Sunday, July 27, 2014

Land of readaloud

On morning trips, the Vehicle-for-hire takes me past a row of shanties. The slow-moving traffic affords time for watching people.

While mornings may find adults at their busiest, children are no less engaged in their enterprise. Naked, a tot scooped water from a plastic basin, which she sometimes poured on her head and sometimes sipped. While its mother read a paper beside a roadside stall displaying vegetables, a baby held on to the tail of a yowling cat.

Compared to adults automatically going through the motions of starting another day, children leapfrog, reinventing to make each day different from the previous ones.

For the past months that I’ve taken this route, I’m struck by one thing: I’ve never seen a grownup read a book to a child. Even when they seem to be trying out these things called legs for the first time, children are on their own. Many are minded by other kids, their attitude of watching traffic go by an unsettling imitation of adult pastimes in the locality.

Wednesdays, “Well Baby” day and the regular schedule for immunizations, insert little variation. Infants, carried by their mothers, spill out to the grounds outside the local health center.

Encircled by maternal embrace, each well-scrubbed young creature looks on while its mother chats with neighbors and health workers. Heat, noise and needle pricks set off the young. But no book in sight to catch all that wandering attention, silent absorption.

Why not introduce readaloud in these communal settings? Last June, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) asked its 62,000 pediatrician-members across the United States to promote reading aloud to infants from birth, aside from dispensing advice on breastfeeding and immunization.

A June 24, 2014 report in The New York Times noted that it is the first official stance taken by the academy on early literacy education. Studies show that important advances in learning occur during the first three years of life. Reading to children also improves their vocabulary and other communication skills.

With every baby visiting a doctor for immunizations and check-ups, health centers and clinics can serve as early libraries. It’s a crucial intervention, specially for the children of lower- income families, where parents may not have a habit of reading, don’t have resources to spare for books, or don’t see readaloud sessions as good for bonding and preschool literacy.

The same article reports that even well-off parents have to be won over to the basics of readaloud. Even though there are parents who play Mozart or read poetry to their children in utero, The New York Times repeated the AAP counsel prevailing parents to keep their children away from computer screens until they are aged two.

With price-sensitive smartphones and tablets engaging all spectrums of the economy, today’s parents may see it more as a feat than a liability that their children learned to swipe a screen first before they turned a page. Portable digital media can promote reading. It remains to be seen, though, if, like books, gadgets will prepare this generation for communication and its nuances.

As a reader of the old school, I was happy to read about the bags of books given to 75 parents of preschoolers of Guadalupe Elementary School. During the recent launch of the “Alimbukad: Basa Pamilya” program, the Zonta Club of Cebu II gave a bag of seven books each to the parents, who have promised to read these with their children. The bags will be rotated among the participating parents until all books are read.

According to the July 26 report of Sun.Star Cebu intern Nheru Veraflor of the University of San Jose-Recoletos, the Zonta Club of Cebu II hopes that the books in English and Filipino will encourage parents to bond with their children while nurturing a habit of reading.

It’s a shared dream: to come upon in communities everyday scenes of children and their parents absorbed in a storybook.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 27, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lapu-Lapu, Hu U?

I’M not looking forward to returning to Manila, beloved of rains, flood and traffic.

But aside from having to attend to unfinished business, I read about a fellow Bisdak who’s also stranded in the Bad City.

This is the 40-foot brass statue of Lapu-Lapu found in the Agripina Circle of Rizal Park along Roxas Boulevard.

Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza wants the statue transferred outside the Hoops Dome in Barangay Gun-ob, reported Flornisa M. Gitgano in Sun.Star Cebu last July 14. In 2021, the city will celebrate 500 years of independence from Spain.

However, Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III prefers that the statue remains in Manila.

I don’t know about my fellow Oponganons but I’m sure I don’t want the government shouldering a hefty fee to ship a 40-foot brass statue.

Even if the statue could be levitated to Mactan without wasting taxes, I’m not in the proper frame of mind to contemplate this gigantic icon as I stew for at least an hour in the Vhire, crawling past the Hoops Dome, the alternate route serving the public while excruciatingly slow road repairs close most of the main thoroughfare in Barangay Basak.

Am I saying that Oponganons can’t appreciate the first Filipino to reject colonizers? I doubt transplanting a brass statue or erecting a two-hectare monument at Barangay Punta Engaño will make us understand better Lapu-Lapu, shrouded by myth more than facts.

His brass statue, donated by the Korea Freedom League to the Philippine Government in 2004 and erected at Rizal Park on the mandate of then tourism secretary Dick Gordon, says volumes about the hold of the first Filipino hero on Pinoy minds.

Called the “Motto Stella (Guiding Star),” the Rizal Monument is a mausoleum in granite, topped by a 42-foot bronze sculpture of the hero and set off by an obelisk in the background. There is continuous ritual guarding of the monument’s perimeter by the Philippine Marine Corps.

Rizal’s hold on public imagination is as formidable as his dominance of public space. Over the years and climaxing during his centennial in December 1996, we have not lacked for scholarly and popular articles, books, movies and other media about Rizal. Writer and academic Ambeth Ocampo contributed in making Rizal and Philippine history “familiar and approachable”.

In contrast, who is Lapu-Lapu?

We think the first nationalist is a long-haired he-man in “bahag (loincloth)” with no great fondness for foreigners.

We don’t even “know” Lapu-Lapu; we imagine him to be this way, based on visits to the Punta Engaño shrine, annual reenactments of the Battle of Mactan, and a controversial TV ad selling disposable diapers.

That’s a pitifully paltry pool for fanning hero worship. According to an “I-Witness” 2012 documentary of Lapu-Lapu, the hero may even have a different name. Kalipulako, Pula Pula or Cilapulapu? Historians don’t agree.

Can we worship a hero of indefinite name and visage? A 1933 statue of Lapu-Lapu showed him wielding bow and arrow. The same “I-Witness” documentary quoted residents recalling a rumor that this statue, with weapons pointed towards the old town hall, caused the death of three mayors. The mayor who replaced the bow and arrow with a bolo went on to live much longer.

In 2008, the Cebu Province commissioned 55 local histories for each town and city in what is known as the Cebu Provincial History Project. I would love to read the Lapu-Lapu City history researched and written by Ahmed Cuizon, now Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board-7 regional director.

But the publication of the local histories is, alas, also shrouded in mystery. Past thickets of myth and myth-making, the quest for the real Lapu-Lapu continues.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 20, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Monday, July 14, 2014

Harvest of pages

THIS week, I received two priceless gifts. The first was the day my mother turned 75.

The second came before that day ended, when I stopped by my favorite secondhand bookstore and found a hardbound copy of “The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Reprinted in 2012, this edition was issued to mark the 75th anniversary of the tale that started “The Lord of the Rings.”

Before the movies, before the merchandise, there was the book. Actually not a trilogy, as “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers,” and “The Return of the King” are often called.

Before this singularly long novel—broken down into six books in three volumes—came “The Hobbit”.

In the 1930s, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a professor at Oxford, wearied by the endless correction of papers when he found himself scribbling on a blank leaf: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

But as Tolkien’s sons Christopher and Michael remembered, their father first told them “a long story about a small being with furry feet” during “winter ‘reads’ after tea in the evening.”

Christopher, then aged four or five, urged his father to be consistent during his retelling. He pointed out to his father that Bilbo’s door was blue, not the green of later versions; and that Thorin’s hood had a golden tassel, not silver.

Encouraged by such a rapt, critical audience, Tolkien wrote down the tale and sent it to someone who read, who believed others would read it, too.

When I held the 75th anniversary edition of “The Hobbit,” I was struck not just by my luck to hold such a handsome volume, whose paper jacket and inside illustrations bore Tolkien’s original drawings.

Before generations of readers of all ages discovered “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” Tolkien was a parent who tried to balance his responsibilities as a family man with his passion for stories.

Told by a friend that the publication of “The Hobbit” may fuel a public clamor for more stories about hobbits (the first edition was sold out within a few months of its release in 1937), Tolkien replied that this comment raised a “faint hope” that “duty and desire may… (perhaps) in future go more closely together.”

Though my parents worked for a living, my sister and I never wanted for stories and books. For our bedtime sessions, my late father, then a government doctor, picked liberally from comic books, novels and newspapers. My mother bought us more books than clothes, which made me indifferent for life to fashion but never for language and stories.

My first paperback edition of “The Hobbit” bears this faded record at the end-page: from September till October in 2002, I started and finished the novel while waiting for my father to wake up from a stroke. For a weekend of hospital tests, I’m packing the 75th anniversary edition of “The Hobbit”.

If not for a habit of jotting notes like diary entries in the books I read and reread, I remember primarily the stories. As his children learned during Tolkien’s fireside sessions, a master storyteller can make you forget everything but The Tale.

I logged the first 26 pages of “The Hobbit” in Pages4Progress, an online campaign that encourages readers to raise $1 for every page they read.

World Education Inc., a non-profit organization based in the United States, works with local groups to improve people’s access to quality education in 22 countries. Through literacy, people can deal with poverty, displacement, violence and HIV.

The Pages4Progress campaign encourages people to read 20,015 pages by September 8, International Literacy Day. This is also the 2015 deadline for the United Nations to attain Millennium Development Goal No. 2 of reaching universal primary education.

Every page logged in Pages4Progress is matched by a $1 donation for World Education Inc. After the Pages4Progress emailed that the first 26 pages I read in “The Hobbit” earned $26 for its online literacy campaign, I see the circle connecting the Oxford don setting down a winter’s tale for his children to generations of readers.

As every reader knows, in our imagined worlds, we are neveraging children enraptured with every turn of the page. So read and log today if you want to unlock worlds for someone who has yet to open a book.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 13, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”