Support Our New Sawaga River Press Book!

Happy Fall, Friends, Family, and Kapwa!

I am so excited to share with you the campaign for our new picture book, Mungan and Her Lola! This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of how a young Filipina girl lovingly uses Filipino rituals of care to help her grandmother recover from grief and sadness. 

(Illustration by Happy Garaje)

Click here to visit our campaign site and support Mungan and Her Lola by funding us. As I’ve learned from our successful campaigns for Mama,Mama, Know What I Like? and Jack & Agyu, supporters like you are essential to getting the book published and producing enough copies that will continue to sell to new readers for years. 

Please also share this campaign link with your family, friends, coworkers, and social media networks. It’s been so rewarding to connect with new readers who have come to our books because of referrals by friends and family and to share our stories with an ever-expanding community. 

Mungan and her Lola emphasizes the importance of celebrating the Filipino collective rituals of care; offers ways to remember our ancestral practices, language, food, music, and oral stories. It also encourages young people to engage their elders, hear their stories, and share in their care. 
Mungan and her Lola is written by Justine Villanueva in three languages—Binukid, Bisaya-Cebuano, and English—and vibrantly illustrated by Cebu-based illustrators, Happy Garaje.

Sawaga River Press is the publishing arm of a California nonprofit, Libro Para Sa Tanan, A Literacy Project. Sawaga River Press creates children’s books that celebrate Filipino experiences and culture, especially those that are rooted in the Filipino and Bukidnon indigenous values.
With help from supporters like you, Sawaga River Press published Mama, Mama, Know What I Like? in 2016 and Jack & Agyu in 2019, which won the Publishing Professionals Network Book Show’s Best Design Award in 2020 as well as the Independent Book Publishers Network Benjamin Franklin Gold Award in 2020.
We are putting our experience to work for Mungan and her Lola and are committed to getting our beautiful book into as many young hands as possible in 2022. With your support, this will be our most successful campaign to date.
Thank you for your support and for being a part of our mission to tell these Filipino stories.

Once again, the campaign link:

In solidarity and with much love,


June 2021 Update

Dear Friends,

How did this happen??? Half of the year has gone–it’s summer already!– and we’ve not posted any updates!

What have we been doing? A few things here and there. Mainly, I’ve been focusing on writing picture book since I joined this year’s 12×12 challenge (to write one picture book story each month).

Briefly, here are highlights of the last few months:

In March, we interviewed with Rise and Shine with FilAm Creative. Thank you, Ed, Rex, Kyme, and Ronnie for such a fun hour talking about publishing, among many other things.

In April, I once again spoke at the University of Texas. Like last time, the freshmen students were attentive and had deep questions about storytelling. I even got to talk about decolonizing publishing! (I’ll have to ask for permission to post the video, if possible. Stay tuned.)

The following two videos are not specifically Jack & Agyu related but they’re very much in the spirit of resistance and liberation so I will add them here. I celebrated Cesar Chavez Day with a short shout-out to the Fil-Am manongs who collaborated with Cesar Chavez to bring about the creation of the United Farm Workers Union. This was part of the City of Davis’ Cesar Chavez Day Celebration. Thank you, City of Davis, for including me!

AND I also was part of a webinar panel on Ethnic Studies. However, my mic wouldn’t work so I ended up doing a separate segment towards the end of the video. Check it out here! Vanguard Webinar: Yolo County Ethnic Studies Public Forum (Video) | Davis Vanguard Thanks to the organizers at the Davis Vanguard for including me.

In May, I was asked to give a keynote speech for the Bukidnon State College’s celebration of International Language Month.

In June, to celebrate Philippine Independence Day, I read Jack & Agyu and Lynnor did a craft session ( kalasag making) for the Bergenfield Public Library in New Jersey.

There are a few more events lined up and I’m looking forward to all of them. As well as to summer!

Until next time! Thanks, as always, for the support.

(P.S. As I review this post, I realize I need to change my video background (and maybe get a haircut?) ! I love that mat, though…)

Happy New Year 2021 Update

Happy New Year, Friends!

I realize as I write this that it’s already FEBRUARY!!!

So here we are. Corona virus is still wreaking havoc and we’re still being asked to do our part by avoiding large gatherings, especially indoors, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks. In the midst of this pandemic and all other unsavory goings on (e.g. attempts to overthrow the government and continued spewing of hate by racist and white supremacists), I’m feeling hopeful now that the vaccine is here and the Biden-Harris administration is in place. (Yey, Kamala! Speak!)

First, a quick look back for some book and press related highlights in November, December, and January.

In November, I was asked by Prof. Padilla of the University of Texas, Austin to speak about Jack & Agyu and social justice in children’s books and publishing. It was a nice change of pace. I love reading for kids (and their parents) and talking about the writing and publishing journey with them. But discussing with college students who are taking a course on literature and social justice is a whole different (not higher, mind you) level. I’m feeling grateful for that engagement…and for being asked to return to the spring class this April!

In December, we once again joined the Bay Area’s Social Justice Books Fair. I missed being around and getting to converse with readers looking for locally created social justice related books. However, hats off to the organizers who did a good job of substituting the fair with a virtual reading hosted by the inquisitive Mr. Limata. As of this writing, I can’t find the link to the actual interview with him so, for now, I’ll link to the FB event and flyer.

In late December, International Examiner, the oldest and largest nonprofit, pan-Asian Pacific American publication in the Northwest, positively reviewed Jack & Agyu. Antonia Dorn, the reviewer, wrote, “This book says from cover to cover that our culture and history matter, providing the reader with ways to continue the research and conversation with our youth.”

Officially, for us at Sawaga River Press, not much happened in January 2021 as we quietly celebrated the coming of the new year and dealt with the news of the turmoil of the dissidence in the Capitol. However, our gears are in motion and we are finalizing plans for our next project. We are also starting to reach out to the community for potential collaborators. If you know an illustrator who might be interested in working with us, do let us know!

Until next update! Be safe and well.

October 2020 Update: Fil-Am History Month

Hello, Friends,

It’s the end of October! How did time fly so fast? Our last post was in July!

I found a draft for our August post and it went something like this: “August is about to end. What a month it has been! What a year it continues to be. We thought it couldn’t get worse with the twin pandemics. But then the triple digit heatwaves came, lightnings struck, and the whole state of California went on fire…”

No wonder we skipped the August post.

Then virtual school/distance learning started, bringing many to tears. Students, parents, teachers, and everybody else who cares about learning- none was spared. We’re all still scrambling around for better ways to go to school (and work).

No wonder we skipped the September post, too.

Then October came around, full of hope and joy as we celebrated Filipinx American History Month. Aptly, the theme this year is Fil-Am History of Activism. Earlier in the month, we were invited to join South San Francisco Library’s celebration with other children’s books authors, publishers, and illustrator, hosted by San Mateo County Poet Laureate, Aileen Cassinetto. It was a totally fun hour so please check it out!

We were also invited by the Daly City Library to join Daly City’s Kasayahan celebration as well as to an hour of reading and conversation with Librarian Celina Tirona. That, too, was fun!

Meraki Radio also invited us to talk about the press and how we are celebrating activism. I happened to be in Morro Bay for a family vacation so I got to talk about the significance of Morro Bay in our Fil-Am history. (There is a Morro Bay commemoration of the first recorded arrival of our Filipino ancestors back in 1587 (!!!) as part of the Manila galleon trade. It is believed that during this time, some Filipinos who were brought on board to serve on the ships may have jumped ship and either got killed or became part of the indigenous communities where they landed.)

With the combination of FAHM events and other personal celebrations (e.g. my birthday, wedding anniversary, creation of our own private school, work), October sure feels like a winner. So before it ends, I want to send my gratitudes!

I’ll be speaking at the University of Texas next week, via zoom, of course! That’s going to be a new territory for me—a university setting AND “in” Texas! I’ll let you know how that goes.

And, of course, there’s the election. PLEASE VOTE if you still haven’t, because your life depends on it.

Until next post!

July 2020: Supporting the BLM Movement and the Bukidnon Lumad Artists

Hello, Friends and Family,

We hope you’re still keeping yourselves healthy during this pandemic while finding ways to show your solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement towards the abolition of our racist systems and creation of life-affirming systems of care.

Just a quick check-in since our last post in May.

In June, we pledged all our proceeds to support the struggle for social justice. Half of our June proceeds went to NorCal Resist Activist Bail and ICE Bond Fund. NorCal Resist is a Sacramento based grassroots organization focused on fighting oppression and empowering our communities through shared resources and support. The other half of our proceeds went to our local ApoYolo Fund which gives financial support to undocumented immigrants in Yolo County who are hit hard by the pandemic. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE who purchased our books!

Ongoing this month of July is our new fundraising efforts to help the Bukidnon Lumad artists and artisans. We are once again collaborating with the Bukidnon Studies Center at the Bukidnon State University to make this happen. Specifically, we are supporting writers and illustrators so they can publish their own books on indigenous stories. Please support this cause and either purchase our books or share about our fundraising. THANK YOU!

Things are a bit quiet for now. We have a scheduled reading with Eastwind Bookstore in August and we have been invited to read at the South San Francisco Public Library. We will see what the rest of summer brings. It’s a blessing to be able to take things slowly and to have the time to reflect on the momentous shifts that are occurring.

Oh, one last thing. We received the trophy from the Independent Book Publishers Association for winning the Benjamin Franklin Gold Award. Here’s Jack looking so jazzed upon receiving the award!

Until next update!

Be well!

May 2020: Awards + Readings

Hi, Friends,

We hope you’re all staying healthy and sane while sheltering in place!

In the midst of this pandemic, we have some good news.

Last month, we shared that we’re one of the three finalists for the Benjamin Franklin Award by the Independent Book Publishers Association. Well, we won the GOLD! It’s a crazy thing for us to receive this award since we never expected anything out of our entry. We joined the contest just to see what it’s like. And now here we are–gold stickers on our books, a trophy for the press.

Here’s the link to our acceptance of the award:

And here’s the link to an article featuring our press’ publishing journey (at the very end):

Additionally, the Philippine Inquirer ran an article on our awards including the one we received from the Publishing Professional Network’s Book Show last February. Here is the link:

The Filipino Channel’s Bahay Book Club also invited us to do a reading for their programming and we happily obliged! It was so much fun learning about the intricacies of recording. I discovered that I tend to lean my head to the left (or is it the right? I’m not sure!!! The camera is tricky!!!) and that I blink a lot (but when I try not to, I have this crazy look). The cool thing is that I’ve fallen in love with recording and now we’ve got ideas to make mini-videos to help with the book, as well as curriculum for adults and kids to talk about the big and small topics in the books. Watch out for those!

Here’s the link to the TFC reading:

Finally, the Cesar Chavez Elementary School Climate and Ethnic Studies Committees invited us to read the book for the elementary students and host a couple of Q&A sessions to celebrate May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This, too, was fun! We got to share about the publishing journey, from writing the story (e.g. the inspiration of the story, the story of the warrior Agyu within the story), to the illustrating and art directing processes, to crowdfunding, printing, and getting the books out. We got to share about the lessons of Kapwa (i.e. honoring our interconnection), indigeneity, the importance of sharing our stories, getting to know our ancestors, and a ton more. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to get in front of the kids to talk about these things because these are topics not usually covered within the school’s curriculum. We hope other (Davis) schools invite us to do the same at their schools, not just for APAHM but to build towards a mandated curriculum that includes Ethnic Studies.

To be honest, all the attention this month has felt a bit too much for us. Our inclination is to shy away from the spotlight and play the awards down. But then we realized that this is not about us per se. This is about getting our community’s stories out, continuing on the work of resistance against and liberation from oppression, honoring the land and our ancestors, and spreading love. We are just a channel through which the spirit of Kapwa flows.

Lastly, we are working on an adventure game based on Jack & Agyu. We are super excited!

We are beyond ecstatic and very motivated to continue on with our small press’ mission to publish children’s books that feature Filipino American kids in the diaspora!

Thank you all for your support! We’re at if you’d like to check us out and/or order our books.

In solidarity!

March 2020 Update: Another Award!

Hello, Friends and Supporters,

We hope you are all keeping yourselves healthy and sane as much as you can. This truly is an exceptional time in our lives, one that will leave long lasting impacts to the way we live, think, act, love, and care for each other.

Despite the grimness of the current situation, we do have some happy news to share: Jack & Agyu is one of the three finalists of the 32nd Independent Book Publishers Association Book Awards, Children’s Book Category!!!

Here’s the link to the announcement:

The winners will be announced in May 2020 but even if we don’t win, we’re still so so ecstatic!

I’m still in disbelief as I write this post. I know we don’t need awards—it is enough to know that our books are much appreciated and loved by the kids (and parents) in our Filipino and Fil-Am community—but it feels mighty good to know that our hard work is being recognized by publishing organizations! We are a small and independent publisher and we are still figuring our way in the publishing world. It feels good to know that we’re doing something right and that some in the publishing world are noticing. It is inspiring and motivating us to make more books!

A few weeks ago, our collaborators at the Bukidnon Studies Center put together a turn-over ceremony to celebrate the arrival of the books. I’m told it was a beautiful ceremony, one that the community showed up and expressed appreciation for. To my collaborators in Bukidnon, I hope you know how deeply grateful we are that you are in this journey with us, making books, getting our stories out, and making our experiences known and celebrated. To more books!

Lastly, a few pictures from our launch with the Tagalog Project. Again, so much gratitude and love from me to everyone who showed up, listened to the story with open hearts, shared their own stories of empowerment, made anting-antings, and enjoyed champorado with me. And thank you to Clarice Aguillera for making it happen. More power to your Tagalog Project, Clarice!

We had other events planned to launch Jack & Agyu but those are now on hold as we navigate this corona virus situation. I’ll keep you all posted.

In the meantime, keep a safe distance from each other, still be social, and wash your hands!

Happy 2020! + Book Show Award + February Launch

Happy New Year, Kapwa!

How is it already February? It’s been rough with the flu and the winter blues but we can feel the spring coming soon so we’re hopeful.

We have a few things to share.

First, we won the Publishing Professionals Network’s 48th Annual Book Show. Children’s Book Category. For a recap of the Book Show and the winners, check out:

With my friend, Barbara, who urged us to enter the contest
With David Zielonka, President, PPN

Second, we will be launching Jack & Agyu with the Tagalog Project at the Pinole Public Library on February 22, 2020. We will be serving champorado (YES!), making anting-anting, coloring books based on the story, and learning a Bisaya song. We would love it if you could join us!

We are planning more launching events for the year. We will keep you posted in case we make it to your area.

In the meantime, enjoy February!

Books Are Here + October Events

Hello, Everyone!

Happy November!

It’s been a busy October as we celebrated Filipino-American History Month and October 25th as Larry Itliong Day.  A quick recap is in order.

Jack & Agyu arrived in September, just in time for Jack’s 8th birthday. I was so nervous when I got the box- I almost didn’t want to open it. I was so so worried I’d find a glaring typo or something, even though we had checked and double, triple, quadruple checked the proofs. But of course my fears were unfounded. The book is beautiful and, unlike in my dream/nightmare, the pages have the words. Fittingly, Jack was the first person to officially read the finished book. He is mighty proud of “his” book.


A few days after, and without too much fanfare, Jack & Agyu debuted at the Filipino American Educators Association of California Conference, Equity Through Ethnic Studies: 50 Years of Fighting for Educational Justice. Much thanks to FAEAC for inviting me to showcase the books.


In October, we celebrated FAHM at the local Davis library with a screening of a documentary on the Delano Manongs, Larry Itliong, and their contribution to the formation of the United Farm Workers Union. The screening was followed by a discussion on writing and publishing by a panel of authors that included me, Reno Ursal, and R. Zamora Linmark. It was a well attended event- the halo-halo and the lumpia disappeared pretty quickly! Thanks to the Mary Stephens Library librarians Katrina and Joan, and Robyn Rodrguez of the UCD Bulosan Center for collaborating.


Then we were off to the Fil-Am International Book Festival in San Francisco. Thanks to Christina Newhard of Sari-Sari Press who organized the Children’s Corner readings and events. So cool to hear the very positive reaction to the book from kids and adults!


The weekend after, Mike and I attended the UndiscoveredSF event. And though the night was cold and the alley where we set up was pretty stinky, it was a fun time meeting more kids who checked out Jack & Agyu, hang out with our friend Gigi whom we had not seen for over 5 years, and talk shop with fellow Fil-Am small press publishers Christina Newhard (of Sari-Sari Press) and Gayle Romasanta (of Bridge + Delta Publishing).


At the end of the month, the rest of the books arrived! Just in time for my birthday. Woo-hoo!


And we asked our dear friend, Melissa Moreno, to help us give thanks to the Creator, and to everything and everyone that came together so that the books could arrive at this point in time and place; to ask the Creator for permission to continue on with our work of spreading our culture, identity, stories through this book; and to ask the Creator for the continued blessings as we continue on with our work. It was a simple occasion, attended only by my family, Melissa’s family, and my dad. It felt right. After the thanksgiving, Jack did the honor of cutting the cargo binding and opening the first box of books. My dad then stayed to help wrap the individual books and put them in envelopes to be shipped tomorrow to our crowdfunders. If you’re one of them, expect to see the book in the next two weeks.


What an exciting month it was! We’re looking forward to launching the book at different locations and times. We will keep you posted in case you can make it to one of them. We will also be setting it up so the books can be purchased via our website (our preference) and Amazon. This should be happening in the next week or so.

Also, we’re working on a website dedicated solely to the book. More about this soon.

In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the beautiful fall weather.

Thanks again for all the support. Till next update!