Every third Tuesday of July, the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY), the organization committed to the development of children’s literature in the Philippines, leads the celebration of National Children’s Book Day, commemorating the anniversary of the publication of Jose Rizal’s The Monkey and the Turtle in Trubner’s Oriental Record in London.
Rizal’s The Monkey and the Turtle is said to be the first illustrated story for children. A draft of the story is scribbled on an album belonging to Juan Luna’s wife Paz Pardo de Tavera. The story is based on a Filipino fable about the silly monkey and a clever turtle and is an elementary school staple in the Philippines. In fact, one of my fondest memories of grade school is connected to this story. In second grade, this was our class’s piece for Sabayang Pagbigkas (class oratorical contest) on Linggo ng Wika, with half the class playing “Pagong” (turtle) and the other half playing “Matsing” (monkey). Hahaha, I was in the monkey group and I still remember the very emphatic “Tatadtarin kita nang pinong-pino!” (I will chop you into tiny pieces!).