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Book Review : Popong Eats Brown Rice

Every parent knows that getting their children to eat rice is a daily struggle, especially in this present-day fast junk food culture. At home, how happy they are when their children rush to the table, full of energy, and eager to eat rice without grumbling. These days are rare in most households, especially when what is served to children is an unfamiliar staple. What? Brown rice?

Author Chat Garrido-Ocampo, in her latest children’s book “Popong Eats Brown Rice”, raises this challenge within a 24-page fully illustrated framework in much the same way that the main character finally discovered the value of eating rice—thanks to the rice prince—in the first book, Popong Eats His Rice.

Now accustomed to eating well-polished white rice and excited about eating his lola’s yummy kakanin, Popong finds himself again in a bind, that of eating something unfamiliar to his palate. What happens when a child do not eat brown rice?

In this book, the clone-like brown subjects of the rice prince tells Popong: “Don’t you know that white rice is not as nutritious as brown rice because when you completely remove the hull, which gives the rice that brown color, you strip off the vitamins and minerals that can help make you stronger and healthier?

The book has elements of adventure, science, fiction, and fantasy. In fact, the effects of the brown subjects talking to Popong in a dream-like environment are apparent on every page. This gives child readers something to think about.

Science-driven, the book is an excellent way of introducing children to the quintessential staple that ensures that words like rice husk; rice bran; vitamins B 1, B3 and B6; manganese; phosphorus; fiber; and fatty acids do not disappear from the children’s awareness and vocabulary.

Ocampo employs simple words to ensure that she communicates to young readers, especially to her two sons—Anthony Manuel and Alvin Carlos—to whom she dedicates this book, in a pace that is fun, light-hearted, quick, and punchy.

This instructive writing style never changes throughout the book, which was made more understandable by the way illustrator Grace Dy splashed her illustrations with bright colors that carried the theme and tone of the whole story.

The story “lifts off” the page and, from a child’s perspective, illustrations and colors make perfect sense. The illustrations thus present an uncanny way of building rapport as eye contacts between the book’s characters and readers are established.

Again, the book celebrates the special bond that shines through between mother and children and between grandparents and grandchildren by emphasizing the universal values of love, care, compassion and understanding. Mothers and grandparents are usually right, and it wasn’t long before Popong realizes their and the rice prince’s wisdom.

While the title itself readily gives readers a hint, this science-based book with an original plot and believable characters is well-crafted, very engaging, easy-to-read, an excellent read-aloud choice, and can serve as a good introduction among preschool, kindergarten, and grade schoolers to the wonders and benefits of eating brown rice. By itself, the book is a “rite of passage” to the wonderful world of rice science.

The central message that the book contains almost spells like a universal advocacy in a world where malnutrition is written on the walls.

Popong Eats Brown Rice has great depths and great power to move and, perhaps, change people’s perception and appreciation of brown rice.

With advocates like the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR), the book’s publisher, the Brown Rice Advocates (BRADS), the Asia Rice Foundation (ARF), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Chat Ocampo, among others, it is not surprising if this book becomes not only a required reading material in all of the country’s primary schools, but also a daily diet of Popong and his friends.

Popong eats brown rice is simply an enjoyable gift of valuable information on brown rice for young and old alike.

By Chat Garrido-Ocampo