Kristyn Maslog-Levis is an Australian-based Kagay-anon who’s on a crusade to put Filipino mythology in children’s books overseas.
A former news reporter of ABS-CBN TV Patrol Northern Mindanao, Kristyn also hosted shows, wrote scripts for TV specials in Dumaguete City, and had a stint with a weekly talk show for the Department of Health. After getting her master’s degree in communication at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore under the ASEAN scholarship, she migrated to Australia in 2003 and started fiddling with the idea of writing a book while looking for work online. However, after finishing only two and half chapters of a semi-autobiographical story about a migrant trying to figure out the ways of her new home, she gave it up. But a few more years later, she finally wrote The Dragon and The Lizard based on a story her mother made up to read to them at bedtime, there being only three books in the house. Along with We Have It All (A True Story), the two self-published books represented her first foray into book writing. “I wanted to preserve that story so that it would be around forever, long after we’d forgotten the details,” she said. Although she wasn’t aware of it when she started writing books, Kristyn eventually realized how most of the stories she read previously were western oriented. She grew up in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines — in a house with only a handful of books because they were too expensive to buy. Whatever second-hand books they owned were stuck together with sticky tape, worn out from constant use. “I grew up consuming books that were not written for me. Books that did not have me in mind as a reader. While some children’s books can transcend cultural barriers, most of what I was reading came from Western countries that wrote about daily lives that were unfamiliar to me.” Looking back at her high school days, she recalls how most of what she read were about jocks, cheerleaders and geeks in American high schools who had bathtubs and cars and took buses to school. In contrast, they had none of those in her school. “As much as I enjoyed the escapism that these books provided, they were also all aspirational. They affected my view of the world, emphasising what I grew up thinking living in a society that worshipped the west,” she noted: “White, English is better, always. And only the west can write good books.” The Engkantasia YA Series Over the last years, Kristyn wrote her Engkantasia Young Adult Series to bring Filipino mythological creatures to audiences around the world, and introduce them to Filipino children who like herself, were more inclined to reading foreign authors made more accessible by social media and streaming devices. Her three books: The Girl Between Two Worlds (2016), The Girl Between Light and Dark (2018), and The Search for Adarna (2019), were published by Anvil Publishing and made available in National Book store branches nationwide. All became bestsellers during the 40th Manila International Book Fair, the biggest and longest running book fair in the Philippines, held Sept. 11-15, 2019 at SMX Convention Center, Pasay City. “It would be such a shame if our children lose interest with our own stories when we have so much to share,” she lamented. While doing research for her PhD candidature in creative writing with University of Technology Sydney under the Australian Research Training Program, Kristyn found that there was exactly one Australian-Filipino author included in the AusLit Database published by University of Queensland Press way back in 2001 — 21 years ago. She was also dismayed to find no results when she searched the Cultural Diversity Database of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL) using keywords like “Asian”, “Filipino” and “Philippines”. The database was created for teachers, public librarians, teacher librarians, childcare providers, parents, caregivers, writers, illustrators, booksellers and publishers.
Kristyn is apprehensive that with no role models to relate in the books they read, generations of Filipino children are having an identity crisis.
“Not being represented in books affects children in so many ways. Those who cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when they see stereotypical or negative characters, the lesson they learn is that they are devalued in the society they live in,” she reflected.
However, she notes how even best-selling international authors need to further expand the inclusivity of their literature to help children from dominant social groups understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in.
“They need to understand that they are just a member of one group in that community and see their connections with other humans,” Kristyn stressed.
“I hope that my future books not only provide representation for the Filipino diaspora, but also show other cultures about the richness of our own storytelling.”