Award-Winning AWB (Award-Winning-Books) 2013 Books From Asia with Love GB Challenges Picture Books Read-a-Latte Reading Themes

The Mundane and the Mysterious in Picture Books from the Philippines: A Day in the Market and Doll Eyes


In keeping with our bimonthly theme From Asia with Love: A Feast of Asian Literature and the current Festival being celebrated here in Singapore (Asian Festival of Children’s Content) and the upcoming Little Lit Festival in Manila tomorrow, I have two gloriously-illustrated picture books from the Philippines celebrating the mundane and the mysterious in children’s narratives.

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IMG_6962A Day in the Market (Araw sa Palengke)

Story by: May Tobias-Papa
Illustrated by: Isabel ‘Pepper’ Roxas Published by: Adarna House, 2008
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. 

I bought this bilingual picture book (written in English and Filipino) while I was still in the Philippines even before I had the chance to meet the fabulously-talented illustrator Isabel ‘Pepper’ Roxas now based in New York. I have always enjoyed the simplicity of the narrative; the earth-toned, very subtle artwork that is distinctly Pepper’s style; and the seeming-celebration of the mundane and the ordinary, and how a day in the market can be transformed into an adventure, an enjoyable, much-anticipated experience between mother and child.


Today, I woke up early. I was still sleepy when Nanay helped me get dressed. I will spend the day with her. Today is market day!

The story perfectly captured the sight, the smells, the sounds, the pulsating energy of what it means to be in a market in the Philippines.


For people who are used to doing their grocery in the relative comfort of an air-conditioned mall, the wet markets in the Philippines may indeed prove to be a challenge to navigate, in a manner of speaking. I also enjoyed how the little girl kept her promise to not ask her Nanay (mother) for anything that captures her fancy while in the market. Her nanay though had a very cute surprise for her when they reached home. What the surprise is I shall leave for you to discover.


It did not come as a surprise to me that the book app version earned a Kirkus Star this year. Click here to know more. If you want to know more about the author, click here to be taken to May Tobias-Papa’s blog and click here to know more about Isabel Roxas’ artwork.

Doll EyesIMG_6951

Story By: Eline Santos 
Paintings by: Joy Mallari Published by: Canvas (Center for Art, New Ventures & Sustainable Development), 2010
Book provided by publisher. Book photos taken by me.

This is a book that caught my eye last year during the Asian Festival of Children’s Content Media Mart Book Display from the Philippines. After much ogling, Frances Ong, Editor at Tahanan Books, finally decided to take pity on me and gave this copy to me as a lovely gift.

Upon reading the Acknowledgments page I realized that the publication of this book is quite different. As Gigo Alampay, the Executive Director of Canvas noted:

As many now know, the process of coming out with our books is uniquely collaborative – an original painting inspires the story that wins our competition which, in turn, inspires an entire series of artworks that are used as illustrations for the book.


The first thing that struck me about the book was how beautifully crafted it is – the pages are glorious, unlike the usual cheap-paper-printing of most picture books from the Philippines. It is also bilingual and the English translations capture the nuance and the subtlety of the Filipino text. The paintings are hands-down beautiful.


I also enjoyed the theme that has a taste of the macabre, the strange and surreal, magical realism Quiapo style. For those who may be unfamiliar with Quiapo, it is also reputed to be the armpit of the Philippines with the crowded city streets, the poverty all around alongside huge church spires, dirty and often-barefoot street children asking for alms, pirated dvds and the like.


Quiapo is a labyrinth of stores that sells everything from the mundane – such as stolen cell phones and seventy-five-peso slippers – to the arcane.

In one of these shops, there was a doll maker with a bat-winged store. And her brand of magic was the sinister kind.

IMG_6955Manang Bolabola would sit outside her little shop, eyes half-closed, as if sleeping. But the truth was she saw, smelled, and heard everything. She was watching and waiting for the right kind of material to make her dolls with.

Exactly what those materials are, I shall leave for you to find out. While I found the ending a little way-too-simplistic and not that believable – the entire premise, the beauty of the language used, the creepy and the sordid mixed with the innocent, the brave, and the pure – makes this an outstanding book that I am very privileged to own.


I dare you to find and get your own copy. Click here to download a free e-copy of this book.



A Day in the Market won the first Filipino National Child’s Book Award in 2010 and earned a Kirkus Star review in 2013.

Eline Santos’ Doll Eyes won the story that led to this publication.

AWB Reading Challenge:  35, 36 of 35


107, 108 of 150

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

2 comments on “The Mundane and the Mysterious in Picture Books from the Philippines: A Day in the Market and Doll Eyes

  1. Pingback: [Illustrator's Sketchpad] Of Donuts, Goodnight Songs, and Neurotic Polar Bears: Isabel ‘Pepper’ Roxas’ Artistic Forays |

  2. Beautiful books! Thanks for including the download link. I’m a Filipina mom in Amsterdam, and I’ve had a hard time finding quality content in Filipino for my daughter. She’s still too young for the Canvas downloads, but I’m bookmarking them for future use 🙂


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