[#RapplerReads] Things I didn’t learn in school, I learned in these children’s books

Marj Casal Handog
[#RapplerReads] Things I didn’t learn in school, I learned in these children’s books
Just when you thought you’ve studied all there is to know about women in Philippine history, wait ‘til you read the “Fantastic Filipinas” series by Ceej Tantengco, Sabrina Schnabel, and various local illustrators

Editor’s note: #RapplerReads is a project by the BrandRap team. The books featured in this article were provided by our partners, Ceej Tantengco and Kado Publishing. We earn a commission every time you shop through the affiliate links below.

When I was first told about this set of children’s books about famous Filipinas in history, I thought, what else can the authors say about them that we haven’t studied for years in school? And in little illustrated children’s books at that. 

The names of the Filipinas featured would easily ring a bell: Fe del Mundo, Maria Orosa, Josefa Llanes Escoda, Gabriela Silang, and Pura Villanueva-Kalaw.

I thought I knew everything about them or at least the important things I needed to know. But it turns out that most of the things I read in these books – made for children, take note – were things I didn’t know yet at 31 years old. These are things that I don’t remember being taught in school or maybe I wasn’t just listening attentively to my HEKASI teacher. 

I first picked up the one about Fe del Mundo. I knew from school that she helped build makeshift incubators for newborn babies. But I was today years old when I learned that she was the first ever female student in Harvard Medical School, the only female student actually until the school officially began accepting women almost a decade after she joined.

I was shocked by how much I didn’t know about del Mundo. I only planned on reading one of the books during my lunch break, but after being blown away by the facts I’ve discovered, I decided to pick up another one.

This next book features another familiar name, Maria Orosa. To be honest, I know her name but I don’t exactly remember her story. And I immediately felt ashamed. Orosa was an inventor who helped feed Filipino and American prisoners during the Japanese occupation – and was none other than the inventor of the banana ketchup. I’ve been eating banana ketchup my whole life and knew for sure that it’s something unique to the Philippines like red hotdogs but I never tried finding out how it was made. 

My knowledge of the next fantastic Filipina, Josefa Llanes Escoda, is just as little. I only knew her from our P1000 peso bill (which is about to be changed soon, too). I may have also heard that she founded the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, being a member myself when I was in grade three. What I didn’t know is that she bravely helped fellow Filipinos during the Japanese occupation even if it put her life and freedom in danger. 

Like Escoda, the next fantastic Filipina, Gabriela Silang bravely fought for our country’s freedom from the Spaniards. And like some female leaders we know, Silang was still grieving from the death of her husband, Diego, when she was called to lead. She answered and paved the way for the Philippines’ freedom 135 years later.

The last fantastic Filipina in the series is Pura Villanueva – Kalaw. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t heard of her until today when she’s the reason I can vote in the coming national elections. It was thanks to her years of being a super suffragette, going so far as joining and winning a beauty pageant to promote her advocacy, that we, women, were given this important right. 

The Fantastic Filipinas series by Ceej Tantengco and Sabrina Schnabel is a fun way to learn (or re-learn) about these great women in history whether you’re a child or a grown adult like me. Each of the books was beautifully illustrated by local artists Dani Go, Alexandra Romualdez Broekman (with her children, Lucas and Leia for Feeding the Fight), Lea Calano, and Georgina Camus.

Based on the history podcast, What’s AP?, the stories, each titled Pediatrician and Pioneer, Feeding the Fight, Girl Scout, War Hero, La Generala, and Super Suffragette, are compact and easy to read but are also packed with information that would blow away both the young and young at heart. 

Fantastic Filipinas is a fantastic start to #RapplerReads women’s month celebration. These stories would inspire modern day Filipinas to believe that what these great Filipinas were able to do, we can do, too. – Rappler.com

Order the Fantastic Filipinas series via Shopee:

Feeding the Fight: The Story of Maria Orosa
Pediatrician and Pioneer: The Story of Fe del Mundo
La Generala: The Story of Gabriela Silang
Girl Scout, War Hero: The Story of Josefa Llanes Escoda
Super Suffragette: The Story of Pura Kalaw Villanueva

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Marj Casal Handog

Marj Casal heads the content team of BrandRap, Rappler’s sales and marketing arm. She helps create native advertising campaigns for brands like San Miguel Brewery, Shell, GCash, Grab, BDO, and more.