Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pop Stories for Groovy Kids

I wrote this on the request of Tony Joaquin, nephew of Nick Joaquin. I still have to dig up the books again, so I'm piecing all this together from memory. But oh, yes! what memories!

While the rest of the world may know Nick Joaquin for his journalism, his novels, or his histories, I remember him best for a little-known collection called "Pop Stories for Groovy Kids." My sister and I received the set from an aunt who worked in UCPB (and as I recall, the books were published with a grant from the bank.) "Pop Stories" made for several readings and re-readings throughout that summer and several summers after that so much so that the covers fell off and the pages split apart.

It's been close to thirty years since I last read any of "Pop Stories" but the characters are as vivid to me as if I read them yesterday. Without peeking at the books -- the set, minus one volume, still lies somewhere in our shelves -- I can still rattle off the names of some, so memorable are their names: Ellang Uling, Lilit Bulilit, Johnny Tinoso, Juan Tamad, and of course, Mariang Makiling. But the ones that stayed with me best were the three monkeys in Nick Joaquin's rollicking riff on Ibong Adarna; none moreso than the monkey who was deaf, blind, and dumb. Who would have thought that handicaps would turn out to be advantages?

Just why has "Pop Stories" persistently lodged in my memory? On the one hand, the frameworks of the stories themselves are nothing new: they're a retelling of old fairy tale classics and Filipino folklore, and hence so much more deeply ingrained in my story consciousness. But on the other, Nick Joaquin and his artistic co-creators took these stories and made it their own unique dreamscape.

Nick Joaquin, apart from injecting humor into the stories, also invested in them pathos mixed with an unflinching view of humanity. I found hardest to read, for example, his take on the Prince and the Pauper because I couldn't bear to follow the sufferings of the prince-now-pauper (a reflection, perhaps, of my own fears?) Nick Joaquin did not dumb down his stories; and he didn't pull any punches.

Add to all that the fantastic artwork that complemented the words, each and every one of them a painting in their own right, full of whimsy, wonder, and yes, terror. Nick Joaquin and his co-creators put together a veritable dreamscape of stories, one which would sometimes brush against my nightmares.

At a time when we're seeing a resurgence in Filipino speculative fiction and children's literature, I have yet to find any local work which could equal the quality that I remember in "Pop Stories." Perhaps the fault lies with my nostalgia, but I would even go further a-limb to say that "Pop Stories" in many ways preceded and still stands superior to the Gaimanesque fantasies in vogue today.

What's more, I don't think I ever made any overt distinction with "Pop Stories" as Filipino fiction, except perhaps briefly when I first broke them out of their cover. Yes, they were written by a Filipino, and yes, the stories carried Filipino themes or happened in Filipino settings; that I would tell anyone who asked. But to me they had gone beyond that; they had become, for want of a better term, Stories.


  1. Cacho Hermanos published Joaquinesquerie Myth a la Mod (1983) which includes the following: How love came to Juan Tamad, The Hamiling Mystery, Lilit Bulilit & the babe in the womb, amazing history of Elang Uling, Johnny Tinoso and the Proud Beauty (w/c became a Seiko film starring Jestoni Alarcon & Gretchen Baretto), among other stories

  2. Are you talking about the series of beautifully illustrated big books? Our school had an old copy. I was always obsessed with this haughty little villain called Lilit Bulilit. I loved the books so much I'm still tracking them down.

  3. Yup! I still have it in my library. Missing a couple of books, though.

  4. I loved these books TOO much as a kid. I'm still looking for them until now, and have been for years. If I could buy them from my old school's library, I would. They are supposedly out of print--published by Mr. & Ms. in '79. Now that I have a kid of my own, I really want to be able to introduce this awesome series to her. Ebay.ph nada, Amazon nada, found dead links to the University of San Carlos in Cebu and an antiquarian bookstore in the U.S. I'm close to giving up.

  5. I think I still have my set, though it's missing a volume or two.

  6. I'm the niece of Nick Joaquin. One of my causes is really to have "Pop Stories for Groovy Kids" republished.

  7. I'm the niece of Nick Joaquin. I would so love to have "Pop Story for Groovy Kids" republished.

  8. Hi, Charojvill:

    Can you give me your email address? You can leave it as a comment here, and I'll get in touch with you. Let's see what we can do.

  9. Dear Charojvill,

    There is a huge market out there for Nick Joaquin's "Pop Stories". My sister and I have kids of our own and we have been trying to search for old copies of "Pop Stories" with no luck. There are a lot of Filipinos who grew up reading Nick Joaquin's "Pop Stories" and would love to share them with their own children. I hope you succeed in getting your uncle's stories republished.

  10. i'm also looking for copies of these books. i read them back in the 80's when i was a kid. my school library had them. i've told all my friends about them and they're all helping me look for existing copies. so far the only one we found was "hamiling mystery", in a used bookstore in up diliman(back in 2003 i think).
    i do hope they reprint these stories with the original artworks!


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