A Note from the Publisher

“I’d Rather Be the Ostrich”
A Reflection on 30 Years of Making Meaningful Books for Children

Looking back—watching my two grown sons go about their daily business—I find myself wishing I had had more children.

But wait.

That’s not quite right.

In essence, I have had more than my share of children. Come to think of it, I have had over a hundred of them, and I’m still counting….It’s easy to make a human being. All you need is nine months. Most books, when done right, take longer.

Every book Tahanan has published is a child to me. It is a child, born out of the imagination of the writer; elevated and embellished in delightfully unexpected ways by an illustrator; packaged into a pleasing form by the book designer; and tweaked, nudged, flopped, swapped, tossed, turned, pushed about, and whipped around by an editor, which is—as is often the case at our publishing house—me. When I die, this could be my epitaph:

Here lies dear Reni,
perfectly embalmed
and dressed in white.
If perchance
she’s not centered,
just move her
two nudges
to the right.

If today you asked me what it is I look for in a children’s book, I really couldn’t tell you. I could attempt to answer it this way: Tangentially, a true picture book is a garden of delights for the child, one she could stroll through for hours without tiring, one he could love so much they could fall down with gigil. There is a delicious shock to the system that short-circuits the brain when, as an editor, you encounter a manuscript or a series of illustrations that cause your heart to skip a beat. This is what a lifetime of experience leaves at your doorstep, like a hard-earned gift: intuition, a hunch of the gut, an enchanted feather floating in the air above you. You just know. After 38 years in the business, you can also sense when something looks off on the page. And this, too, is what persistence teaches. Like a bloodhound, you will find a way to make it right.

I was asked to write a message to commemorate Tahanan’s thirtieth anniversary. It’s hard to give an eagle’s-eye overview of the body of work we have achieved in three decades. It’s especially difficult when you have your head buried, like an ostrich, in the deep, shifting sands of making a book. (Oh, but it’s the finest sand—with bits of glass and grit and pebbles of every hue; it is sand one can sift and play in all day long, happily.) Spare me the overviews. I’d rather be burrowing down here in the marvelous sands, at the line level, close to images that need nudging and centering, servicing the story we want to tell, and tell well. I’d rather be the ostrich.

I remember when Mike Luz, who spearheaded a Dep Ed book incentive program, met with me many years ago to talk about my books. We met at a Pancake House in Manila and I arrived, breathless and excited, with a huge bayong of Tahanan titles (back then, all of our titles could still fit into one bayong). My arm ached from the weight of them. It didn’t matter. I was eager to show him the facets and features of every child, its imprimatur unique in the world. One by one we looked them over—these books—reveled in their fresh-smelling pages, celebrating the orchestrated miracle behind each one. I think the world became a better place that afternoon. Children and books make the world a better place. And they can change it, profoundly.

Reni Roxas
July 21, 2022
Makati City, Philippines

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