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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