The Woman Behind Tahanan’s Charming Picture Book, Mang Andoy’s Signs
Mailin Paterno has always been fascinated by stories, and she has always wanted to write for children. Some of her books include Sampaguita (Cacho Publishing), The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (Tahanan Books), and Fruit Stall (Ayala Museum). She won the Salanga Prize given by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People in 1986, and the Palanca Awards for Short Story for Children in 1989 and 1991.
Mailin teaches at The Beacon Academy in Laguna province. She lives in Makati City with her husband, two children, and two dogs.
How did you come to write this book? What inspired you?
I don’t exactly know how I came to write this book. The idea came suddenly, sort of like a “wouldn’t it be cool if–” Then I saw pictures of all the obnoxious signs that command you to do things without apparent reason, and then thought of a scenario where people behaved sensibly, because they were aware of the impact of their behavior on other people, which is what a community does.
I am a teacher, so the idea of rules is something I struggle with. We need them, yes, because they bring order. But rules cease to be effective when they are followed blindly. Isn’t that the contradiction? We make rules supposedly to spell behavior out because this makes things easier, but if the people who follow the rules lose sight of why they’re following them; we’ve lost the efficacy of that. And it seems to me that as communities grow bigger, they lose that communality, that sense of living together as a community, where my behavior, or what I do and how I do it, affects other peoples’ behavior.
How is this book different from other books you’ve written?
I think this book was the easiest to write, and was written so quickly, because I wanted a picture book, and I thought of it in spreads, with pictures. It was also driven by a mission, to write about how we can be kinder to each other, how our language and behavior affects the language and behavior of other people around us. So it was a directed, and as a result of that, a very quick process.
What were some of the challenges you faced while working on the manuscript?
I wanted to keep the number of words down, so I very consciously counted out the number of words I was using as I was writing. I limited the number of words because I knew the pictures would complete the story. So I just knew that the illustrator needed to be wonderful, and she needed to be able to provide interesting details to the story. And she was, and she did.
What was the best thing about working on this project with Tahanan?
Reni is a wonderful editor. I know I can depend on her to see my grammatical mistakes, and she also finds ways to say things more efficiently and more graciously, which sometimes elude me. She is also very kind. Fran’s super nice, too, and she just keeps everything in the project going smoothly. She’s always upbeat, and, like Reni, always gracious.
And then, I got to work with Pepper! That was a real treat. She’s very busy, so we had to wait a bit, but her illustrations are wonderful!!
What sort of audience did you wish your book to reach?
Well, it’s a picture book, so I guess I wanted children to read it, but adults are important as well, because they make the rules.
Honestly, I don’t think so much about the audience — when I write a book the most I can hope for is that a publisher will pick it up, or think that the story is good enough for publication.
Tell us more about your upcoming projects. What’s next in store for you?
I wish I knew! I’m a lazy writer, and I should timeline my projects, but I don’t.