The eternal challenge (and joy) in writing for children is painting with words.
Authors like kids to actually see and feel the excitement, the characters and where they are in the story. I grew up on books like those: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, The Secret Garden, Heidi, etc. and tons of fairy tales.
But from the beginning of my writing life, I've said over and over again, “Any book—be it fantasy or adventure that I write has to have a value/s in it, or I don't write at all.” Values . . . that's where the difficulty lies.
Some values are not very visual. One of them is nationalism. I've struggled with the brushes in my mind to try and paint it in various ways, yet I am never content.
Nationalism is commonly defined as love for one's country.
Historically, however, nationalism takes on a far greater meaning. Over the years, large groups of people who share a cultural identity (language, customs, history) have felt the pulling power of nationalistic spirit—something like the belief that one's country is better off as an autonomous state, one that can stand on its own and ward off foreign dominion.
Now, how can that translate to images that children can see and feel? Are they even ready for the concept?
Some of the pictures that appear in my mind on nationalism are children with their right hand on their chest while singing the national anthem, reciting the “Panatang Makabayan,” enjoying our native foods instead of imported ones, and proudly wearing a shirt with the Philippine map on it.
I made an attempt in “A Flood of Kindness,” the #14 “Oh, Mateo!” book, where I dramatized love for one's place of birth. But what came through was the value of kindness instead. Nationalism played second fiddle.
I was given a second chance in “Quiet time with Mateo,” 52 weekly devotions for children. For the 11th month, in the chapter entitled “Love of Country,” I wrote four devotions: 1) Pride in One's Country; 2) Caring for Fellowmen; 3) Supporting Local Products; 4) Appreciating Your roots.
My thoughts: I barely scratched the surface; nationalism is such a multi-layered value that needs a series of stories, not just one; it can only be a subliminal theme in a story, not the main one; it shouldn't be belabored to be understood; it can't be forced on anyone, just suggested; it creeps in as one grows up and not learned in childhood.
Meanwhile, let me go paint other values while my brushes on nationalism stand by and one day, a stroke of grace will illumine my mind on how to use those brushes for the words that create images in a story.