I knew I’d be out of town for the launch of “All About the Philippines” (2 pm, Aug 15 at National Book Store Glorietta), so I took the opportunity of talking to the author and illustrator — Gidget Jimenez and Kora Dandan Albano to learn more about the
It’s always interesting to find out the story behind a book, and this was no exception — many thanks to Kora Dandan Albano for her email correspondence, and Gidget for a lovely first meeting!
Five years in the making
Back in 2010, Gidget received an email from Tuttle. “It was out of the blue. I got an email from this publisher in the States asking if I wanted to do a book about the Philippines,” she narrates. “They said it would be quite comprehensive, and that they would require me to drop all other projects and [make me] exclusive for three books.”
Gidget was reluctant to accept, and told Tuttle she couldn’t commit to three books all at once. She even wondered how they managed to find her.
“They said I came highly recommended by the editorial staff. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, so I told them there were many other authors they could tap,” she continues. “I didn’t know if they were bidding, but they said no, if I didn’t want to do it, that’s when they would try to find another author.”
I gave them my deal-breakers, notes Gidget. “First, I will only commit to one book, not three. Second, I don’t really like the template of the series — would you consider making it creative non-fiction? The main premise for the book is what it’s like to be a child growing up in the Philippines, and I wanted to weave a story into that. And last, I needed to touch on three issues that were important to me: one in ten kids are living in OFW families, which affects the structure of the Filipino family; second, the conflict in Mindanao; and third, the depletion of our natural resources.”
Two years later, Tuttle got in touch with Kora, who had already previously worked with Tuttle.
“Tuttle editor, Terri Jadick, who is based in the US, emailed me in January 2012 to ask if I would consider the project. According to her,’Your work has been just right for us in past books, and I feel sure that it’s right for this project,’ ” Kora notes. “Of course, I said yes right away. I have done two books with Tuttle before, Filipino Friends (2006) and Filipino Celebrations (2012) –both written by Liana Romulo, whom I met thru my friend Joanne de Leon.”
Gidget recounts her inspiration for the book: “It was a trip that I took with my grandfather when I was six or seven. We were moving to Malaysia — we didn’t grow up here — and my grandfather decided that my brother and I should see the Philippines before we left. So he took us on this boat with all these senior citizens. They would play mah jong, and we would stop at every major port for two months, and we went to all these cities. I told my kids that someday I would write about that.”
Gidget adds that the characters are inspired by my family. “My sister is married to a Filipino-Chinese. I was born in Cebu, my son’s name is Jaime — I just put elements of my life in it. I had people who grew up in those places authenticate it, so it would show what it’s really like to live [in that part of the country.] These are stories of real kids.”
Gidget confirms that there was extensive planning for “All About the Philippines.” First Gidget and the editorial team had to define the topics to be covered in the book.
“It took us a year,” Gidget reveals. “I proposed all of it — I gave them an outline and they had theirs. We merged the two outlines, and had it approved by the editorial board. The other books in the series are really non-fiction; this was the first time there was a thread [to tie the whole book together], and the story brings them all together in the end.”
The actual writing took Gidget another year. “I would have deadlines, spread out. They gave me the word count and I would trim it myself — no matter what work I do, I revise it — in fact, redo it completely — exactly three times,” Gidget narrates.
Gidget notes that she had built up a library of resources because of her work on this book. “I had ten books for every single topic in the book! I ended up having a whole Filipiniana library. I would go to university presses, I would go to libraries and dig up old books that were out of print.”
To complete the process, Gidget also had a local expert go through the manuscript. “I worked with Kiko Benitez, president of Philippine Women’s University, to check the facts for me. “
Another challenge Gidget encountered was trimming down what went into the book. “We had so much content that we had to compromise.” Gidget says. “I submitted a lot of songs and games and crafts, but we didn’t have enough space. There were also topics I wanted to write about that got vetoed, in keeping with the tone and target audience of the book as well as the format of the series.”
Gidget also shared an anecdote on the recipes to be found in the book — she developed and kitchen-tested them herself! “I tested lots of different recipes and picked the ones I liked the most. The challenge was to simplify them — the publisher requested readily available ingredients and instructions that a young reader would be able to follow, so I had to modify the recipes to accommodate that.”
Kora and the editor, Terri, had a working plan, essentially a four page outline that showed the flow of the text and a loose table of spreads and Kora’s own ideas for the illustrations. When Kora received the draft of the text via email, she printed it out and did rough thumbnails to guide her in doing the pencil sketches.
“I did pencil studies for the three main characters and sent them to Terri for feedback, which she shared with Gidget. They were both happy with the study so I proceeded to do the pencils for the spreads,” narrates Kora. “I worked on this book one spread at a time because almost each spread has a different topic. After two or three spreads, I showed them to Terri for comments.”
In choosing which parts of the text to illustrate, Kora determined the main points of the text and did major illustrations for them. “I also took note of some details that I think will add fun to the book if visualized. I even added some spot illustrations not mentioned in the text (e.g. taka, palayok and trumpo on Games we Play page),” Kora states.
For the final art, Kora transferred the pencil drawings on fine watercolor paper with the help of a lightbox, adjusting the drawings based on her photo references, then painting them in using Winsor & Newton and Holbein watercolors.
“With illustrations like this, I spend longer hours on the pencil sketches than the actual painting — for me there is no substitute for a good drawing,” she says.
Kora worked on a total of 149 illustrations for the whole book, including the spots. It took her four months to do the pencil sketches and another 16 months to complete the colored illustrations. Aside from the sheer volume of work, which she had to juggle with being a full-time mother to her homeschooling teens, Kora’s biggest challenge came in the form of a wrist injury.
“My wrist got injured the day after I signed the contract. Three months later, my hand was still not functioning so I suggested to Terri that they get a replacement artist because I was worried about the contract and the delay. I didn’t want to keep them in limbo,” Kora shares. “In response, she emailed me this: ‘Before I do a search, are you sure you don’t want to give it some more time? Delaying a publication is not a difficult thing, and has been done for reasons far less valid than yours, so I just want to be sure that you are sure. You are wonderfully considerate.’ “
The tendonitis kept Kora from doing a single decent drawing for more than six months, and when she finally started the illustrations, she was only able to work about four hours a day before her wrist started to hurt.
“Because of the publisher’s consideration, I was able to give my best to each one of the illustrations without worrying or hurrying to the finish line,” Kora quips.
And much like Gidget’s kitchen tests, Kora had to develop the instructions for a craft activity in the book: Make a Parol. Concerned that a traditional parol with all its trimmings would be difficult for the readers, Terri and Kora considered a simpler version using plastic straws, ribbon, and staple wire.
“I was worried the instructions wouldn’t work and the kids would be frustrated, so I made a prototype. And it worked! This prototype was the basis for the illustrations on the page.
While they never met in person to discuss the project, Gidget and Kora were in constant communication with the editorial team and eventually worked together during the editing stage.
“We had no interaction while we completed our work on the book,” Gidget notes, “but it’s uncanny — so much of the text is based on my experience and my family, and Kora’s illustrated scenes looked like they came right out of our family pictures!”
Both Gidget and Kora enjoyed their experience working on the book.
“We were a great team! During the edits that the three of us worked together via email, proofreading and making sure everything is in place. I really appreciate it that Terri involved me from the planning stage up to the edits. Terri’s an extraordinary editor and project coordinator, very kind, patient, involved and considerate. “
“Despite the amount of time it took to finally launch this book, I had a wonderful time collaborating with the talented team behind it,” remarks Gidget. “Although I have never met her in person, I feel like Terri Jadick, who was our editor in the U.S is now a dear friend. My local consultants Charlotte and Kiko Benitez and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering so many interesting facets of everyday life in the Philippines from the point of view of our characters. Kora is such an inspiration as an artist! It was a joy to work with everyone on this book.”
Overall it was a great experience, Kora notes. “I feel my work was really appreciated, and I appreciated the feedback from the publisher: ‘Your contribution extended far beyond the illustrations—a lot of fun information was added because of how you conceived the images, how you created the map, d so many other things that make the book that much more interesting and lively’.”
Gidget likens completing this book to getting another degree. “I started this book as my eldest son was graduating from high school. My son has just recently graduated from college. I feel like I am also “graduating” as we finally launch this book. I hope you appreciate what we have tried to present about the Philippines. It really is just the tip of the ‘volcano’ (for we don’t have icebergs)!”
Here’s my photo with Gidget, and my *half* signed copy of the book. I’ve sent it along for signing tomorrow, so at least my book will make it to the launch even if I can’t!
Congratulations, Gidget and Kora! :)
All about the Philippines is exclusively available at National Book Store. ~P550.