Friday, April 25, 2008

Kids and the theme of death

Writing children's stories is harder than any other fiction writing because you have to be more sensitive with word choice, and ultimately how to express the theme of your story. You must also do all this without "talking down" to your audience. Kids are, after all, smarter than anyone gives them credit for.

I've had the privilege of interviewing May Tobias-Papa for one of my articles, and I think she's cool! Not only is she an illustrator for children's books, but also a Palanca-winning writer (Children's Story Category). The story she wrote was no easy theme either: it was about death. Estrellita: The Little Wishing Star made it to the press, rewritten only so that it fits the picture book format.

The story is about death without being too blunt about it: no bawl-inducing bed-ridden scenes, just a mere disappearance--the stars die, but May chooses not to dwell on it. She instead puts meaning to why the stars die, and the good their death brings. In the story, wishing stars die when a wish is granted.... Estrellita, who wants to be the boy Noel's wishing star, strives to reach him so he could make a wish on her. It's touching how the star desires to help when all she knew about Noel were his sad eyes.

I think death in a children's book is not uncommon--it's the presentation that counts, along with the role of the parent in telling the story. "Little kids have cried while reading it," shares May, explaining why books with death themes must be read to kids with a proper explanation. As Manolo Silayan of Alitaptap Storytellers says, "Books for kids can have a PG rating...you must read and discuss with your child."

Not only is reading with guidance helpful in learning to read, but also helpful in digesting and reflecting on the "whys" of a story. It's a critically important question to ponder on and, though the parent might not have a straight answer to their child's "whys," there's nothing wrong with throwing the questions back to the child--you might be surprised at what your little one has to say.

4 comments:

Zarah Grace C. Gagatiga said...

hi nicole. was not able to see your email add from your profile page. here is my address at work - #64 Xavier St. Greenhills, San Juan Metro Manila 1500.

petrufied said...

hi zarah! sorry, I didn't know it wouldn't show :-/ anyway, got the addie. will send to you asap. thanks!

sunnyday said...

The book sounds interesting, but I haven't seen it in bookstores. Is it out already?

May sounds like a good subject! You're fortunate to have been the one to do the Working Mother article this time =)

You know that day we were in Shang together? I passed by Nat'l Bookstore to check if the April issue was sold out already (ahem), but ended up staying for almost half an hour! From the magazine racks I went to the children's books section. I bought a few for my 10-year-old niece in the States, including a title I've been looking for for a long time ("Five magic words," a bilingual book illustrated by Panch Alcaraz).

Oh, hindi pa sold out ang April =) but there's significantly fewer on display since the last time I had been there.

petrufied said...

Oh, the Estrellita is out of print... :S but maybe adarna can reprint with enough requests. it's available in icdlbooks.org though. and it's legal, too! :D

Yes, I know! I'm happy to interview her. She met NVM Gonzales too! Na-starstruck ako.

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