Jack and Agyu by Justine Villanueva and Lynnor Bontigao is a fun, culturally rich book that I fully intend to read to my future children one day. This short children’s book is about a young Filipino boy, Jack, who doesn’t see kids that look like him in the books he borrows from the library. Jack’s mom tells him an old Filipino folktale about Agyu, a brave young Filipino boy that fights for the freedom of his people. This makes this book a great combination of both a new kid’s story about real issues and our history and culture.
It was a bit challenging to read with intent to remember these words translated into Binukid, Bisaya-Cebuano and ‘Filipino’. I think this is a strength of this book, though, as the intent was to expose these languages and keep them alive. I was confused when the book addressed the “Filipino’ language as I went on to learn Tagalog in school but recognized some of these translations as being Ilokano. Coming from the perspective that there is no language called ‘Filipino’ but also that the languages are often so similar, I struggled with those translations specifically. I highly valued the full translation of the book at the end of all three languages.
As an adult that tried to learn my native tongue in my late teens and early twenties, this book felt like it would have been a good source to practice reading and recognizing words and sentence structures early on. Thinking about how to keep up on the language I learned I hope to continue reading books like this one, and I can’t express enough how much I hope more books like this are produced for youth.
I think this children’s book is a great way to expose children to the Filipino culture and people, adding these diverse languages and translations to the mix even better. The author provides additional resources as well in the back of the book about baybayin, the different dialects, and current projects to keep these parts of the Philippinx culture alive. This book says from cover to cover that our culture and history matter, providing the reader with ways to continue the research and conversation with our youth.