CHILDREN have found it tiresome nowadays to read a book, much less to open it because of the distraction of television and computer games. But poverty of reading also means a poverty of imagination and creativity.

To counter this decline of the reading habit, children were encouraged to explore the joys of reading during the 21st National Children’s Book Day, held last July 20 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY).

With the theme “Laro Tayo sa Loob ng Libro,” this year’s Children’s Book Day highlighted the delights when reading.

Dr. Queena Lee-Chua, a multi-awarded writer and math professor at the Ateneo de Manila University and this year’s keynote speaker, talked about the rewards of reading. She told the audience about her son, a bookworm at an early age, due to her own influence.

“When stimulated, a child develops fast. My son reads too much, that’s my problem now,” she said.

Chua said that she herself is a bookworm, as she recounted her experiences as a young reader. “I started out when I was six years old and my aunt gave me my first hardbound book that was more than a hundred pages long.” The book was a collection of bedtime stories about the enchanted world of mischievous pixies perched on buttercups, gentle giants, and pointy-eared elves. She finished the book in three days and started all over again, this time absorbing each word carefully. And so her deep love for books began. That love has continued to the present.

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Chua that today’s college students lack good reading habits, a problem that is manifested in the difficulty of the students in expressing themselves in English and Filipino.

In a study she and her colleagues conducted, they were able to point out reasons that showed the difference between honor students and “other regular students”. At the top of their list, they found out that honor students didn’t have tutors, only parents who motivated them enough to study well. She added most honor students loved to read which made them stand out from the rest.

These reasons, she said, are sufficient enough to encourage children to read more instead of engaging in television, computers, PlayStation, and other high-tech toys that limit their thinking capacities. “For a lover of books, nothing is impossible,” she said.

Meanwhile, this year’s recipient of the PBBY-Salanga award (in honor of the late writer Alfredo Navarro Salanga), “Papa’s House, Mama’s House,” by Jean Lee Patindol.

The story is about the unusual set-up in a family as a result of the parents’ separation. It was told by PBBY storyteller Joseph Kanikoche animatedly and creatively, complete with props and audience participation.

More books were launched this year, such as Jose Rizal’s version of the Philippine folktale “The Monkey and the Turtle,” and Carmelita A. Cochingco-Ballesteros’ “The Fourth Little Pig,” a story about an independent pig who works abroad to earn enough money to build his house.

Meanwhile, Mark Ramsel Salvatus III, a cum laude graduate of the College of Fine Arts and Design of UST, received the PBBY-Alcala prize (in honor of the late artist Alcala, one of the founding members of PBBY) for his artistic illustrations on Patindol’s award-winning story.

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Honorable mentions for the Salanga Prize were Cynthia Villafranca for “Ang Kahon ni Maru”, Edgar Samar for “Magkano Papuntang Antipolo?”, and Genaro Go-Cruz for “May Gulong na Bahay.”

Luis Gatmaitan, chairman of PBBY, proudly reported the board’s achievements for the past year, which included the successful 1st National Conference on Children’s Literature, a partnership with RCBC for the 10th Kwentong Kalikasan Katha ng Kabataaan, the PBBY Film Festival of best-loved stories for children, and the award from the National Book Development Board for PBBY’s contribution to the growth of the Philippine book industry.

Meanwhile, the opening of Illustrador ng Kabataan (INK)’s annual exhibit of “Ala-Alcala”, which paid tribute to the late cartoonist Alcala, added more color to this year’s NCBD. It featured the illustrations done for the children’s books, including Salvatus’ works for “Papa’s House, Mama’s House”.

This year’s NCBD was fully supported by publishing firms such as Adarna House, Tahanan, World Vision, Vibal Publishing House, Golden Salakot Stories, LG&M Cooperative and Panday-Isip, the new addition to the country’s children’s book publishers. Sharline J. Bareng and Ma. Nicole Pauline C. Cruz, with reports from the Philippine Daily Inquirer

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