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!

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)

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 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

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


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!



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!


Catching Up with 2017!

Hello, Everybody,

Time flew so fast this year!

The Mama, Mama book has been to several places this year but we’ve neglected to update our blog! So here are the highlights to catch you all up, starting from the most recent:

Filipino American International Book Festival

What an honor it was to be part of the 4th Filipino American International Book Festival as part of their panel on children’s book publishing! Not only were there kids who listened to the books being read but there were also several adults who shared their own desire to create their own books. When not in the panel or manning our table, I attended the other panels on other Philippine literature issues and topics, from Philippine biodiversity to OFWs. I got to meet some authors. There were a few I was too shy to approach so I contented myself with just admiring them from afar. Events like this remind me of why we are doing this. We need to be telling our stories! I hope to be back for the next one in 2019 (because this event only happens every two years).



Thank you, Philippine American Writers and Artists for making this happen!

The Alvarado Project Fundraising Event

Although I didn’t make it because I got sick, I mention it here, anyway, because this project deserves a lot of kudos. This project, headed by Ms. Janet Alvarado, celebrates the photography of artist-photographer Ricardo O. Alvarado (1914 – 1976) which allows us to peek into the lives of the Filipino Americans living in San Francisco.

From their site,

“The exhibition offers a visual tour of the Filipino
communities in San Francisco and the neighboring rural
areas with San Francisco street scenes, the City’s
Farmers’ Market, migrant farmworkers, Filipino-owned
businesses and community hall events during the Post
WWII era. There is an emphasis on the cross-cultural
exchange of gatherings involving the City’s diverse
ethnic communities, African American, Euro-American,
Latin American and Filipino American musicians,
workers and friends, to show that diversity which has
always been a characteristic of the City’s society at large”

Multiculturalism Rock, A Pop-up Shop

This is Nathalie Mvondo’s project which she launched at the International Festival in Davis on October 2. She has brilliantly decided to gather self-published books and books by small presses to sell at small venues and farmer’s markets all over the area. Because it is hard to find these kinds of books in mainstream stores, Nathalie’s Pop-up is such a big help both for the readers and the bookmakers. Thank you, Nathalie!


Cesar Chavez Elementary School, 3rd Grade

We went to my son’s second grade class at Cesar Chavez in Davis and shared the book and journey. Once again, the kids were curious and had all sorts of questions, the most pressing one being, “What is your new book about?” The coolest thing about this was that as a way of thanking me, the whole class danced a waltz. I love exchanges like this!


Vallejo Public Library

As part of the Filipino Month celebration, the Vallejo library invited us to read Mama, Mama and to engage with the kids about the book making process.  It was motivating to see Filipino kids show up! This is what it’s all about!!!

Fairyland, Turn The Pages, May 2017

Every year, Fairyland in Oakland gathers the local children’s books authors and illustrators, as well as children’s book readers, for a fun whole day affair on the book making process. This year, we were invited to set up our table and show our stuff!  The kids had all sorts of questions about the bookmaking process. It was also really fun to get to meet other local book makers.  Hope to be part of this again! (But not next year because they require a “new” book to participate. Fingers crossed for the next one in 2019!)


Thank you, Fairyland!

We hope to be out and meet the community some more in the coming months! Please stay tuned. We will try to post updates more often, especially as we start working on our new book. (YES! It’s in the works!)

Nothing but love!

Justine and the Mama, Mama crew


Mama, Mama at the Filipino Bar Association of Nor Cal Holiday Party


Hello, All!

The holidays are upon us!

The Filipino Bar Association of Northern California (FBANC) graciously invited us to display and sell the Mama, Mama book at the holiday party at the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco. I’ve been going to FBANC’s party for the last three years and this year’s was extra special just because I got to connect with my fellow attorneys in a different way, i.e. not so heavily oriented on the practice of the law.

As always, there was plenty of yummy food- lumpia, pancit, lechon, fried chicken, a ton of sweets- and some Christmas caroling. Plus, Mike and I scored a Tanduay rum as part of the white elephant gift exchange.

All in all, a successful night.

Thank you, FBANC, for having Mama, Mama and for supporting the push for more diversity in children’s books!


Mama, Mama at the EastSide Arts Alliance Art Sale

Hello, Friends!

November was a downer in many ways and I’m only now beginning to rise and motivate. I have high hopes for December and for the coming days. I have to.

Over the weekend, I attended the EastSide Arts Alliance Art Sale in Oakland. Robert Trujillo extended the invitation to me and I was glad to go with my copies of Mama, Mama. I shared a table with another author, Jill Guerra, whose book is about boys and their long hair. I got to meet and enjoy the works other artists, including authors, illustrators, jewelry makers, print makers, photographers, singers, and poets… There was also buffet of tamales and spring rolls! The afternoon was uplifting and went by really quickly.



I’m happy to also report that I sent off a dozen Mama, Mama books out into the world!

Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the Ghost Ship warehouse fire that happened a few days ago during a late night dance party at . So far, 36 people have been proclaimed dead.

Thank you for your support! Until the next update.

Mama, Mama at the Sitting Room Library in Penngrove

Hello, Friends!

October is Filipino American History Month and to celebrate it, the Sitting Room Community Library of the City of Penngrove, through its curator, Sheila Bare, invited me to read Mama, Mama. What an honor!

The drive, though a bit long, was definitely worth it. The stretch of vineyards and clear blue skies did my soul some good (even though I was listening to a depressing NPR talk show about the upcoming election season).

At the library, I got to share the space with a very inspirational Filipina poet, Eileen Tabios. I also met many of the library’s patrons, many of whom purchased multiple copies to give as presents to the children in their lives. There was plenty of yummy treats, including chicken adobo with pan de sal, pancit, and a creamy cheesy pie by JJ Wilson who runs the library.


I’m so grateful for these opportunities extended to me by others who believe in the value of publishing books that foster inclusion of children of color. I hope for more!