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Move over, JK Rowling! Meet the mom who writes and illustrates stories for Filipino kids

Amanda T. Lago

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Move over, JK Rowling! Meet the mom who writes and illustrates stories for Filipino kids

Courtesy of Alexandra Romualdez Broekman

Alexandra Romualdez Broekman is on a mission to tell stories for and about Filipinos

MANILA, Philippines – Alexandra Romualdez Broekman has been writing for as long as she can remember.

As a kid, she would fold and bind paper together and write stories on them herself. When she was 11, a few of her poems were published in newsletters, and she even received an offer to turn her poetry into an anthology – though she would end up backing out because she was insecure about her work. She and her childhood best friend Sabrina would write chapter books together in high school.

“Suffice it to say, writing has been in my life a long, long time. As has illustration,” she told Rappler in an email interview.

Still, it was only at the end of 2020 that she decided to pursue writing further, writing and illustrating children’s books under her own label, Kado Publishing.

“The path to that decision was bumpy. I was with Google for 6+ years in a marketing role, and I was suffering from postpartum depression, burnout, etc. I wanted to get back to basics, back to the things I love, and so that’s how the idea/the seed of the idea of Kado Publishing began,” she said.

Alex has certainly come a long way from folding and stapling bits of paper together to write stories in. As of writing, Kado Publishing has over 20 titles, among them a story about a corgi who helps a lost little girl find her way home, a rhyme about Filipino Christmas and Noche Buena, a bilingual book about a rescued Philippine Hawk-Eagle, a rhyming story about different kinds of families, and a series of books on “fantastic Filipinas” – women who have made waves in Philippine history.

Alex, who writes and illustrates many of these titles herself, shared that deciding what to write about involves a certain gut feel, but also comes down to three tests:

“Is there a lot out there like this already? Is this something I would’ve loved to have read as a child? Is this the kind of book I want my children to have on their shelves?” she shared. As a mom of two young kids, she is also able to put her books through an actual test: “reading it with my kids and seeing if they like it!”

So far, the response to her books has been, as Alex said, “super encouraging.”

“Mainly we’ve had a lot of people (kids included) saying they enjoy the cultural anecdotes, the historical stories, and the representation they feel when they see the Philippines and Filipino people and even words and culture front and center,” she shared.

YOUNG READERS. Alex’s kids enjoy their mom’s books. Courtesy of Alexandra Romualdez Broekman

Indeed, in a world where Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, and JK Rowling still reign supreme, Alex’s stories present young readers with new perspectives. For Filipino kids, it’s a rare opportunity to see themselves and their lives reflected on the page.

Kado Publishing has even more Filipino stories in store for their readers.

“We plan to come out with a follow-on to our Fantastic Filipinas series that focuses more on Fantastic Filipinos. We also are keen to tap into stories from other communities (indigenous, for example), of course with direct representation from those communities. We are also in the process of adding more to our seek-and-find series (currently we have Fiestas and Myths and Legends, so keep your eyes peeled for more in that set),” Alex shared.

She said that as far as themes go, there isn’t anything she wouldn’t write about or publish.

“I think never say never! We are still very much in the baby stages of this publishing company, and also of my own ‘children’s book writing’ career. I am learning a lot about the market, hot topics, and more from the other publishers and writers and artists around me,” she said. 

“There’s such a wealth of information, and so many stories, that deserve sharing. I think over time, and with experience and discernment, we’ll know more about what we want (or don’t want) to produce,” she shared.

AUTHOR. Alex Romualdez Broekman fulfills her lifelong dream of writing by creating books for kids.

As a small, independently-owned and run publishing house, the biggest challenge for Kado Publishing is achieving scale. 

“The sad reality is, white and/or UK and American publishers/writers/creators/books still receive the largest share of budgets/exposure/you name it,” she said.

She added that brown characters have yet to break into the mainstream. 

“After generations of owning ‘popular media,’ white characters are still seen as the ‘relatable norm.’ A brown lead in a story referencing Southeast Asian cultures and traditions is still considered ‘niche,’” she said. “So while we are popular among Filipinos, and the Philippine diaspora, it’s hard to break into the mass market.”

As she continues to tell stories, Alex remains hopeful that the world of children’s literature is changing.

“I do think things are changing over time, and with how mixed and globalized modern life is becoming, I do have a lot of hope in a future where kids of all colors read and see stories about other kids of all colors, and find joy in learning from one another,” she said. – Rappler.com

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Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.