A book showcasing Philippine folktales was released recently by Scholastic Inc. Entitled “Tales from the 7,000 Isles: Filipino Folk Stories”, the book is authored by Sambat Trust’s very own library consultant Zarah Gagatiga and New Orleans-based writer Dianne de las Casas. Zarah is an experienced librarian, teacher-trainer, writer, blogger, storyteller and reading clinician, and currently the head of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY). Dianne, on the other hand, is an award-winning author and storyteller and founder of the Picture Book Month, an international literacy advocacy.
Zarah and Dianne gladly answered some of our questions about their book.
Sambat Trust (ST): What is the story of the conception of creating a book of Philippine
Zarah: It was my co-author’s idea. Dianne had been dreaming of collecting folk stories from the Philippines for over a decade. In 2009, a week after Ondoy, she sent me an email asking if I’d be willing to partner with her on a book project. I said yes, of course. October 2009, we drafted a proposal. She sent it to ABC-CLIO and by the month’s end, Barbara Ittner, the editor gave it the green light.
Dianne: I am Fil-Am and very proud of my heritage. I see my Filipina mom every week (when I am not traveling) and the Filipino culture has always been an important part of my life. Many years ago, I conceived the title “Tales of the 7,000 Isles.” I wrote it in my journal and saved the idea. Then one day, Barbara Ittner, an acquisitions editor for Libraries Unlimited (my publisher for my professional development books), asked me to do a volume of Filipino Folktales for their World Folklore series. At the time, I was busy working on other book projects so I thanked her and said I would consider it. Zarah and I had been friends for many years and I really respected her work as a librarian, a writer, and a storyteller. I knew this book needed a native Filipino author so I asked Zarah to co-author with me. When I told Barbara and submitted my book proposal, she was so happy. I am very proud of how the book turned out. It is a celebration of the Filipino culture and Pinoy way of life.
ST: What can we expect from “Tales from the 7,000 Isles”?
Zarah: Apart from stories, we thought of putting in Filipino games, crafts and food in the collection. So, in “Tales from the 7,000 Isles”, there are three chapters dedicated for these items. Initially we wanted line drawings in the book, but photos would give more color to the book’s design and packaging. The inclusion of several spreads for photos was part of the proposal. Dianne and
I decided to take pictures, to document the process of collecting and writing the stories. Along the way, we met Yumi Pitargue whose hobby is photography. How we met is another story. She took fantastic photos of our trip to Sagada in May 2010. Yumi and I had a walking tour of Manila, Intramuros, Fort Santiago, China Town, Ongpin in October 2010 for more photo selections. She also has a portfolio where we chose pictures for specific stories.
Bernadette Solina-Wolf’s jeepney art work was chosen as book cover.
ST: How did you collect the stories and select which ones to include
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in the book?
Dianne: Zarah and I decided to divide the book into different regions of the Philippines as well as different genres of stories. There are trickster tales, pourquoi stories, and even scary stories from all over the Philippines. We then embarked on travels around the Philippines and took lots of pictures. Yumi Pitargue also lent us her photography expertise. Some of the stories were collected orally, others were researched from print versions, and still others were stories we had heard as children. We wanted a mixture of tales that told the story of a country. I think we achieved that goal.
Zarah: I was fortunate to be involved in teacher trainings, storytelling workshops, library accreditations in the provinces where I make a conscious effort to ask for stories about the town, the province and the people. You would be amazed at the plurality of the Philippines. These stories and experiences I wrote down in notebooks. Some travels ended as post in my blog. Many refuse to take accountability as informants for the folk stories so I had to do research, a lot! Dianne and I also read MANY tales! Three to five versions of one
tale, then we wrote our own version. I had to look for the first source of many of the stories. This led me to go to libraries in Baguio, Bicol and the National Library, as well as academic libraries in Manila. My network in the library profession proved useful. Friends from KUTING helped too by reading and rereading the retellings. The annotations and bibliography covers five to ten pages, if I’m not mistaken.
As for selecting stories, Dianne and I decided to choose pourquoi tales, enchantment, humor, and horror stories, the basic folk literature subgenres. The stories that Dianne and I heard from our
childhood by parents, grandparents and relatives made it to the collection too.
was the feeling in writing this book? Did you have an unforgettable experience?
Dianne: I am very proud of what we accomplished. Through our book,
I think Zarah and I leave a legacy for the children of the Filipino heritage. It is a book that can be used in the classroom. It is a book that every library in the Philippines should own. It is a book that can be passed on from generation to generation.
Traveling the mountains to Sagada, trekking through the rice terraces, going deep caving, and sailing through the islands of Bohol were some of the most unforgettable life experiences I have ever had. I will never look at a bowl of rice the same. In Sagada, I had a bowl of red rice after I had just hiked miles through the rice terraces and swam in the waterfalls with the sweetest Igorot
boys. For me, that bowl of rice told a story. It became sacred.
Zarah: It was like finishing a thesis. This book is my first, so, that in itself is unforgettable. However, many people, family, friends and colleagues helped in making the book what it is.
ST: How was working with each other?
Working with Dianne was an adventure! She is a phenomenal woman! She was my beacon of light while working on the book project for two years.
Dianne: Zarah was really instrumental in collecting the majority of the tales. The book was definitely a team effort. I could not have done this book alone, and this book would not be “on
the shelves” without her. She is the easiest person to work with. We made a good team, emailing, Dropboxing, chatting, and Skyping back and forth as we put the book together. She never minded the editing and revisions. Thank goodness for the Internet! She is such a valued team player, always working to promote the book, even when I can’t be there in the Philippines to help. I just adore sweet and smart Zarah!
ST: Where is the book available? How can we purchase it?
Dianne: The book is available through online book retailers. It is also available through Scholastic Book Fairs Philippines. They are our local distributor in the Philippines.
Zarah: “Tales From the 7,000 Isles: Filipino Folk Stories” is distributed by Scholastic Philippines. You may get in touch with Belle for orders at this contact number: 09175948033.
(first published in the Sambat Trust blog)
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