“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all,” the icon Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once said. And when books are in the blood, one can’t help but be driven to the business of stories and storytelling.
The Almario children were raised in a book lover’s haven, under the love and care of parents poet and literary critic Virgilio Almario (yes, the National Artist for Literature) and Lyn Almario, who built quite a business career before shifting her formidable management talents to Adarna House. The book publishing firm, now on its 35th year of producing Filipino children’s classics, continues to grow with daughters Ani Rosa Almario as vice president, Asa Almario-Montejo as director for marketing, and only son Agno Almario as director for digital projects.
Adarna House began from a commission in the mid-1970s to produce children’s storybooks in support of a national mental feeding program.
The senior Almario organized a group of authors, editors, illustrators and researchers for the project. This blossomed into the Aklat Adarna Series, before later evolving into the publishing house that it is today.
“When Adarna books were first produced, they were meant to create a literary and cultural space for Filipino children’s literature that, before the arrival of Adarna books, did not exist. Adarna House has definitely succeeded in creating that space, not only for itself, but for other publishers of Filipino children’s books,” says Lyn, Adarna House president and general manager.
With literacy and pride for the Filipino heritage among its core advocacies, Adarna has expanded its products from multilingual storybooks, reference materials, and manuals to services such as teacher training, literacy camps, workshops, reading programs and more.
Not to be left behind in this e-reading age, Adarna books are also on Flipside, Buqo, Amazon, and Kobo. The international award-winning tale Araw sa Palengke became the house’s first title on Adarna Digital.
“We know that there will be more and more children—the coming generations of ‘digital natives’—who will demand mobile applications and want to experience the stories in a digital format. We’ve already started talking to educational platforms which we see as potential partners for our content,” notes Agno.
Meantime, these young ones are fascinated by the gorgeously illustrated storybooks on display at the Adarna House showroom in Quezon City.
Big books, board books, coloring books, activity books, classics like Florante at Laura, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, comic books, and now, even young adult books line the shelves. The nicely packaged Wikahon, an original Adarna-developed learning tool to improve reading skills in Filipino, is also available. There are also reference materials for teachers and students alike.
Like generations before, being engrossed in an Adarna tale becomes a favorite childhood memory for the showroom’s visitors who can explore stories even in two languages. Adarna House has long published storybooks in Filipino and English. Through partnerships with various organizations like Save the Children, the firm has also developed storybooks in Ilocano, Cebuano, T’boli, B’laan, and Tagakaulu in support of Mother Tongue Based-Multilingual Education. Adarna has a whole section on Mother Tongue books.
Save the Children, in fact, is one of several organizations receiving donations of book sets as part of Adarna House’s anniversary. Each 35-book set includes National Children’s Book Award winners like Araw sa Palengke, Hating Kapatid, Little Girl In a Box, Just Add Dirt, and Ngumiti si Andoy, as well as titles which have won international awards like the Noma Concours for Ang Mahiyaing Manok, and the IBBY Sweden Peter Pan Prize for Naku, Nakuu, Nakuuu. Well-loved classics like Ibong Adarna, Si Pagong at Si Matsing, Tiktaktok at Pikpakbum, and Ang Barumbadong Bus are also part of the set. Everything is proudly written by Filipino writers and drawn by Filipino artists, with subject matter that instil pride in the Filipino culture.
Other beneficiaries of the donations are Ronald McDonald House Charities, PLAN International, Spain-based Intervida, International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) Foundation, the Department of Social Welfare and Development-National Capital Region Reception and Study Center for Children, and two local government units (LGUs) under the Adarna Group Foundation.
Through its foundation, Adarna offers its own program of book distribution and literacy workshops called Unang Aklat. The program reaches out to children aged zero to three years old in fourth and fifth class municipalities, and involves their parents and guardians, development workers, municipality leaders and local chief executives in partnership.
“In creating and growing the needed market for our products, we discovered that literacy was a shared value with others,” says Asa. |
“Whether these others were individuals, schools, government agencies, NGOs, or private companies, they were willing to show their support through outright sales, as well as through programs and projects which used our products.”
Adarna’s 35th year celebration continues in May with “Peryang Adarna,” a literary fair to be held at the Trinoma Mall. In June, their Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan art exhibit will feature the works of the imaginative artists behind Adarna storybooks. This much-anticipated exhibit of art works from their painters and illustrators will be held in Shangri-la Plaza Mall.
And at the Manila International Book Fair in September, the house will roll out an anthology of 35 Adarna classics. Throughout the year, smaller but no less exciting events for children, parents, teachers, day care workers and institutional partners will be held.
Lyn admits that Adarna House had gone through “a difficult balancing act between financial viability and creating products for a non-existent market” in the beginning and over the years that followed.
She recalls, “Thirty five years ago, you could count the number of Filipino children’s books with the fingers of one hand. Those who could afford to buy children’s books bought imported books; those who would have bought Filipino books had no money to buy them.”
The times have certainly changed. Ani notes that the children’s storybook landscape has grown with more publishers. “This healthy competition results in better products for Filipino children and also benefits the growing circles of writers and illustrators of Filipino children’s books. Because we are the pioneer, we will always demand of ourselves to set the standard in the Philippine children’s book industry,” she says.
Business has also been transformed by a generally improved economy, and a more enlightened mindset pervades Filipinos about society and culture. Growing a love for books and reading receives much support from families and schools. Literacy and education continue to be a favorite cause among companies and NGOs.
It all makes Adarna House a pretty busy beehive behind its colorful showroom, especially with anniversary activities to implement. Still, Lyn says the house doesn’t prescribe a strict corporate structure but runs as a relatively small organization with committed, skilled staff. “In fact, we think our size allows us to have a relatively flat organization that encourages working together and facilitates decision-making,” she says.
“Through the years we have built up a dedicated workforce whose personal goals are aligned with those of Adarna House.”
As for the book lovers she raised, Lyn is proud to have them in the house. “When the children were growing up, choosing their degrees, even applying for their first jobs, working in Adarna was never a consideration,” she says.
“But our home always had a lot of books. They started out their careers in different workplaces. It was a bank for Agno, Ani was in a management consultancy outfit, and Asa was in an architectural firm.
Eventually, they all gravitated to Adarna House and the company now draws from their diverse skills, competencies, and experiences,” she adds.
Adarna’s 35th year will also usher in an expanded presence in other parts of the country. A regional office will open in Baguio within the year, to reach a new market of young readers, as well as writers and illustrators in Northern Luzon. Adarna will also strengthen its corps of distributors in Davao and Cebu.
This is how one family’s love for books and reading has led to the success of a publishing firm that positively influences Filipinos everywhere. “Hearing the occasional testimonial from a parent buying an Adarna book for a child with the statement, ‘I learned to read using Adarna books,’ is enough for us to feel recognized,” beamed Lyn.