Modern Filipino Children’s Stories Gets a Kickstart

The Philippines has 181 languages yet most children’s stories in the Philippines are written in only 2 languages, Tagalog and English. Sari-Sari Storybooks has Kickstarted a project to bring those under-represented Philippine language groups life through children’s stories. We interview Christina Newhard about the project.

Nelson:  How and why did you create Sari-Sari Storybooks?

Christina:  The Philippines just doesn’t get enough love, or it’s complexity is misunderstood. There’s a long history of devaluing Filipino culture, from Spanish and American colonization, and negative stereotyping towards Filipinos continues today (see: Mail Order Family). There’s also a legacy of Philippine invisibility — we blend in a little too well. I wanted to make something positive to push back against that. Children’s stories are so visually striking and imaginative, they’re a good medium to influence not only children, but the adults who buy books for them.

I’m a graphic designer by profession (or type nerd, if you will). So, I think in problem-solving terms, and designing books and sourcing printing are familiar to me. Sari-Sari Storybooks is essentially my answer to a design problem.

I was also lucky to meet Alyssa Sarmiento-Co early on in developing the project. She did some strategic consulting work to shape my thinking, and came up with the brilliant name, Sari-Sari Storybooks (a pun on “sari-sari store,” which are variety stores found in every part of the Philippines, usually run by women).

Why a focus on Philippine languages?  How does Sari-Sari Storybooks help to strengthen the Filipino culture?

Well, the short answer is I’m half-Filipino and was born in the Philippines. I’m very proud of that, and want to support my motherland.

I’m also fascinated by literature and language. It’s striking to me that we’re currently in a global language crisis. About half of the world’s 7,000 languages are now endangered. If you believe that language holds information about history and biodiversity, or can shape our future realities, that potential loss is troubling.

Because the Philippines is one of the world’s most language diverse countries (depending on the criteria, it’s ranked #12 or #25 out of 235 countries), supporting Philippine languages is globally relevant. When people realize that, it also opens them up to seeing the Philippines in a new way.

Sari-Sari Storybooks are tools to support language transmission. We’re targeting just a few of the 181 languages in the Philippines (Ivatan, Cebuano, Chavacano,  Waray, Meranaw, and Ayta at the moment). They could be used as part of a mother tongue curriculum in schools. Because they’re also in English, they can also be enjoyed by young readers around the world as fun Filipino stories — perhaps the first stories with Filipino heroes that they’ll read.

You’ve already self-funded the digital versions of 3 stories over the past 4 years but now you are looking to go to print with these stories. Tell us about your Kickstarter project. What will the funds raised help accomplish if your goal is met? Are there special rewards for Philippine-based backers?

Printing physical books is very expensive, and isn’t something I can fund myself for the series. The first story, Melo the Umang-Boy (the Ivatan story), has already gone to the printer, and the digital versions of these books don’t need additional funding to produce. This Kickstarter is raising funds for the printing of books two and three, the Cebuano and Chavacano stories: Kalipay and the Tiniest Tiktik, and Amina and the City of Flowers.

Philippines-based backers will receive 2-for-1 copies, of the Philippine printing, for any printed book pledges. For example, if a backer pledges the $10 level for 1 printed book but lives in the Philippines, that backer will receive 2 printed books. If a backer pledges the $30 level for 3 printed book but lives in the Philippines, that backer will receive 6 printed books, etc.

If you are able to meet your funding goal, will there be additional stretch goals?

Definitely. It’s my goal to donate about 1,000 books to the Philippine partners. It would also help immensely to have a marketing budget (for book reviews, event planning, updating the website, creating book trailers, promotional materials, etc). Additional funding will help me move the project along faster.


How many copies do you hope to print from the project?  Is there a plan for distribution of the print copies in the U.S. and Philippines?

I’m planning a print run of 1,500 copies for the U.S. edition, and 1,500 for the Philippine edition. I’m currently speaking with a Philippine distributor, and am looking for a U.S. distributor to handle the orders and fulfillment.

In the U.S., Arkipelago Books (San Francisco), and Philippine Expressions Bookshop  (Los Angeles), have agreed to carry Sari-Sari Storybooks. I’ve also reached out to community organizations like the Filipino School of New York-New Jersey and Ivatan USA, who we’ll partner with on book events. Jennifer Quiambao, the Sari-Sari Storybooks Library Liason, is also working on connecting with public libraries, to make these books accessible in the U.S.

In the Philippines, we’re partnering with Library Renewal Partnership, the Soar High Foundation of Lanao, and the Batanes Department of Education to make the books available to children, outside of bookstores.

And finally, if the Kickstarter project can become fully funded, do you hope to continue expanding the stories and print beyond what your currently have in the works?  What other things might we see in the future from Sari-Sari Storybooks?

There are three more stories in the production queue, for Waray, Meranaw, and Ayta stories, hopefully to come to market in late 2017/early 2018. I’m also exploring creating video games based on the stories with Maureen Roble, a game designer.


Click here to support the Kickstarter project.