Mama, Mama at the Davis International Festival

Hello, All!

The City of Davis celebrated its International Festival last October 2. Many different countries represented their culture through songs, dances, food, books, and crafts.

I was invited by the Filipina ladies of the Yolo County (Woodland, Davis, West Sacramento) to display (and sell!) my books at the booth. So I did. It was a fun way to meet random strangers who showed interest in Mama, Mama.


Looking forward to the next event!

Mama, Mama Reading at the Rec Room

Hello, Everyone!

Our friends, Annie and Jade, at the Rec Room in Berkeley invited us over to their super cool kid/family friendly cafe to share the book. We did just that and it was the perfect way to spend a Friday morning at the cafe. Although the gathering was small, it was fun and I had the chance to not only catch up with friends but also make some new connections.

My dad and mom went with me and Charlie and Jack. Dad and Mom proudly held up the page that featured them.


Here’s me and Jade, co-owner of the cafe, and Thea of Kavamore Press. And Annie, co-owner, who used to be our next door neighbor. I know these three ladies from Charlie’s pre-school. They’ve been supportive of the book since day one.



I met two children’s books authors, Maria and Robert. Both are based in Oakland and have recently been published.


Friends came by and showed their support.


I’m looking forward to the next reading, for sure! Thanks, everyone!

Mama, Mama FAQs

Hello, Friends!

Since I started my journey to write and publish the Mama, Mama book, family, friends, acquaintances, and members of my community have asked me all sorts of questions. I thought I’d share some of them here, in no particular order.

How did you come up with the story?

When my eldest, Charlie, was about five years old and my second, Jack, almost three years old, we often went on picnics at the Blake Garden in El Cerrito. The garden is high up in the El Cerrito hills overlooking the San Francisco bay. One day, during one of our picnics, Charlie asked me to guess the things that he liked. He then told me he liked Batman and Spiderman and fighting “bad guys”. “What else do you like?” I asked. He continued to tell me: chicken nuggets, catsup, Sinigang, digging construction projects, climbing trees… I kept asking him for more of his “likes” and he kept telling. His list was pretty long. Eventually, he asked me to guess what he liked most. He then told me that he liked me most. His proclamation was so earnest and real. That moment touched me deeply and I wanted to keep a memory of it.

I didn’t set off to look for a story or a plot. It presented itself to me. Thankfully, I was present and receptive to it.

 How did you decide that this was the story you wanted to make a book out of?

Prior to this inspired moment during our picnic, I had been wanting to write a children’s book that would capture my time with my young boys. Motherhood shaped my experience of life in a way I never expected. I wanted something, an album of sorts, that my boys and I could look at later in our lives and be reminded of our early years together.This simple narrative offered the chance to do just that.

At first I worried about many things: that there was no “real” story; that it was “merely” a boy telling his Mama all about his likes and then surprising her with his proclamation of like; that there were no classic story elements like conflict, resolution, and character development. However, I also knew I wanted to write about the rhythm in our daily lives. I wanted a book that shows a Fil-Am kid living his daily life, just being himself. So, despite my doubts, I decided that the “day in the life” approach was plot enough.

Why is it Bisaya and English on the actual pages, instead of Filipino/Tagalog and English?

I wrote in Bisaya simply because it is my mother tongue and the one I wish to pass on to my kids. I understand that there are fewer Bisaya speakers than Tagalog/Filipino speakers because Filipino is the national language and everyone in the Philippines has to learn it. Still, one of my goals was/is to make books that would help me teach my kids speak and read in Bisaya. There are no children’s books in Bisaya that I know of so I took it upon myself to create the book that I needed and wanted to read.

I hope that the book being in written in Bisaya would not deter non-Bisaya speakers from reading it to their kids. It’s written also in English, after all.

Why do the kids look so Filipino, so brown, when the dad is not?

When I decided to help in the diversifying of chidren’s books, I knew my characters were going to be unapologetically and unmistakably Filipino brown. I didn’t want the characters to look vague.

Is your illustrator Filipino? (No.) Why not?

Out of the (50+) illustrators who answered my craigslist ad, Andrew presented the portfolio that spoke to me. Additionally, he lives in the Bay Area, seemed easy to work with, quoted rates I could afford, and understood the imaginings of a 5 year old. I value the work he’s done for the book.

Of course, I would love to work with a Filipino illustrator if and when the chance presents itself.

Who’s the publisher?

The book is published by Sawaga River Press, a publishing arm of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit,  Libro Para Sa Tanan, that I founded in 2008.

Why did you become a small press?

It seemed like the next natural thing to do after writing the book. If I had waited to be published by the traditional publishers, this book likely would not have been published. I no longer think being selected for publication is all about merits and “perfect” work quality. There are systems in place that make it a lot harder for writers of color to be published. I have decided that my contribution to this struggle to publish more books that speak to my and my community’s experience is to become a small press.

Why is the book so expensive ($19.00)?

Actually, it isn’t any more expensive than the average hardcover children’s book.

But we did learn a very good lesson with this first publication: It is very expensive to print illustrations in color. Next time, we will do something not involving color. Maybe a journal or a graphic novel, instead.

When you’re deciding whether to buy this “expensive” book, please think of it as buying not just this book but as supporting and sustaining a non-profit small press that aims to publish books that reflect the reality of Filipino American kids.

Are you an educator?

No. I’m a concerned mother who looked for and found very few books that feature Filipino American kids that look like mine.

I’m also an attorney, writer, dancer, reader, Do It Yourselfer who wants to be proactive about the lack of diverse children’s books.

What’s your background in publishing?

My first job after college was as a marketing assistant at a publishing company, Jossey-Bass, in San Francisco. But that’s not what gave me the confidence to forge ahead. Rather, I was blessed to know so many people- publishing professionals, artists, business consultants, early childhood educators, independent small presses, social activists- who generously extended to me their expertise and creative talents. Without them, this book would not have been possible. This book is truly a product of a community who believed in the cause.

 Why is the little boy digging in his underwear?

Because he had to wear something. To truly reflect the reality of my son, he should have been illustrated wearing nothing. Like many four year old boys, he had no qualms about baring his bum and getting dirty with mud.

Who is Bakunawa?

Bakunawa is an ancient Filipino deity that is represented as a sea serpent. Some say he is the god of the underworld and the one who causes eclipses.

According to Filipino myths, during ancient times, the creator Bathala created seven beautiful moons to light up the sky. The Bakunawa liked the moons so he rose from the ocean and swallowed the moons whole. To keep the Bakunawa from completely swallowing the moons, ancient Filipinos would go out of their homes with pans and pots, and make noise to scare the Bakunawa into spitting out the moon back into the sky.

I took the opportunity to try to re-ignite young Fil-Am kids’ interest in the rich and powerful Filipino myths and legends. I have been making an effort to tell my sons stories of our indigenous spirits, deities, and heroes, especially the ones from Bukidnon where I grew up, so that they may feel a connection with that part of their identity.

What is Sinigang?

The best soup ever! It is considered one of the most indigenous Filipino dishes. It has meat (pork belly/chicken/beef/fish) and vegetables (eggplant, okra, long peppers, string beans, taro, greens like mustard leaves or spinach). As a souring agent, you can add Sinigang mix from the store (with powdered guava or tamarind extract, and lots of MSG, of course) or lemon juice.


I am thankful for these questions, and others that are not in this list, because they have made me think of the book from different perspectives. Next time, I will post about questions I’ve not been asked but wish I had.

Mama, Mama Books Arrive

Hello, Friends!

We hope you are doing well and enjoying your summer.

Finally, after months of traveling by sea from Singapore, the Mama, Mama books made it to Davis, California! We knew they were coming, obviously, but now that they’re here we can hardly believe it.

Before he rolled up the truck door, Al, the delivery man, told me the books weighed about a thousand pounds. I had trouble visualizing how a thousand pounds of books looked like. I didn’t have to wonder too long. The cargo was massive… and it reminded me (again) that this is for real!!!


I still remember the night I got together with my friend, Jessica Egbert, who introduced me to her friend, Janet Del Mundo, and we talked about writing and publishing books that feature Filipino kids. That was way back in December 2013! Getting this book out into the world has truly been a journey for me.

We will be sending out reward copies in the next few weeks, hopefully before the end of this month, August.

We hope you enjoy the book. Should you wish to purchase a(nother) copy, please go to the right of the home page.

We also welcome your feedback. If you would like to write a review, please let us know and we would gladly send you a review copy.

We are very grateful for your support. It got us here, with a tangible book in our hands, a book that makes visible to the rest of the world a day in the life of a Filipino American boy.

Again, thank you! We love you!


Justine and the Mama, Mama crew

Proud Member of Philippine American Press Consortium

Hello, Everybody,

We are proud to announce that we are now a member of the Philippine American Publishers Consortium!

From PAPC’s press release:

The group’s primary goal is to enhance the distribution and promotion of its published works. PAPC’s inaugural members are Carayan Press, Center for Babaylan Studies, Meritage Press, PALH (Philippine American Literary House), PAWA Inc., and Sawaga River Press.  Together, these publishers offer Filipino American books in the genres of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art and children’s literature.


Explaining why she suggested the creation of the consortium, PALH publisher Cecilia Brainard said, “We are making books but our distribution and marketing efforts can be improved. Together, these Filipino American presses can have more presence, clout, and credibility than individual presses could. By sharing information, resources, and in some cases, expenses, we can do a better job at preserving and documenting our own Filipino American (and Filipino) literature and culture.”

Please check out PAPC’s blog site at

We are also on Facebook:

Thank you for all the support!

Sample Copies

Hello All,

The sample copies arrived! We can hardly believe it!



The books are on their way to the US from our Malaysian printer and should arrive sometime in July. In the meantime, please take advantage of our pre-sale which is ongoing until the end of June. Click on Our Books for more information. And remember that the funds that we raise from selling this book will help us publish more books that are diverse both in characters and stories. Please support us!

Thank you!

Mama, Mama Arrives in July! Pre-Order Sale

Hello, Everyone!

Happy May! It’s starting to heat up here in Davis and the public pools are now open. It’s going to be summer vacation soon. We hope you’re ready for summer picnics as we are!


In the meantime, we would like to ask your help in getting the word out: Mama, Mama will be arriving in July! It has been quite a journey to get to this point and we are so looking forward to having the finished books in our hands and sharing them with you.

To get ready for the books’ arrival, we are having a Pre-order Sale between now and June 30, 2016. You can now purchase your copy for $14.99 (plus shipping and tax). Please click on the Pre-Order link for more information and to order.

Support us! Help us create and spread more bi/trillingual children’s books that are diverse in characters and stories.

Thank you!


Book Review: ROBLES A.’s Lakas and the Manilatown Fish

Hi All,

Here’s our children’s book review for this week. Once again, our resident reader, pre-schooler Jack V., takes us with him to his pre-school, Davis Parents Nursery School,  to read the book with him and his classmates.

Lakas and the Manilatown Fish (Si Lakas at ang Isdang Manilatown)


By Anthony Robles
Illustrated by Carl Angel
Published by Children’s Book Press, and Imprint of Lee and Low Books, 2003

About (Spoiler Alert!):
Lakas, a Filipino American boy, dreams about a Manong (old Filipino man) who tells him about a fish who not only can walk but can also speak both English and Tagalog. According to the Manong, the fish lives in Manilatown. Inspired, Lakas, with his Daddy, set out to Manilatown to look for the fish. They find such a fish in the market. However, the fish escapes from its tank and leads Lakas, his Daddy, the fish vendor, and a host of other characters, on a chase that takes them through Manilatown and eventually for a swim in the San Francisco bay.

This bilingual book, touted to be the first of its kind, has Tagalog on the left pages and English on the right. (And although this is not a contest as to which language is better, the Tagalog strikes us as more poetic. Obviously, because we are Filipino and fluent in Tagalog, we have our biases.)

Jack’s Favorite Pages:
1.) “BABA!” Jack says. Jack loves baba  (Bisaya for piggback rides).

Lakas and the fish vendor grow tired from chasing the fish up Kearny Street so Daddy gives them both a piggyback ride. The Manong, in his fish print underwear, isn’t tired but Daddy gives him a piggyback ride, just the same. With all three on his back, Daddy chases the fish all the way down Columbus Avenue and all the way to the bay.

2.) “Hoy, Hoy, Pilipino Boy!”

Jack now likes to call himself “Pilipino Boy”.


Favorite Filipino Tidbits:
When Lakas wakes up from his dream and eats breakfast, his Daddy serves him the classic Filipino power breakfast: bright red, greasy, pan fried hot dogs with white steamed (or maybe garlic fried) rice. Behind them, on the kitchen wall, hang the quintessential Filipino dining room decor: a giant (presumably wooden) spoon and fork.

The Story Within the Story:
This book aims to raise young readers’ awareness of some aspects of the Filipino American history. The fish takes them through San Francisco’s Manilatown where many Filipinos settled when they first arrived in the United States in the early 20th century. Most of the early Filipino immigrants were men who worked as seamen, cannery workers, and seasonal farm workers. They raised their children, ran their own restaurants, grocery stores, pool halls, barbershops, and other family based businesses in Manilatown. However, many other Manongs did not have families. These Manongs lived in boarding houses and hotels. Manilatown was the heart of the Filipino community until 1977 when the last Filipino Manong resident was forcibly evicted by the police from the International Hotel, amidst community protests.

What of the fish? What does it symbolize? What does it all mean? That’s for the readers to figure out. The author does tell us that steam from fish Sinigang (sour soup), which the Manongs loved to cook, regularly wafted down the halls of International Hotel.

What the Kids Say:
“I like that the fish likes to kiss!”
“I don’t understand. How can the fish take the old man’s teeth?”

What We at SRP Say:

We love the imagination at play in this book. It is both fun and challenging to read beyond the literal. Read it!

And for more info on Manilatown, here are a few links:

There’s plenty of online info on Manilatown. Happy researching!

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SRP at the Napa Library’s Asian Pacific Heritage Month

Hello, All!

We’ve been invited to speak at the Napa Library’s Asian Pacific Heritage Month on May 14, 2016! If you’re in the Napa area and free from 2:30-5:30, please do swing by. There will be dancing, readings, and other presentations showcasing Asian Pacific heritage.

We will be there to show our support for the movement towards diversity and equality in children’s literature.

We will also be sharing our journey in getting the book, Mama, Mama, Know What I Like?, published.

Save the date:  May 14, 2015 at 2:30-5:30! We hope to see some of you there!

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Book Review: Gilmore, Dorina’s Cora Cooks Pancit

We join the celebration of Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCBD) by adding our reviews of children’s books that are diverse in characters and stories. MCBD’s stated mission is to “not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

Today, we have our resident reader, pre-schooler Jack V. of Davis Parents Nursery School, to read with us our featured book, Cora Cooks Pancit.

Cora Cooks Pancit
Lee and Low Books, 2009
By Dorina Lazo Gilmore
Illustrated by Kristi Valiant


About (Spoiler Alert!):
Cora dreams of helping out in the kitchen. One day, her mother asks for Cora’s help and lets Cora decide what to cook. Cora chooses to cook her favorite dish, pancit noodles. Cora finally gets to do the grown up job of slicing the vegetables, shredding the chicken, and stirring the noodles! While cooking, Mama tells Cora about Cora’s Lolo (grandfather) who was also a cook when he was a young man working in the California farms. At dinner time, everyone compliments Cora on her pancit and her father says her pancit tastes just as good as her grandfather’s.

Jack’s Favorite Page:CoraCooksPancit_FoodPartyPage
When asked which dish she would like to cook, Cora imagines lumpia rolls prancing, adobo chicken legs be-bopping, and pancit noodles and vegetables curling and swirling in a dance party. Clearly, Cora belongs to a Filipino-American household who loves to eat, dance, and party.

Mama’s Favorite Tidbit:
The Filipino and American flags on the fridge.

The Story Within the Story:
Cora’s mother tells stories about Cora’s Lolo who was a cook for the farm workers in California and about his life as a boy growing up in the Philippines. This provides for an opportunity for readers to engage in some conversation about different cultures, immigration, and Filipino American history, especially as it relates to the Manongs (older Filipino men) and their contribution to California farming.

The Color:
The book looks and feels like yellow, just like the pancit noodles.

Teaching Moments:
The story encourages young kids to participate in household chores. It also presents cooking as something that women and men do.

What the Kids Say:
Jack V.’s Friend #1. “I like it when she licks the spoon… and sneaks a bite of the chicken before Mama could see!
Jack V.’s Friend #2: “I don’t like it when she spilled the water but I’m glad her Mama wasn’t mad.
Jack V.: “Mama, I like this book! Can we give it to our school so I can read it there?

Cora Cooks

We love this book and will definitely keep it in our library. We hope you will, too!


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