‘The Christmas Toys’: Class homework turns into book after 33 years

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The toys that we cherished the most as kids are the ones which we got to have for Christmas. But have you ever thought about what those toys thought about their time with you?

Yvette Fernandez’s children’s book “The Christmas Toys” tells the story of four toys—a tin soldier, a golden-haired doll, a little brown bear and a wooden boy—and how they spent their Christmases here on earth. They shared their memories of their time with the different children they kept company with, giving the reader a peek at different impressions of Christmas.

The story tugs at the heartstrings to say the least. It left us feeling nostalgic and wistful—and wiping away tears. (We dare you to not feel for the toys as you turn page after page!) The dream-like watercolor illustrations of artist Aldy C. Aguirre added to the book’s magic and charm.

Fernandez wrote the story in 1989, when she was a college student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. “I think it was called fiction writing, English 157. It was under Prof. Nieves B. Epistola,” she recalled.

Children’s story

“The assignment was a children’s story and so I didn’t know because I am not a fiction writer. I’ve always been a journalist at heart so I am better at writing and reporting on what I see. Up to now I have a hard time writing fiction,” Fernandez told Lifestyle.

Fernandez, who worked for Bloomberg News in New York, is former editorial director of Esquire Philippines and former editor in chief of Town and Country Philippines.

She remembers talking about it with her siblings Joey, Jackie and Lara, and her brother’s best friend, David Esteban. “They said, ‘what if you write something about toys?’ That’s how it came about.”

Fernandez then submitted the story for her homework. On Christmas that same year, she and her siblings decided to give copies of it to family and friends as presents. Her sister Lara, then 11, made the illustrations. Jackie, who was also in college, did the cover.

The siblings did that for two or three Christmases: made photocopies of the story which they worked on collectively and gifted it to family and friends. When the age of electronic mail arrived, they would email it to their friends every holiday season.

“And then I forgot about it. I couldn’t find a copy anymore because at that time I was sending it on AOL pa,” Fernandez said with a laugh.

It wasn’t until three years ago that the story resurfaced, when Lara unearthed the floppy disk where it was saved. “She converted the files herself. She had an old computer with a floppy disk drive and then copied them to another computer,” Fernandez explained.

The Fernandez siblings Yvette, Lara, Joey and Jackie

Shortly after, Fernandez commissioned Aguirre to do the illustrations for “The Christmas Toys.” The artist did the illustrations for “Si Kian” and “Papuntang Community Pantry,” which both garnered international recognition.

Serendipitous

We asked if they considered mixing the story’s original drawings made by then 11-year-old Lara with Aguirre’s surreal style done in watercolor. “Aldy was asking me if I have the original photocopy pero wala eh,” Fernandez said. But she still has a clear picture in her head of the drawings done by her youngest sister. “They’re super child-like drawings,” she added.

But Aguirre, according to Fernandez, was able to portray it exactly. “And to be honest, there were other illustrators who I got in touch with and for some reason they all didn’t work out.”

It was Fernandez’s dream to have the book in hardcover so she decided to self-publish it. “I wanted it to be exactly the way we wanted it,” she said. Doing so also allowed her and Aguirre to go for their dream paper, Arcoprint Milk, which allowed Aguirre’s watercolor illustrations to come out nicer, compared to other book papers.

Writer Yvette Fernandez and illustrator Aldy C. Aguirre—CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS
Writer Yvette Fernandez and illustrator Aldy C. Aguirre—CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

All proceeds of the book will go to Carewell Community Foundation, a nonprofit that provides support, education and hope to persons with cancer and their loved ones. It was founded by Fernandez’s sister Jackie in 2003. “She and my dad passed away from cancer in 2005,” Fernandez said.

We told her that maybe it was meant for “The Christmas Toys” to be published, because what are the chances that an old computer with a floppy disk drive is still running. It might be considered serendipitous as well that the floppy disk did not end up corrupted even after a long time in storage.

“So happy it’s now out there in the world,” Fernandez said. INQ

“The Christmas Toys” is available for P850. You may message Yvette Fernandez via Facebook.





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