There is such an indescribable, subtle power in stories. Stories keep us connected. They inspire us. They move us. Few scenes evoke hope and joy like children and young people sharing their stories and baring their minds and hearts.
The magic of stories and the promise of more being shared brought a mix of nostalgia and excitement to me last week at the national launch of the Book Nook, a new concept library made by Filipinos for Filipinos to read books written by local writers.
There are now 52 Book Nook sites around the country including Museong Pambata in Manila; Columbio, Sultan Kudarat; Banaue, Ifugao; Arena Blanco, Zamboanga City; Gen. Nakar, Quezon; Bayugan, Agusan del Sur; Himamaylan, Negros Occidental; South Ubian, Tawi-tawi; Los Baños, Laguna; Tugaya, Lanao del Sur; and Capiz, Roxas City.
Imagine the collective wonder we would be capable of when, across the 7,600-plus islands and various ethnic groups, we get to share our stories with one another.
The event was held virtually to observe health safety protocols, but we all just felt connected through the heartfelt storytelling. From the start, the virtual event felt different.
In lieu of doxologies, chants and blessings from different local traditions around the Philippines were performed. Over 500 were in attendance, but there was an undeniable sense of connectedness. Especially when the storytellers took the virtual floor.
We heard from National ArtistVirgilio Almario, reading from one of Adarna’s storybooks. There was something about the voice timbre of Rio Alma, the pen name of Almario, that transported people to a magical land. Bodjie Pascuaof ‘90sBatibotfame readTuwing Sabado, a moving story by my UPLB classmateRussell Molinaabout non-traditional parenting, as told from a child’s point of view. And Book Nook-Sultan Kudarat’sJholaica Barrontold a story about the Tulingan Festival in Maranao. There is much to be said about a skilled storyteller being able to take you through a journey even when narrating in a language unfamiliar to you.
I didn’t expect quite a roller coaster of emotions. These children’s stories took on very real subject matters, and embraced full emotions. All the more I got excited for more Filipinos to experience the Book Nook. How exciting it must be to be a grade school-age kid, seeing lively storytellers bring the printed word to life. Of course, all this depends on the easing of pandemic safety rules. But virtual reading will suffice for now.
That the event was streamed from Los Baños just made it pensively more relatable, UPLB always being a home to me.
The turnover, as expected, was very upbeat. While stating the unfortunate fact that for every one Filipino-authored and published book, we have 24 foreign titles in bookstores and libraries, executive directorCharisse Aquino-Tugade of the National Book Development Board (NBDB) optimistically shared her vision for Book Nook.
“Book Nook will be a hub and safe space for children and the child-at-heart to gain literacy skills, and ultimately, enjoy Filipino stories, and find their voice to share their own,” said Charisse.
The Book Nooks have been formally opened in 52 sites around the country, and carry all-Filipino titles. The collective dream for NBDB is for each local community to be inspired to write its own stories.
“One of the things that moved me was when some of the locals asked, ‘Where are the stories written inourlanguage?’ And I didn’t know what to say in response to that,” Charisse said. This serves as a challenge and inspiration to take the communities being served by Book Nook, from a fresh encounter with the printed word, to a love of reading, and ultimately, to writing their own books.
It’s a jarring reminder—not just of stories we’ve read and heard in the vernacular, but the wealth of memories and moving narratives we grew up with. Stories, songs, and even poetry we’ve encountered in our own communities. The often-told and retold anecdotes by my father. The “when I was young” recollections from our elders. Who’s keeping a record of these? Who’s retelling them? That responsibility falls on all of us.
Imagine the collective wonder we would be capable of when, across the 7,600-plus islands and various ethnic groups, we get to share our stories with one another. Just how different would things be if every locality would be able to tell its full story, on top of the cuisine and the wares one locale usually presents to tourists?
I couldn’t help but become a bit reflective, since I get to work with the written word daily. As grateful as one is about everything life brings, there are some days and some people you will come across that will remind you of the daily wonders you get to work with. I find myself now cheering the Book Nook tagline: “Aklat para sa lahat (Books for one and all).”
May more kids and kids-at-heart fall in love with reading, fall in love with books, and fall in love with telling their communities’ stories. As they do, may they grow in the power to connect, to inspire, and to move others with their writing.