Thursday, May 19, 2016

Rediscovering the Wonder of a Children's Storybook

I was overseas last week to conduct a training for those aspiring to write for children and young people. My co-trainer Emily Lim from Singapore is an award-winning children’s book author whose works have been translated into different languages. Naturally, she was tasked to share about writing children’s storybooks. My assignment was to teach the participants how to write devotional and personal experience articles.

            Although I came to the writers’ workshop as a trainer, I was expecting to learn more about writing children’s story from Emily. Many years ago, my first attempts in writing were stories for children. I attended workshops for writing for children and wrote stories soon after. Eagerly, I submitted them to a publisher but not one of the stories was turned into a book. I picked up the pieces of my broken ego, and mustered strength to write again for children. Satisfied by the fruit of my labor, I took another bold step: I entered a national contest. Sadly, the story didn’t impress the judges. I was so discouraged I stopped writing stories for children. Instead, I turned to writing magazine articles, curriculum, and radio scripts for children. Occasionally, I would write short stories for students as part of my textbooks, but I have given up hope of writing a storybook for younger kids.

            So at the workshop, I took notes of what my co-trainer shared about writing storybooks for children—the parameters of writing for different age groups, the classic story structure, “sins” to avoid in writing for children. There were also many books displayed at the training, and so I had the chance to feel once again the hard covers of a children’s book, feast on the splash of colors on its pages, and hear the rhythm of the words that were meticulously put together by the author. Each participant also shared the summary of the book they’ve read, and by one they came. The sense of wonder came. Pleasure made sure his presence was felt. That “aha!” moment finally arrived. The joy of reading and hearing a retelling of a children’s story was coming back to me. There I was, an adult rediscovering the wonder of a children’s storybook.

            There were times I choked when I heard about how a poor teddy bear longed to be loved, or how a rocking horse, when given a chance to be real, chose to remain a toy for a disabled friend. I surely identified with the fearful little seed and the worrisome fox who both had to go through unfamiliar situations. How can that story of trusting God through fear and change told in a child’s language also speak to an adult like me? That’s the power of a children’s story.

            I didn’t come out of the training with the resolve to pick up the pen, so to speak, and begin writing stories for children again. No, I came back with a renewed appreciation for children’s storybook writers like Emily and the others I know from the Philippines. I will, most probably, open another children’s storybook the next time I visit a bookstore, or maybe download an e-book. And then, as I read again, I hope the wonder returns. 

If you wish to read children's books published in the Philippines, I recommend books published by the Hiyas imprint of Omf Literature

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Your Purpose for This Generation

A friend passed away in her hospital bed last week. She was only 45. Too young to die in midlife, I lamented. She left three children who are all still going to school. She has dreams for her family and for herself, but now she wouldn't be able to fulfill them in this temporal setting. We who love her are somehow comforted when we try to see things through teary eyes of faith, believing in the wisdom of God's sovereign purpose.

Then I remembered a shepherd boy-turned-king named David who lived a full life: "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay" (Acts 13:36). King David conquered the city of Jerusalem and made it a flourishing capital; united the north and south kingdom into one Israel; drove away their many enemies; and paved the way for a succession of leadership over Israel and the building of the grand temple by his son Solomon. Most of us would be timid to compare our resume with the beloved king's curriculum vitae. I wouldn't; there's no comparison at all.

Yet reading a line from Samuel Bakutana's devotional article from Light for the Writer's Soul* sparked hope in me today. "Every Christian writer is a gift to his or her generation." Furthermore, he said, "We often underrate the greatness of God's writing gift in us...we often utilize that gift with slow speed, little passion and almost no urgency."

Though I have dedicated God's writing gift to me for His use, I feel guilty at times of not making the most of every opportunity to write more books, help an author reach more readers by translating his material, or work with a writer in polishing his or her manuscript. I allow myself to be distracted by scrolling down further and clicking more links on my Facebook. Or I take a break from the computer screen to focus on the TV screen and linger much longer. I blame lethargy for postponing a translation project that's long overdue. And I admit, sometimes multi-tasking didn't help accomplish more what I thought I could.

If I want to fufill my God-given purpose for this generation, I must use through God's grace what was entrusted to me--time, talent, treasure, things--while I'm still here on earth. In the end, we don't compare our accomplishments against our siblings or colleagues. We will be judged according to how faithful we have been in using our gifts to fulfill our purpose for this generation.

*Light for the Writer's Soul: 100 Devotions by Global Christian Writers is jointly published by Media Associates International and Armour Publishing. To order, please click on the links.

 How will you serve God and this generation effectively in today's turbulent times? Our Anchor in a World Adrift by Jon Hirst and Marlene Legaspi-Munar tackles seven things that are changing our world (refugee crisis, economic instability, disconnection in a digital world, shifting sexual morality, secularism, suicide, and the quest for spiritual home) and how you can make a difference. To order, click here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Slow Down

As cars and jeeps honk and snake their way to downtown, I silently sent a request. "Lord, please make this a quick trip." I recalled my itinerary for the day--pay bills, make deposits, buy groceries. I wanted to finish everything quickly so I can get back home and continue writing. But when I reached downtown, instead of going to the bank, I followed the alley leading to a cafe. I haven't had a full breakfast and my tummy wants to be filled.

I scanned the menu and ordered a sausage penne and lemon cucumber shake. I was hoping I could finish the brunch in a few minutes so I could then go to the bank, but I saw a reminder in front of the cash register: We slow-cook your meal so please bear with us. Oh, maybe that's one reason why the small restaurant has a shelf of books. So while waiting for my meal, I randomly picked one. The title is The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in  Love with The God Jesus Knows. I began to browse.

I surveyed the table of contents and saw that the last chapter has the most interesting title: How to Make a Pickle. It's subtitle gives a hint on what the chapter is about: Soul Training: Slowing Down. The author, James Bryan Smith, reminds us readers to slow down so we can get a clear perspective of things and hear from God. Actually, I've been planning to go on a personal retreat the next day. I've just been dispatched.

So I'm slowing down for a day or two. And yes, I'm enjoying the view.