September Updates: Collaborating + Crowdfunding

Happy Fall, Everyone! The heat is no longer as oppressive and I feel a bit of a nip in the early morning air as I bike race with my kids to school.


Lynnor and I both made it through the summer! We are back and very eager to continue with the book. Here, page 6, was where we left off:




A couple of updates:

We’re so excited to share that we are officially collaborating with three really amazing groups:

the Center for Babaylan Studies (, which “organizes events that bring about deep appreciation for Filipino Indigenous Spirituality”;

the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies in UC Davis, which “aims to continue Carlos Bulosan’s legacy by advancing research, education, and advocacy for historical and contemporary issues faced by Filipinos in the United States, the Philippines, and abroad”; and

the Balik sa Dagat Bangka Journey which aims to “build and heal our communities by connecting to our cultural practices and our natural world”.

It means so much to us to know that these groups support our work and are willing to collaborate with us in our journey to tell stories of Filipino children in the diaspora!

Lastly, we are gearing up to run our crowdfunding campaign this October. We hope you will support us  by sharing with us your time, talent, skills, and financial pledges, or by simply spreading the word about our project and campaign to your circle of friends and family.

And so we go back to work. We’re ready!

Thanks for the support!

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.

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.


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