If there was a moment where I wished I had a camera (without capturing the faces of the precious kids around me—we have to protect them, after all), it was this: my first actual appearance as an author at the International School Manila. Stepping onto that stage was like a full-on celebrity moment (without being an actual celebrity, he he) with the lights and the stage beautifully set up with my face flashing on the screen.

There were things I weren’t really proud of, such as my choice of clothes, but everything is overshadowed by the joy of meeting a hundred and more kids gathered inside the auditorium, all of them smiling, lights hitting their faces, looking intently at me.

Janice graciously set up the stage in full Oprah style. Two plush purple seats in the middle, a small table, and my book front and center. An optional podium should I decide to speak more formally. Caleb—if I remember his name right—handed out the clicker and reminded me to point toward the audio booth. He also got my slides playing on the large, overhead. Thank goodness for Canva.

I came in, in my peach blouse and already-crumpled trousers, and took everything in. The seats were still empty, but in a few while, the kids will arrive. I wondered how many of them would come. It didn’t matter if there were twenty or a hundred. We were going to have a grand time.

This is really happening, I said to myself many, many times.

Months ago, I thought it would never.

I was ecstatic when Ms. Janice Remoroza, ES Teacher Librarian for International School Manila, reached out to me in December last year. ISM had a Book Week scheduled in January and she wanted me to drop by and tell the kids all about Marikit and the Ocean of Stars. There it was, my first author appearance! But other than coming in as an author, I was more excited to meet the kids.

Everyone at home knows I’m all about kids. Having been involved in the children’s ministry since I was thirteen, I think I’m still a kid myself; a goofy eight-year-old trapped in a thirty-ish’s body. Kids are beautiful. Their energy, contagious. One could only admire their irrepressible joy, inimitable wonder, a knack for mischief, and pure, untainted courage. Poor adults; some of us lost that magic. That’s why I’d like to keep that part in me. Maybe I’ve held on to my childhood—an introvertish, imaginative kind—too much and for too long.

Janice and I had many email exchanges after that, all of them hopeful that things work out. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Due to the lack of Marikit books in the local bookstores—not enough to supply the school’s needs—we had to move the event to another date. I thought it was a kind way to say, “Not this time, girl.”

I thought that was it.

And then, come April, Janice came back to me with the news. National Bookstore is able to supply copies of Marikit. They didn’t pick another author. We can move forward with the event!

It was Janice who I first met as I arrived at ISM’s Fine Arts Hall. She carried her tray of things—I immediately knew it was her because there were three covered Marikit books in her tray, an iPad, and a bunch of Sharpies for signing. “Caris?” she first asked. I nodded anxiously.

Janice led me to the auditorium, which sort of shocked me. I think, in my quiet amazement, there was a moment when she just nodded and said, “I know.” Having taught kids in corridors or side of the streets (or an abandoned home in Northville 9), this was an upgrade! I knew it was embarrassing, but I had to take pictures.

All my love to Janice and her team for making this event possible, and so, so beautiful. She had everything set up—the showcase, the signing table, and even the questions she made with the kids! Everything looked so amazing that I was so proud when my mom and tito took their places at the back to watch and support me.

It wasn’t just me who was excited about this event. My whole family was. And when I say family, that includes my ever-supporting relatives who saw me turn from a quiet girl scribbling in the corner of her room, to an actual author, still scribbling away in that same corner. Some things shouldn’t change. And their support had always been seen and felt, just like on that day. Tito Boy volunteered to drive me to BGC. Mama came with me, because I’m a baby, because these milestone experiences have to be shared with precious people.

The moment the fourth and fifth graders started trickling in from the entrance to the box, I was up on the stage, smiling at them. Some of them waved their hands—maybe to their friends, maybe to me, but I made sure to respond back. I had only been all smiles. Two girls in front started dancing, and when I mouthed, “Flower?” they just looked at each other with amazement. “She knew?”

Yes, dear, I know.

Do you know what’s more touching? Some of the kids entered the room holding Marikit in their hands. They held it up, waved it at me, letting me know that, “Hey, I bought the book! I’m reading it!” Oh boy. I couldn’t describe the feeling. What an honor to be in this space. What a privilege to meet a reader.

There was no rumbling in my stomach. No anxious throbbing in my heart. I picked up the clicker and the microphone, and by the time I got the go signal, I was ready.

My tito took this from the back of the auditorium, and I snagged it just to show you how cool everything was!
And there's me, in my oversized shirt and crumpled trousers, because what better way to appear before kids than looking like their shabby, messy aunt?

I had so much fun! We breezed through the presentation—a comfortable 15 minutes—I’m not sure if I actually finished earlier than that! I loved the kids’ energy and they responded with such joy. Then, the Q&A! Children have many, many interesting questions. I hope I answered them enough.

If I didn’t, please shoot me a message on Twitter or IG, and I will clear things up for you!

Some of the kids left early due to their classes, but those that remained made a line to my table. I think this must be my favorite part. I hated that kids had to wait in line for their turn, but to actually talk to them, hear their names, some saying they’ve even started reading Marikit? Oh. My heart just grew bigger. I asked some of them if they knew what their names meant, and oooh. Their names are beautiful. I’d try to remember them—Kiran, Saif, Yuki, and so many more, each of them unique. It feels so nice to see kids walk away with a smile on their faces, knowing they are recognized and honored. And do you know what’s lovelier? Some of the kids wanted me to write their siblings’ names on the books, because they’re going to share them.

Oh, Lord. This warms my heart so much.

Janice made things easy for me by letting kids write their names on Post-Its. I kept them, the ones the kids managed to leave, along with the ISM Teddy Bear they gifted me with!

A lot of beautiful, memorable moments happened outside the auditorium. It also happened in ISM’s cafeteria, where Janice generously treated me and my humble crowd to lunch. Even more than that: shared with us her spare cutlery, because ISM’s philosophy is anchored in sustainability. My mother and Tito feasted on pasta. I sat there, only listening to her story.

Other than the ES Librarian, Janice is a wonder woman. A soul with lofty ideals for kids, and she’s working her way to make a difference in their lives, one book at a time. Born in the Philippines and immigrated to the U.S. when she was six, she returned here with hopes to teach. She first wanted to work in a public school, but was discouraged by the system. But here at ISM, she can make a difference. She could lead the hearts of these future professionals to the right path, by offering books that could mirror their lives, break doors to new worlds, or open windows outside their familiar spaces.

She told me that events like these were her ways of supporting local authors. Tanya Guerrero of How to Make Friends With the Sea and Candy Gourlay of Bone Talk once visited here. And now, she gave me this wonderful opportunity, too. I thought that after it didn’t work out in January, it was over.

 But she persisted. She and her team made everything possible. And I am so, so grateful.

I had so much fun, and I hope the kids did, too!  In the future, should we meet again, I would love to hear their stories. And in a way, I pray that Marikit opens doors and windows for them to see the world in a new light. x

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