmas Pageant. It was the best! Despite the mishaps and mayhem that the Herdman siblings brought upon the pageant, they appeared perfect for the roles they played. Why and how? Well, that is something I want you to find out for yourself! So, read the book!

View all my reviews

Monday, December 14, 2015

12 Days of Christmas Book Review: The Cowboy's Christmas Bride

The Cowboy's Christmas Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek Book 9)The Cowboy's Christmas Bride by Cora Seton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cole and Sunshine return to Chance Creek. They have plans and dreams to pursue. What kept them together after all these years is their love for each other. Going back to Chance Creek, they come face to face with their past and the uncertain future. Cole and Sunshine are at a crossroad. Is their love strong enough to make them stay and build a new life in Chance Creek?

Good thing the gang is there to welcome them; to show them a thing or two about couplehood and married life; what has changed in the community; and how this community can be their support group in starting a family of their own.

This 9th volume in the Cowboys of Chance Creek is a fitting Christmas book in the series. It is not only the story of Cole and Sunshine but everyone's! I return to Chance Creek as a curious visitor wondering how my favorite cowboys and their wives are doing. And everyone seems to be adjusting real well with married life. This is enough for Cole and Sunshine to make a decision. In the end, love wins.

While it gave me, once more, that happy ever after feeling, I think about the what ifs. There is more to married life than wonderful beginnings. I wish to see more of love and romance in married life. How will the Cowboys and their wives weather through bigger challenges? What is love in the face of death, bankruptcy, infidelity and disasters?

I enjoyed the series, but I am asking for more. I am a demanding fan!

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Catching Up: The 5th Filipino ReaderCon Panel on Readers Take the Reins

 Aside from missing the PLAI Congress and the seminar-workshop at the University of Perpetual Help Laguna, the Filipino ReaderCon was another event I skipped due to follow up consultations with my doctors. The Readers Take the Reins panel was a session I hoped to take part in along with GFF, Tarie Sabido and book blogger extraordinaire, Blooey Singson. The panel is like a dream sequence where readers assert their needs and their vision of a reading revolution in the country. The question to answer is, if readers have the power to transform the book industry and readership in the country, what would be our environment and behavior towards reading and books?

Paolo Chikiamco has a recording of the session. I still have to listen to the entire thing. I am excited because there is a lot of talk on library development. So I was told.

Feel free to visit and download the recording. Go to Paolo's blog for the MP3.

The Official Press Release: Where Have I Been The Past Three Weeks

First of all, I wish to thank everyone who prayed for me and my family during our medical crises. Having said this, allow me to tell the tale.

During the APEC holiday, I was bent on finishing a paper for poster presentation in the PLAI Congress, a module for teacher training and three stories for a project with Lampara Books. But, amoebiasis kicked in and it was pretty bad. The infection went on for a week. The doctor had to extend my antibiotics for three more days. I was also given a recommendation to undergo a colonoscopy. That was how bad things were.

The infection affected my disposition and my general outlook in life. For the first time, all my fears came into consciousness. It didn't help that the gastro doctor told me outright that there are cases of amoebiasis that actually reveal a tumor or cancerous polyps. How could I work and write in such circumstances?

Apart from medicines from the pharmacy, I have taken to eat and consume natural home remedies. Bone broth with ginger for cleansing and healing of stomach infection and kalamansi juice for vitamin C to boost the immune system.
I tried thinking logically. I asked a lot of questions. I back tracked at how I have been living my life for the past years. And yes, I prayed and begged for family and friends to pray for me. This gave me great comfort. The prayer companions who were with me through my physical and mental ordeal bolstered my weakening spirits. I knew what to do. I was bent on getting that colonoscopy done.

Checking the school calendar, I had applied for a leave on the first week of December. However, my daughter's heart prolapse flared that week and she had to be admitted to the hospital for further tests. To add a hair on the camel's back, our eldest, Nico, was also scheduled for a holter monitor for the medical management of his heart block that same week. When it rains, oh, it pours!

When Zoe was discharged from the hospital, she took home a heart monitoring test that required us to go back for one more diagnosis. It was done as an out patient procedure. So far, her heart prolapse is still with in the normal range of contraction and conduction. Her pedia-cardio gave her management techniques to do, so that she can avoid flare ups. She has mitral valve prolapse, a heart condition that can be managed proactively. Her doctor wrote on her medical notebook which included five basic tips:

1. Drink only water. No caffeine or energy drinks.
2. Sleep for eight hours and get enough rest.
3. Know the cause of your stress and reduce these stressors.
4. Learn how to relax.
5. *Take up a sport or a hobby that will strengthen the heart.

* Your own choice and not something imposed on you.

The bottom line here is healthy living. The same philosophy goes with me.

After 20 years, I was back at the Makati Medical Center for a three day confinement. There I undergone colonoscopy and ultrasound tests. It was like getting an executive check up. This is a medical exercise I intend to do on a regular basis.
While my colonoscopy, ultrasound, full abdominal and transvaginal, were all clear, meaning there is nothing serious or alarming, this whole medical crisis is a wake up call for me to further my quest for living a healthy lifestyle. It was a good thing I started losing weight in 2013 and changed eating habits at the same time. Those two years lessened the risk of any serious malady. I was scared to death going through all the procedures. As my cardiologist told me, 40 is the new 50!

This episode in my life gave me a lot to think about. It put things in perspective. From the start of my medical ordeal, I asked myself what do I really need and what does the world require of me. Of course I know the answers. It is only a matter of realizing this concept, this abstraction of choosing a far greater love that poses a big challenge. Because, it requires me to choose this part of myself that needs to be small. Now I smile, after connecting the dots. When I turned 41 years old last August, I prayed to God to make me small. He did make me small. An answered prayer.
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