Zero aswang tolerance, librarian declares

Author Andrew Jalbuena Pasaporte is on a mission to introduce Filipino folklore to middle-grade readers

At a glance

  • Why are witches, goblins, ghosts, and ghouls considered acceptable in children’s libraries while mumus, tiktiks, sigbins, and aswangs face exclusion?

Gimo Jr. and the Aswang Clan

In a world of digital distractions, stories of scary mythical creatures and cryptids from Filipino folklore are slowly fading into obscurity. The question arises: Are these stories too scary for young children, or can they be presented in a new light while preserving their cultural significance?

Middle-grade books play a crucial role. These books are tailored to children aged eight to 12, providing engaging tales that captivate young minds. While international books like R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series have made scary stories a staple in children’s literature, the representation of Filipino folklore in this genre remains limited.

Andrew Jalbuena Pasaporte

Author Andrew Jalbuena Pasaporte is on a mission to change this narrative. His debut novel, Gimo Jr. and the Aswang Clan, takes inspiration from Filipino folklore, introducing these stories to a new generation of middle-grade readers. The book serves as a gateway to the captivating world of aswangs, offering a fresh perspective while preserving the essence of these tales.

The author’s encounter with a librarian at a recent book fair highlighted the challenges in introducing aswang-related literature into school libraries. “I explained to her that Gimo Jr. and the Aswang Clan is a middle-grade book. It is not meant to be scary at all. She politely declined. They can’t have books about aswangs in their school library,” says Pasaporte.

This raises the question: Why are witches, goblins, ghosts, and ghouls considered acceptable in children’s libraries while mumus, tiktiks, sigbins, and aswangs face exclusion? Pasaporte believes it’s time to embrace the diversity of Filipino folklore in children’s literature.

Gimo Jr. and the Aswang Clan has received excellent reviews, resonating with young readers and adults alike. The book recently sold out at book fairs in Manila, Cebu, and Davao, a sign that Filipino folklore has a growing interest among readers of all ages.

The novel is about Danny, a young boy whose life takes a mysterious turn on his 13th birthday. Through a fusion of supernatural elements and Filipino culture, Pasaporte crafts a relatable and familiar tale that resonates with all ages. The book introduces readers to an array of intriguing characters, including Danny’s friends Eddie and Mary, as they navigate the supernatural world of aswangs.

Crafting a story about aswangs presented a unique challenge to the author. The goal was not to induce fear but to create an exciting yet relatable piece of children’s literature. “I’ve long been a fan of Auggie’s work and, as I wrote [the book], I had a clear vision of who I wanted to collaborate with,” explains Pasaporte. “My goal was to offer something different from the existing children’s books.”

The author is a lockdown writer who found his passion for storytelling during the pandemic. Having spent most of his adult life in Quezon City, he moved back to his hometown, Polomolok, in South Cotabato in 2020. Despite growing up amid the pineapple fields of Dole Philippines Inc., which might seem rural, he developed a unique perspective. Pop culture influenced his childhood, growing up around what he describes as “pseudo-Western” sensibilities. 

Auggie Fontanilla, a contemporary artist, was the ideal collaborator. His artistic style is a dynamic fusion of street art and Filipino religious iconography, reflecting various influences. His roots can be traced back to his graffiti and sticker-slapping days. He draws inspiration from tattoo culture, Americana, and gang and prison insignia and also maintains a journal with drawings reminiscent of classic tattoo flashes, preserving these unique artistic expressions. In the case of Gimo Jr. and the Aswang Clan, Pasaporte joined forces with Fontanilla to craft the book’s cover and illustrations. Together, they infused the book with vibrant colors, captivating typography, and visually appealing elements carefully designed to be unique and not to scare young readers.

Join the author for a book signing event on Sept. 17 at 11:30 a.m. at the 8Letters booth (Aisle 1 Booth 266) for a perfect weekend activity.