Alexine Parreno and her 11-year old daughter, Adriana, run their very own book distribution and publishing company as a team of two! Mommy Alexine handles all the business dealings, while Adriana is the in-house book reviewer, helping her mom curate books that kids, like herself, would want to read. I had the opportunity to talk to Alexine and Adriana about their love for reading, how it has made an impact on their lives, and why books are the best investment you can ever make for yourself and your kids. Read on!
Pages and Pages of Bonding as Mother and Child
Alexine grew up surrounded by shelves and shelves of books because of her own book lover Mom. She and her siblings would have their noses buried in children’s stories everyday. So, when she became a Mom herself, Alexine wanted to pass on that same love of reading to her own daughter. Even during her pregnancy, she and her husband would read stories aloud to a baby Adriana who was still in the womb. But it was only when Adriana turned six years old that she picked up a storybook about a farting elephant, and read it all by herself. From that moment on, as Alexine describes, “it’s like a dam was opened.”
Adriana has read hundreds of books (and counting!) ever since. She reads all the titles they sell, after all! It’s not unusual to see her with a book in hand all the time. And though she can easily finish reading a 300-page novel in a week or less, Adriana asks her Mom to read stories to her up to this day.
“Even at 11, we’ll still read storybooks together. Benefit is she can read to us now!” says Alexine. “One thing that really made it very special for us is because I enjoy the stories. I would also go out of my way to go to book sales, second hand bookstores, and hunt down books I loved as a child. I would bring them home to her and I’d be so excited to show them to her.”
That very joy they gain from books led Alexine to come up with an idea that she and Adriana can work on together — a business that gives access to some of the best Filipino children’s books. It all started with Alexine knocking on every publisher’s door, asking if her company could carry their titles and sell them. Eventually, some said yes, and the rest was history. Six years down the line, publishers are now the ones calling Alexine!
“I quit my job and said you know what let’s just do something together. That was the summer of 2016. I would drag her along. She was this little person. I brought her along to all the meetings,” shares Alexine. Back when they would do book fairs, Alexine and Adriana would be selling books from morning until night, just the two of them! “Adriana would sit through those with a book,” Alexine proudly says.
Unleashing Volumes of Skills and Creativity
Whenever they would read books together, Mommy Alexine makes it a point to discuss the stories with Adriana. Like having their own personal book club, they analyze, observe, and think about every word and picture.
“When we read together, we get to point out the illustrations. I’ve noticed she has developed a very keen eye for detail because of that. She’ll see things I don’t even see anymore,” says Alexine. “There’s a story, let’s say, it’s a farm story. But in the background, in the illustrations, there could be a little chick, and that little chick could be fighting a worm. There are backstories. She likes looking for those details.”
Apart from sharpening observation skills, reading has also honed Adriana’s comprehension abilities as well as her vocabulary. And since she’s their company’s resident book expert, Adriana has gained a knack for telling the difference between a book that is well-written and one that is not. Adriana told me that her criteria for a good book is if she can’t stop talking about it and if it makes her release a huge gasp!
Gaining a Series of Valuable Life Lessons
For Alexine, there’s still something far more important than intelligence. What she always teaches Adriana is that being the smartest person in the world wouldn’t matter if you’re not a decent human being.
The very first book they published was “Luntiang Kinabukasan: Ang Kuwento ni Kiko Pangilinan,” a story that chronicles the life of Kiko Pangilinan as a child who dreams of a better future for every Filipino. Adriana specifically requested to include a section in the book where Kiko tries so hard to become like a saint. The punchline? “Ang hirap pala maging Santo.”
“Adriana said Mom that is the best part. You have to add it. Then, we realized, oonga noh? To her that was important. Surprisingly, the adults who have read it, that’s the first part they see. That’s the first part they laugh about,” says Alexine.
Alexine does admit that it’s not easy to raise a good child, and to be one, too. I think we can all agree that being kind tends to be difficult every now and then, especially as adults. We get angry, we experience conflicts. But still we try to become better versions of ourselves. So, how do you teach your own kids to be decent people? This could be a sign for us to buy a novel and read again, because it’s not an exaggeration to say that the value of kindness is something you can learn from a book!
Changing Lives One Book at a Time
Despite the children’s book industry going through struggles especially during the height of the pandemic, Alexine and Adriana carry on their crusade to spread happiness through reading. Their motivation is the fact that kids still need books, everyone does! And if no one makes books for the children right this moment, then who will?
“We also wanted to point out that the children’s book industry is working very hard. It’s amazing, even in the pandemic, they still produce books. Tuloy-tuloy. More schools have been reaching out to us to request for books. Actual books. They saw how much just learning through a screen is not the same. It’s really not the same,” says Alexine.
This kind of noble mission eventually yields rewards that are beyond your expectations. During the bad days, and the moments when she was ready to quit, without fail, Alexine would receive a message that reignites her passion and hope.
“One of the most beautiful emails we received came from the States. A family with four children. They grew up with the books we sell. The kids do live a privileged life. As much as they try to tell them that we live to serve others, it’s hard to imagine,” shares Alexine. “When our books started arriving there, and they started reading about the culture and the reality of how life is in the Philippines, doon lang daw nag-sink in yung values that they were trying to teach. And they saw their kids manifesting those values.”
While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the luxuries this modern world has to offer, it’s also worthwhile to remember that there’s so much we can gain from reading a short story, a novel, a picture book, and more. Alexine and Adriana continue on proving that books open up a world of possibilities. Knowledge? Love of culture? A driving force of change? Where can you learn them all? To borrow Adriana’s catchphrase: You can get it from a book!