Mateo, eight years old, has one surviving parent—his father, a poor farmer in the province of my youth, Pangasinan. But he has five energetic lolas who dote on him.
Despite his hard life and the early death of his mother, Mateo is a kind-hearted, happy boy. He is inquisitive and creative, traits which take him to many adventures and relationships children his age don’t even glimpse.
How does one meet Mateo?
He’s in 11 books of the “Oh, Mateo” series published by Hiyas, an imprint of OMF Literature.
I actually just made him up (exactly eight years ago) when I wrote the first book in the storybook series. Beth Parrocha Doctolero, a deeply imaginative artist, gave him a face—and both image and words brought Mateo to life!
Now Mateo’s one of the “25 Best-loved children’s book characters” as chosen by hundreds of Filipino school children! These 25 characters were exhibited, in sculptures bigger-than-life, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the National Children’s Book Day in July.
The art exhibit, which lasted one week, was jointly mounted by the Illustrador ng Kabataan (INK), an organization of children’s book illustrators, and the Philippine Board of Book for theYouth.
Mateo has always been—to use a cliché—my pride and joy, and my continuing gift of grace. I join his many adventures and I get to enjoy the unusual friends he meets and keeps.
Mateo also makes me seek and hang on to the child in me. He will forever be my eight-year-old, and I am delighted to share him with the hundreds of children who already love him, and to the many more children (and children at heart) who still have to meet him.