We recently talked with Yna Reyes, publishing and communications director at OMF Literature in the Philippines, about her recent book, her work with the non-profit Room to Read, and about her love of books and reading. Yna serves as secretary of MAI-Asia. She is also leading our April 13th webinar, “Don’t Look for Manuscripts, Look for Potential Local Authors.” Learn more and register to join us.
Tell us about the nonprofit Room to Read. What is it, and how are you involved in it?
Room to Read is an international organization for children’s literacy and girls’ education across Asia and Africa. In collaboration with local communities, partner organizations, and governments, Room to Read “develops literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and supports girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.”
In September 2019, Room to Read kicked off its “Philippines Children’s Book Publishing Project.” Four children’s book publishers were invited to collaborate in the creation of 20 picture books for beginning readers. The overarching theme was children’s rights and difficult issues they face.
OMF Literature is one of the four publishers, and I’m one of OMF Lit’s authors. All the authors and children’s book illustrators went through a rigorous one-week workshop. Imbisibol is the book I co-created with artist Mike Amante.
Why is reading important for developing children who will thrive both socially and intellectually?
Studies have shown that reading develops empathy in children. When they read stories, they encounter different characters who are facing and overcoming their battles. These characters may not be like our young readers, but our readers feel for them, accept them, and journey with them.
The more stories they read, the more personalities they get to know and understand. Reading lots of good stories helps children grow up to be adults who are socially well-adjusted and accepting of others.
Reading, especially of fiction, is a mental exercise that develops a child’s intellect, insight, and imagination. When a child recreates in his or her mind the universe that a skillful writer has woven in the story, he or she develops the capacity to imagine many possibilities and to think outside the box. We can expect these young readers to be our future critical thinkers, problem solvers, poets and storytellers, leaders, and catalysts of social change.
Why is it important for writers who are Christian to also write books/articles that aren’t explicitly Christian in nature?
I believe that all truth is from God. Writing that is winsome and authentic connects with readers. Writing that brings to light beauty, justice, freedom, and the issues that matter to people will surely get their attention and their trust. Writing that engages our culture with courage compels readers to take our message seriously. We need to build bridges that will lead people to the Good News. We can only do that by going mainstream and writing about matters that resonate with readers.
Young people are seeking truth, but they are suspicious of so-called truth-bearers. They don’t want to be told what to think and do. The challenge for Christian writers is not to be truth-bearers with all the answers, but to be fellow truth-seekers walking alongside with them, listening to their questions with genuine interest, and offering truthful answers with humility.
Let’s write about issues that are relevant to young people. Let’s excite their imagination about Jesus and the Kingdom of God without being preachy. This means we really have to work hard on our craft to create books and articles that are imaginative and creative, and delightful to read.
Tell us about Imbisibol. What is it about, and what do you hope readers will walk away with?
Imbisibol (Invisible) is about Botong, the eighth child in a family of nine. He craves the attention of his older siblings, but all of them are busy with their own activities. While his parents are away, Botong creates something special and goes to each of his siblings to show it. But no one seems to notice. This upsets and annoys him, and makes him wonder, “Am I invisible?” But Botong keeps on trying until everyone finally sees him and the surprise he created.
Imbisibol is a picture book for beginning readers. I wrote it for Filipino children, many who are in big families with scarce resources. Botong is every Filipino child trying to find his or her place in his or her own family. Through him, I want the young reader to know that he or she is important, that he or she deserves to be seen and heard, and that he or she has gifts that make him or her unique.
What encouragement would you give to children’s authors?
Writing for children is a vital work in the kingdom of God. Do it with commitment and excellence. With the stories you write, you can help shape the malleable hearts and minds of young readers. You can enrich their lives. You can lead them to Jesus, who truly cares for them. You can help them imagine a new heaven and new earth (which will come to pass in God’s perfect time).
Here are a few tips as you get started:
- Listen to the voice of the child in you.
- Listen to children, and respect their voice.
- Read as many children’s books as you can.
- Write, write, write. And learn the discipline of rewriting.
- Sharpen your craft through writing workshops. And be open to critique.
- Find a group (or create your own) of fellow writers who can meet regularly for encouragement and peer critiquing.
- Pray for your young readers.