Several years ago, I was uncertain where to begin my writing journey. Diving into the writing rollercoaster was overwhelming. Just imagine balancing balls of your ideas with what the reading market wants versus what the publishers expect, navigating the publishing industry, and securing the stability of your finances all in one act. At one point, you will be strained to make a decision and you might end up dropping one ball or two. The question is which one are you willing to sacrifice?
In my case, there was no doubt that I was keeping my ideas. I wanted my books to sell but I was more resolved in shaping up the stories in my head. I was unwilling to sacrifice the idea of writing the kind of children’s books that came to me ten years ago while reading to kindergarten students. During that time, I found myself nitpicking the books I used in my reading-aloud sessions. I entertained so many ‘unta’ (the closest translation was ‘I wish’). I wished that the book sizes were larger. I wished that they used bigger fonts that young learners can identify and teachers can read with ease. I wished that they used more vibrant colours. I wished rhythm and rhyme were applied. But my biggest ‘unta’ was wishing for serious life skills to be tackled as I have always believed that children were more perceptive than what we gave them credit for. It was frustrating how adults continued to think that we can put off revealing the harsh realities of our world to children, leaving them vulnerable when these realities hit them on moments when we were not around. As much as we wanted to shield them, children were bound to encounter these realities at some point. I felt that it was best to prepare them early on.
During that same period, I was specifically moved by someone very close to me who was pouring himself to make things possible for other people. It broke my heart how he sacrificed everything and left nothing for himself. Back then, I wished that he would hold back even just a little and also take care of himself as he was dangerously enabling others to rely on him so much. The more I thought of him, the more people came to mind. He was not alone. I knew so many others like him who were in the same predicament and who also never had the heart to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ to those who repeatedly asked for help, to the point that they were taken advantage of.
It was while I was reflecting on how one’s excessive kindliness could breed dependency and subservience that Harriet Pat and Her Hat began to take form. Most children’s books would dabble into the values of helping others but will not dare touch that part of the narrative that discussed the possibility of ‘help’ being exploited. Adults would argue that children are not ready for these topics and such values can be taught later. At a mature age, restructuring values can become tricky however it can go a long way if introduced while still young. The best feature of children’s literature is converting big serious topics into more relatable or easier-to-digest messages by using the lens of a child. With the play of simple words and the lightness that illustrations offer, readers will become more receptive and the said topics will not materialize as being too heavy for children to comprehend.
My main character, Harriet Pat, was inspired by that loved one and all other people who selflessly helped others but have forgotten about themselves. These real-life Harriet Pats were heroes but what I really wanted was for people around these Harriet Pats to realize that anyone can be a hero by harnessing their uniqueness (and sometimes they just needed to be shown how). In the book, this uniqueness was represented by a hat – an object that can be made and then put on or taken off, thus an acquired characteristic that a person would consciously choose to create and wear.
I elaborated the concept further by injecting diversity with the use of varied names. The decision to use names that were ‘common’ in their respective regions came with the hope of emphasizing that every person was unique. I imagined that this can be a window of opportunity for acknowledging different cultural backgrounds where curiosity can pave the way for new knowledge. Maybe after being introduced to such names, readers will start wondering where they came from, what the people there were like, and what languages they used. They would become curious about other cultures and understand that each person is blessed with a set of characteristics that he or she can utilize for himself or herself.
Although I had most of the components set in place, completing Harriet Pat and Her Hat took several years to finish because I had many excuses and dilly-dallied on my decisions out of fear. I was immobilized by my doubts about whether people, other than my family, would be interested to read my book and by how others would perceive it. It was in my 9th year of playing around with the writing project that I finally decided to get the manuscript published. If there was anything that 2020 taught me, it was to stop putting things off and start making things happen. From there on, everything was a blur of movement. My only regret now is that I wasted more time worrying about my book’s reception than the actual time for work that I invested in creating it. On the bright side, this regret is fueling my drive to finish my next children’s book which again will dabble into a big serious topic such as depression.
Daniel Ceeline Ramonal, is a Filipino dance anthropologist, artist, and writer currently based in Serbia. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication from the University of the Philippines and an International Masters in Dance Knowledge, Practice, and Heritage under the Erasmus Mundus Choreomundus program in Europe. She collaborates on various projects which have taken her from the Philippines to Bahrain, India, Tanzania, Hungary, Sierra Leone, France, UK, Morocco, and UAE. To get copies of Harriet Pat and Her Hat, the book is available in both physical and online shops of Central Books. Visit the FB page “The Book Den” for more information.