‘Once Upon the Sun and Sea’ breathes life into Indigenous PH stories

New children’s book breathes life into Indigenous Philippine stories

The book is written by Filipina authors Jo Tiongson-Perez and Denise Orosa
/ 09:23 PM November 16, 2023

Once Upon The Sun and Sea

Once Upon The Sun and Sea revives Indigenous Philippine stories through retellings | Photo from Bookculture.com

From the pre-colonial era to the contemporary world, the history of storytelling in the Philippines mirrors the diverse culture molded by the Indigenous traditions, colonial influences, and a nation’s evolving identity.

Reported by Relief Web, the archipelago is home to more than 17 million indigenous peoples, constituting 110 ethnolinguistic groups, estimated to be between 10 and 20 percent of the national population.

Spanning millennia, this narrative serves as the inspiration to “Once Upon the Sun and Sea,” a new children’s book published in the US by co-Filipino authors Jo Tiongson-Perez and Denise Orosa.

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The collection of 11 lyrical retellings, illustrated by Tin Javier, extends an invitation to young readers aged 6 to 12. This literary odyssey immerses readers in a fantastical world of Filipino gods, goddesses, heroes, and magical creatures, exploring the fabric of pre-colonial and popular stories from the country.

“Let these stories be a joyful beacon that inspires curiosity, conversation, and pride; lighting the way back to beloved homelands of sun and sea,” as posted in the description by Book Culture.

What we can expect from “Once Upon the Sun and Sea”

A love letter to the children of the Filipino diaspora, the 100-page book is divided into two sections, featuring seven Indigenous stories and three folk tales.


Inspired by their own children’s quest for cultural connections, the co-authors collaborated with respected elders from the Tagbanua tribe, among the oldest Indigenous communities in the Philippines.

With their consent, the oral storytelling of “The Quail and the Shrimp” and “The Story of Buwal” was translated into written English.

To encourage deeper exploration of Philippine culture, the book includes a visual glossary with definitions of regional and colloquial vocabulary. These short, digestible facts provide additional context, fostering curiosity and understanding among young readers.


How this project happened

Tiongson-Perez, a Filipina-American writer based in Philadelphia, delves into the impact of stories, language, and media on worldviews and identities. Meanwhile, Orosa, an award-winning arts and elementary educator, writer, and artist in Canada, brings over two decades of expertise in working with and writing for children and families.

This duo, recognized as AAPI Grant Awardees of the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation, embarked on a two-year project born out of a conversation between Tiongson-Perez and Orosa. Both mothers and writers, they observed their children’s longing for connections to their heritage while growing up in distant lands.

“Growing up in Manila through the 1980s, I was raised on books filled with Western, Eurocentric narratives, and representation,” shares Tiongson-Perez on EIN Presswire. “When my daughter began asking for Filipino stories, I realized I only knew a handful compared to the dozens of Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers Grimm fairy tales I love.”

Acknowledging the scarcity of access to Indigenous Filipino literature for children, they set out to fill this void through their collaborative effort.

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“While researching stories from the Philippines, I was struck by historical and anthropological characterizations of our Indigenous culture as inferior, primitive, even savage. I wondered if a book like this could not only help widen the space to include Indigenous voices but also recover pride in our cultural heritage,” she added.

“Once Upon the Sun and Sea” can be bought on global online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Book Baby.

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TAGS: new books by Filipinos, Philippine indigenous communities, Trending
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