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Read to lead

Canvas, an NGO whose mandate is to instill among children a love for books and reading, collaborates for the first time with National Artist BenCab to produce its latest title

Images by Noel Pabalate

Canvas, a non-government organization whose mandate is to spread the love for reading among Filipino children, has produced a new title, its 20th children’s book, with no less than National Artist for Visual Arts Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera as one of its collaborators.

Simply dubbed as BenCab’s Activity Book for Children, the P300 book follows in the heels of Nadia and the Blue Stars, an earlier book by Francesca Nicole Chan Torres, which Gigo Alampay, founder and executive director of Canvas, credits for helping kids caught in such disasters as Supertyphoon “Yolanda” and the Zamboanga siege cope. This time, Canvas has tapped teacher Karen Foronda to write the text and develop all the activities in BenCab’s book, including sections for coloring, find-the-word puzzles, and even paper doll cutouts inspired by BenCab’s women images on canvas.

National Artist for Visual Arts Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera (Manila Bulletin)

National Artist for Visual Arts Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera (Manila Bulletin)

“For many of the children who will be receiving this book, it will be the first ever book they will own,” said Alampay during a recent book launch at the Peninsula Manila. “It’s a special experience both for us and the book’s recipients because with it is a hope that one of its artworks and activities will inspire a child to someday make the world a better place even in his or her own small community.”

For every book sold, Canvas will donate two copies to young readers. Some of the books are intended for public school libraries, but a bulk of them will be given to poor children, especially in remote provinces, for them to bring home. Of the 15,000 copies of the book it initially published, Canvas plans to sell 3,000 copies to the public and give away 12,000 copies to charity.

BenCab, who collaborated with Canvas before in their other programs, was more than happy to lend pro bono some of his most iconic artworks to the book, which tackles in English such topics as the environment, Philippine weather, and even heroism. Every short topic, including monsoon rains and floods, comes with a corresponding image of a BenCab painting. Such is the range of his body of work that he didn’t have to paint any new artwork for the book.

“The gender-neutral book’s target readers are from six to 10, but there are activities in it even for kids as old as 12,” said Alampay. “It’s our belief at Canvas that books have a way of empowering children beyond the book itself. A good book has the power to bring them to a place of imagination and inspiration.”

Statistics reveal that 50 percent of those who enter Grade 1 in the Philippines won’t be able to finish high school, Alampay added. He and his collaborators at Canvas believe that even if these children drop out of school, they would remain curious and empowered as long as reading has become a life-long habit.

Canvas’ long-term goal is to publish a million copies of various books in its growing list. So far, it has published and distributed close to 20,000 free books. The Romeo Forbes Children’s Story Writing Program, its flagship program, involves working with an artist. Whatever painting the artist produces will be uploaded on the Internet for Filipino writers to write stories on. The winning story will be turned by Canvas into a book to be illustrated by the same artist.

“It’s not enough that kids learn how to read,” Alampay said. “They also have to learn how to love books because reading is something they should do for the rest of their lives.