Filipino Fright

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With the two long weekends coming up, I’ve been lining up my Halloween reads to count down to the end of this frightful month, when I can finally read without interruptions.

I’ll start you off with a couple new offerings that come right in time for the season, Tahanan Books’ not-so-scary Ma-Me-Mi-Mumu! by Jomike Tejido, and All & Sundry’s hair-raising Kaba: 50 Maikling Kuwento ng Kababalaghan at Katatakutan!!! by Yvette Tan, illustrated by Nelz Yumul.

I was excited to get Ma-Me-Mi-Mumu ever since it was officially announced both by Tahanan and Jomike, and with a trailer like that (watch it!), who wouldn’t be? I got myself a copy at the last book fair, where it was launched.

Ma-Me-Mi-Mumu! is a lovely picture book that features little Sophia, who imagines seeing mumu (monsters) in her house. Her grandfather, Lolo Nanding, allays her fears and gives Sophia some suggestions on how she can overcome her fear of monsters.

Jomike Tejido is one of the most prolific children’s book creators in the country and one of the very few who dare take on the dual role of writer and illustrator at the same time. I’ve known Jomike personally for a while now — I first encountered him as a guest lecturer in my illustration elective back in college, and later on we worked together as officers of children’s illustrator group Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan, and were part of the Philippine representation to the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore a couple of years back.

In general I have a lot of trouble reviewing books of people I know personally, but I have no qualms in recommending this book. Told from Sophia’s point of view, the story unfolds in Filipino verse with a parallel English translation (by Fran Ng, and it’s well done, too). Light and lilting, it’s a joy to read in either language, and I like how it employs humor not to belittle the child’s very real fears, but uses humorous situations to diffuse them. It’s also a great introduction to creatures of Filipino lower mythology: the tikbalang, tiyanak, aswang, kapre, manananggal, and several others, and there’s a handy guide at the end of the book to the creatures and their distinguishing characteristics.

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“Pag may kumatok na tikbalang
huwag magulantang.
Sa halip, bigyan ng damo at tsaa
para bumango naman ang hininga.

If a tikbalang knocks on the door,
be not afraid. He is your guest.
Offer him tea and hay
to freshen his breath!”

And while Jomike has gone through a wide variety of illustration styles in the scores of books he has created, I’m personally loving the watercolors he’s done for his latest crop of books. Soft and highly detailed, I love how the illustrations in Ma-Me-Mi-Mumu echo the interplay of light and darkness in the theme, and how they¬† convey humor but tug at the heart at the same time.

Production value is also at its finest: a spot-laminated cover, excellent paper stock, and mighty fine colors at P195; but I have to say I’d I’d have easily bought this book in hardcover, too, because it’s just so lovely!

IMG_0195Got my book signed by Jomike at the MIBF!

Meanwhile, All & Sundry Books’ Kaba: 50 Maikling Kuwento ng Kababalaghan at Katatakutan!!! packs a wallop for such a small volume. I should have heeded the warning on the back cover, because, gaah, this flash fiction collection swings from ghastly to grotesque to hair-raising at a turn of the page.

KABA _ 4.5x6 _ 96pp

Horror is a state of mind, the book proposes in the first few pages, and the flash horror fiction concept puts this to test.

Yvette Tan masterfully spins some seriously scary yarns. The stories are divided into four different sections according to theme: “Labis” (excess) tells of love transcending boundaries of life and death, sanity and insanity, the normal and the criminal. “Bayad” underscores retribution, depicting people getting¬† just desserts (well, most of the time, anyway). “Tiempo” delves into chance encounters with what appear to be everyday objects, while “Ligalig” features stories of restless souls.

The stories are in Filipino, conversational in tone, and each story takes up either one or two palm-sized pages, often with a sinister twist, or leaving the reader to draw their own inferences as to what happens next in the story. Illuminated by striking and graphic two-tone illustrations by Nelz Yumul (book design by Jordan Santos), the stories deliver just the right push to set off the readers’ fears, and they prove exactly what the book sets out to propose: that the imagination is the scariest thing.

Perfect for Halloween, I must say.

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Kaba: 50 Maikling Kuwento ng Kababalaghan at Katatakutan!!! review copy courtesy of Tahanan Books.

Ma-Me-Mi-Mumu (P195) and Kaba: 50 Maikling Kuwento ng Kababalaghan at Katatakutan!!! (P150) are available at National Book Store and Powerbooks branches.

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