July Updates

Hello, Friends,

July went by too quickly! So many fun summer trips.

But don’t be fooled. Even with the many camping trips we went on with our respective families, Lynnor and I managed to spend some time on the book. Twice in July we got together and talked about the changes we needed to do.

A major one was switching the place of the story from the Bay Area (represented by the bridge that brought to mind the Golden Gate Bridge) to Central California/Valley (represented by the Tower Bridge in Sacramento). Once we decided to do that, several other features had to be modified, as well.



Another feature we were playing with was meshing Jack’s imaginary worlds with the “real” world. That is still a work in progress.

We also looked at patterns for the floor tiles and the banig, a Filipino style woven mat. I have to admit that this was the most fun part of the talk. I see patterns and colors, especially the reds and oranges, and I get super energized.


We also looked at other books for inspiration. For example, we looked at Junot Diaz’ Islandborn for inspiration on how to add indoor plants.


At this point, we have set all the pages and we are moving on to color! We are chugging along!

Lynnor will be taking a break for the next several weeks and I will, too, as the beginning of school year nears.

Enjoy the rest of the summer! Thank you, as always, for the support! Until next post.

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Page Counting and Clothing

Hello, Friends!

Lynnor and I are on a roll! We’ve set the scenes and finalized the page counts.

I am making it sound like it was easy to get to this point. In a way it was. But it could have been harder.

I initially told Lynnor our book will be 32 pages. She created the thumbnails with 32 pages in mind. A few days after we looked over the thumbnails, I realized that I forgot (or just didn’t think!) to let her know that I needed four pages for translations, glossary, discussions about the Olaging epic, and a thank you wall. Lynnor calmly noted,”That’s a lot of pages…”

I looked into the cost of increasing the page counts and the answer I got was not ideal. Lynnor and I talked about it and she said she needed time to think about how to accommodate the four pages.

Fortunately, a few days after, Lynnor went to a workshop where she learned, among other things, how to maximize the use of space and in the process free up more pages! It was as if the world was listening to us!

So we google chatted, made a few changes here and there, switched some of the spreads into single pages, and managed to reclaim 4 pages. YES!


After we finalized the page counts, I thanked Lynnor for working it out with me. She said our relationship is like a marriage: we talk about the issues and agree or disagree in a respectful manner and with an open mind. She’s right!

Another thing we have to decide on is how the diwata and the babaylan look like. We both agreed that the long flowy diaphonous dress that diwatas are usually depicted in look and feel very western. We looked for more nature based diwata images and found some that felt more “right”. It’s work in progress, for sure!

And so is the look of the babaylan or a respected female elder. We looked through many of the Kaamulan festival photos for ideas. We found several.

We will keep you posted as we move along!

Thank you for supporting our work.


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Independent Publishing and Decolonizing

Hello Friends and Family!

I was invited by Professor Melissa Moreno of the Woodland Community College to discuss Sawaga River Press’ publishing journey through a decolonizing framework. This was a very welcomed change of pace for me as I usually present at events geared towards younger children, not adults, and I don’t get to delve into issues like the lack of diversity and equity in children’s literature and the overall push for more inclusion. Even more rarely do I get to talk about independent publishing and how it advances the decolonization efforts that many of us are pushing for on all fronts.


I also got to share with the class the books of the other awesome independent publishers in the Bay Area with whom I network. (We’re still working on our group name. 🙂 ) We’re definitely growing in numbers and gathering strength.

Books By Coop Authors

(Books by local authors: Laurin Mayeno, Innosanto Nagara, Maya Gonzalez, Laura Atkins, Stan Yogi, Janine Macbeth, Melissa Reyes)

It was also great to hear from some of the college students, some of whom already have plans to create their own children’s books. An hour was definitely not enough.

Thank you, Prof. Moreno! I hope to be back in your classroom again, hopefully with more books to share.


Until the next post!

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Meet Jack

Hello, Family and Friends!

Happy May!

After a few weeks of mulling over options, we have finally decided on our next book’s boy protagonist’s look.


(Google chatting with Lynnor, choosing which look best fits our Jack)

(Illustration Credit: Lynnor Bontigao)

And so…Meet Jack!


(Illustration Credit: Lynnor Bontigao)

He loves to hear and tell stories, especially ones involving dragons and wizards and magic wands. He is smart, funny, sensitive, a bit mischievous… and he’s got his fierce Filipino ancestors’ blood in him!

Lynnor is currently putting together the story board and thumbnail sketches. A peek on those next time.

Already, this is beginning to come alive and it feels fabulous.

Thanks for your continued support!

Justine (and the Jack Meets Agio Crew)

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Introducing Our New Book and Illustrator

Hello, Friends,

We hope your April is off to a good start!

We are super excited to announce our second book, tentatively titled “Jack Meets Agio.” This story is inspired by the oral folk literature of my hometown, Bukidnon. (See below for map.) Specifically, it is inspired by the Olaging epic about the adventures of Agio (also known as Agyu or Aguio), the cultural hero of Bukidnon. It’s got dragons and wizards and flying ships and mermaids… and a sensitive brown Filipino-American boy, Jack, who wishes to belong. We say this is going to be one heck of a book!

As an aside, for those who are not very familiar with Bukidnon, here is a map of the Philippines that shows where Bukidnon is located. I grew up in Bukidnon. It’s an amazing place.

Bukidnon map

Credit to Eugene Alvin Villar (seav) (English Wikipedia)

Additionally, after searching for months for the right illustrator, we finally found Ms. Lynnor Bontigao. She confesses to be an “avid doodler” and guacamole maker extraordinaire. Her illustrations will charm you like they did me. Check out her website at https://www.lynnorbontigao.com and you will see what I am talking about. We at Sawaga River Press feel so grateful and honored to be working with Lynnor!

(A shout-out here to Robert Liu Trujillo, Oakland based author and illustrator, for connecting us with Lynnor. Check out Robert’s work at http://work.robdontstop.com/)

We will be sure to keep you posted of our progress now that we have officially begun Jack’s journey to meeting Agio!


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Mama, Mama at the Mary Stephens (Davis) Library

Hello, Everyone!


Spring is here and it is so good to be feeling the warmth of the sun instead of the gnawing cold.


Jack and I were at our local library last week. He sauntered around to look for his favorite books (currently the Squish series) while I checked out the new children’s books addition. Suddenly, from across the room, I heard him say, “Mama, Mama, our book is here!” I walked over to where he was. He was totally excited, surprised, incredulous, and giddy. With a smile on his face he said, “that’s embarrassing!” I’m going to choose to believe that, overall, he was happy.





And then he asked, “When is the book about the boy with anting-anting going to come out?”


Soon, I told him. Very soon!


So I’m going to take this opportunity to announce that we have just hired our new illustrator and we have officially begun work on our second book. We’re working on the book’s site and will send it out soon. I will keep you all posted


Enjoy spring’s awesome weather, everyone!



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Bye-bye 2017, Hello 2018

Dear Readers,

We at the Sawaga River Press would like to thank you for supporting us this year. We hope your 2017 was bountiful and that 2018 would be full of opportunities to create and collaborate!

We closed the year with a very successful and inspiring Social Justice Children’s Book Holiday Fair in Oakland. (For a recap: Social Justice Children’s Book Fair) For us, this was a very apt way to close 2017.  Over the year, we have bonded with several local (i.e. Bay Area, East Bay, Sacramento) independent presses, self-publishing authors and illustrators, and bookmakers of all sorts of capacities and interests. We all share a common vision of making books that are inclusive of the experiences and perspectives of POC, Native, LGBTQIA+, and other communities that have been excluded from and underrepresented in the children’s book publishing industry. Publisher Janine Macbeth articulated our emerging group’s cohesion best when she said, “No mythologies here; we’re still marginalized and on the fringes. But we’re together, and on the rise.”


(From left to righ, top to bottom: Kicking it with Robert Liu-Trujillo, author of Furqan’s First Flat Top; Sharing the table with author and publisher Janine Macbeth of Blood Orange Press and author and publisher Tiffany Golden of Golden Pen Entertainment; with Innosanto Nagara, Author of A is for Activist; Tiffany Golden; Jill Burger, Author of Long Hair, Don’t Care,  and author and publisher Maya Christina Gonzales of Reflection Press.)

We are starting on our next book. More details to come in the next few months as we look for the illustrator and designer that will best make the team. We are also collaborating with more groups and individuals. I can’t wait to share as soon as we get the details down!

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the beginning of this new year!


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