Jul 18, 2012

Book Review: Mga Kuwento Ni Lola Basyang, from Tahanan Publishing

This year, for our homeschool Filipino curriculum, we're not using textbooks. Instead, we're using "real" books. The goal is to expose the children to the true beauty of the Filipino language and, at the same time, Filipino culture (social studies integration!). To do that, we have compiled a reading list of Filipino storybooks for my kindergartener and second grader.

And what Filipino reading list for children would be complete without that timeless classic, "Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang," right? So we got one. Mommy, being the cheapskate that she is, did not want to pay for separate books, of course. Instead, we got an anthology of 12 stories from the publisher, Tahanan Publishing, for just P275. I'm still congratulating myself on getting a pretty good deal!

So what do I and my kids think of the book?

The language

In a word: beautiful. The language of "Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang" was something any purist would easily fall in love with. There was not a single word borrowed from English. I could imagine my lola from Bulacan telling me the stories using exactly the words used in the book:

May isang pag-asawang napakabait na malaon nang kasal ay hindi magkaanak. Mabuti nga't mariwasa ang kanilang kabuhayan, ulila man sila sa anak na mapag-aaliwan sa kanilang tahanan... ( from "Ang Prinsipeng Unggoy")
Of course, my kids had a hard time understanding everything at first. I had not wanted to translate or simplify anything at the start. But the kids complained that they could hardly understand anything I was saying, so eventually, I compromised by reading as is and then translating and simplifying:
Si Timo ay gumapang sa bubungan ng tinurang bahay ... bubungan means "roof," ... hanggang siya'y makababa sa dakong azotea ... Azotea is ... you know when you have a second floor in your house and you have a door on the second floor that leads outside, but there's a place for you to stand without falling?
Azotea became a favorite word in our house for about three days. 

The story plots

The plots were, I almost regret to say, not for general patronage at all! For instance, when I scanned the first story, "Ang Sirena sa Uli-Uli ng Ilog Pasig," I was shocked to see the violent ending:
"Siso, yayamang ikaw ay ayaw nilang alpasan nang hindi ka mapasaakin ay hindi ka rin mapapakaninuman!" at biglang kinagat si Siso sa gulung-gulungan. ... Iniwan ng Sirena si Siso na nagdaranak ng dugo.

In other stories, there were words such as "lintik" and "ulol." Apparently, our ancestors did not mince words; they called a spade a spade.

But I also I realized that this lack of censorship is part of Filipino culture: We are a warrior people. Suffering, daring, war -- these had been our lives. Death -- and violent death, even -- had been our ordinary reality. We could not shelter our children from them, so we didn't. Instead, we had carefully trained our children so that they could live with and survive violence without being overpowered or consumed by it.

Did the kids like the stories? Yes, they did!

I think it is precisely this lack of sanitation that attracted my kids so much to these stories. How do I know they liked the stories? Well, "Maryang Makiling" is a story with two parts. After the first part, I told them I'd read the second part the next day. (The first part alone was already much longer than our usual bedtime story.)

You know what seven-year-old Josh did? He took the book and struggled through all the hard words of part 2 all by himself, just so he would know what happens next to Timo and Maryang Makiling.

So will we continue reading these stories at night? Well, I plan to keep reading the stories, but I'll probably be censoring out the parts that make me too uncomfortable. When the kids are bigger and more thick skinned -- maybe when they're 10, as the publishers recommended this book for that age -- maybe then, they could read the stories by themselves and not be too horrified by the parts that now horrify their mom.

For now, though, I still want them to hear the stories. I want them to bask in the language. It is very seldom that I find such well-written Filipino stories. I am not about to deprive the kids of them, simply because their mom was such a squeamish chicken.

To buy Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang, you can contact Tahanan Publishing's sales department at (+632) 813-7165, or visit their showroom at Ilaw ng Tahanan Publishing, Inc., Unit 402, Cityland 3 Condominium, 105 V.A. Rufino corner Esteban Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City. Click here for more information. You can also buy other high-quality Filipino books published by Tahanan Publishing online at The Learning Basket.

DISCLOSURE: This is not a paid post. The author has received no compensation in any form from anybody to write this article.

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