Read-along takes kids on world tour
From an adventure in Japan to an object lesson in Spain, from a fable set in the African savannah to a tale based on arithmetic problems, their journey around the world—and around many worlds—began with the flip of a page.
Hundreds of children trooped to the first-ever Inquirer Read-Along Festival, a two-day marathon of storytelling and other learning activities featuring an international lineup of celebrities, beauty queens, diplomats, educators, and theater and literary enthusiasts.
The festival, which opened on Monday and ended Tuesday night at GT-Toyota Asian Cultural Center inside the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City, was by far the biggest, most diverse gathering organized in a single venue by the Inquirer’s award-winning Read-Along team. The much-applauded project had come a long way since the first sessions were held at the paper’s Makati City office in 2007.
One of the storytellers, Miss Earth 2011 contestant Kerel Razil Pinder of The Bahamas, cited the importance of exposing today’s children to such activities: “With all that technology, all those computers, video games and gadgets available now, there are not enough children reading. I think an event like this—encouraging reading and making it fun for them and learning more about reading—is essential.”
With the theme “The Filipino Child and the Stories of the World,” the festival kicked off with three sessions on Day One. Taking turns narrating kiddie stories from different countries were actor-host Cesar Montano, Miss Earth delegates, representatives from the Japanese, Spanish and South African embassies, and storytellers from Alitaptap Storytellers Philippines, Adarna House and Sophia School.
Monday’s program also saw the unveiling of the special festival stage, led by Inquirer publisher Isagani Yambot; and the “Living Museum of Well-Loved Storybook Characters” set up by Sophia School students. Also opened was a book fair featuring titles from Anvil Publishing, Adarna and Vibal Publishing.
The affair drew children from various schools and organizations: Laura Vicuña Foundation, Al-Salaam Peace Community, Colegio de San Lorenzo, St. Paul College-Pasig, Family Partner Child Learning House and UP Integrated School.
The audience also included handicapped children served by Resources for the Blind Inc. and students from Miriam College-Southeast Asian Institute for the Deaf. For them, sessions were held using Braille-based books and sign language.
From embassy row
Maki Mizusawa, third secretary of the Japan Information and Culture Center of the Embassy of Japan, read “Momotaro,” a famous folk tale from his homeland, using a Japanese storytelling tool called the “kamishibai.”
Antonio Garcia, first secretary of the Spanish Embassy, read “La Lechera” (The Milkmaid), which told of a girl who ended up spilling the milk she was supposed to sell—all because she was daydreaming about the things she could buy with the money.
Garcia also taught the kids to greet in Spanish and read some parts of the story in his native language, occasionally taking a pause to ask the children if they understood some of the words.
“The story is a classic, with a moral lesson for kids to understand that one has to be patient,” Garcia later explained.
Hayden Mulaudzi, an official of the South African Embassy, read “Horns Only,” a story about a zebra and monkey who cleverly found a way to gatecrash a party exclusive to horned animals.
“The experience was very humbling. The children were so friendly yet intriguing because of the questions they asked,” Mulaudzi said.
Miss Earth beauties—Pinder of The Bahamas, Cherry Liu of Chinese Taipei, Maria Gracia Figueroa of Peru, Veronica Doblas Roldan of Spain, Agnes Benitez Santiago of Puerto Rico, Andrea Devivo of Colombia, Driely Araujo of Brazil and Aleksandra Kovacevic of Bosnia-Herzegovina—took turns reading the creation story, “Iba’t Ibang Lahi (Different Races).”
Seeing her young audience, Brazil’s Araujo was moved to tears: “I have a project in my country where I help children with cancer. So when I arrived here and saw these children I had (a rush of) emotions.”
“They are so adorable, they want to have pictures with you, they look up to you. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to know that you can influence their lives in a positive way,” said Colombia’s Devivo.
Rich Rodriguez and Dhea Cajape of Alitaptap read “Mahiwagang Biyulin (Magic Violin)” as retold by Christine Belen and published by Anvil.
From Adarna, returning storyteller Dyali Justo read “Sampu Pataas, Sampu Pababa,” a math-based storybook by Russel Molina.
The actor Montano, an Inquirer Read-Along veteran, read “Bertday Ko” by Cynthia Cruz-Paz. “Storytelling is a regular activity in the house. I read to my kids always and whenever the opportunity arises, I also love to tell stories to other children,” he said.
Sophia School teachers read “Si Isem sa Bayan na Bawal Tumawa (Isem in the Town Where Laughter is Forbidden)” by Eugene Evasco, while Adarna storyteller Justo read “Si Emang Engkantada at ang Tatlong Haragan (Emang The Enchantress and the Three Naughty Kids).”
Day Two of the festival included a seminar for preschool and day care teachers, a storytelling competition and three more story sessions led by pop star Gary Valenciano, Trumpets Playshop members and comedian Jon Santos.
Some 200 teachers from around Metro Manila gathered tips on how to engage children more creatively.
“Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, down came the rain,” the adult “pupils” chanted at one point to the rhythm set by a lecturer. On cue, they changed their voices to mimic a roaring giant or to play scared.
“A story can be a springboard for letter and word recognition using key words from the stories. Teaching children to read is easier once you have developed their love for reading,” said Felicitas Pado, one of the seminar instructors from the UP Integrated School.
Ann Abacan, the principal and pioneering storyteller at Sophia School in Meycauayan, Bulacan province, emphasized the role of a creative teacher and how he or she could let go of inhibitions to make a story more memorable to students.
Body as tool
“Use facial expressions, body language, gestures. Your body, yourself is the most important tool as a storyteller,” Abacan told the teachers.
“For me you should be childlike. It’s like going back to your childhood. I think that’s the most important,” she later told the Inquirer in an interview.
“I always tell the teachers in the early grades that in presenting concepts, skills in other areas, the children will enjoy it if it is done through a story,” Pado added.
As storytellers, teachers should come up with methods that are “unexpected” yet “systematic,” well-planned but peppered with surprises, Abacan said. “The more senses you use, the better.”
The children had snacks and meals courtesy of McDonald’s, while winners in the question-and-answer portions received books from Adarna House as prizes. They also received giveaways from the Rotary Club of Makati and the United States Agency for International Development.
The festival sessions were hosted by Inquirer Libre editor in chief Chito dela Vega and Junior Inquirer’s Ruth Navarra. With reports from Ana Roa, Schatzi Quodala, Rissa Camongol