Regal antique armoire – painted leafy green and embellished with decorative patterns – swings open on the “I Love Wearing Rainbows” cover. The book’s polished dust jacket is cut in the middle, following the edges of the cabinet’s French doors. The perforation of the book offers a glimpse into the cardboard cover below: a portrait of the flaming book hero.
The boy is covered with layers of cloth. The page is filled with rainbow colors and whimsical patterns, and it’s flooded with a plethora of outfits. But he stands with one arm on his hip. Despite his face being hidden by a scarlet dress, his body language exudes confidence. It is as if he claims ownership of the small space he inhabits.
Louis Manage’s initial painting was used as the basis for a story writing competition. Image courtesy of Canvas
I Love Wearing the Rainbow, winner of the 28th Romeo Forbes Children’s Story Writing Competition, addresses important themes through her vibrant artwork and empathetic storytelling. The premise of writer Ajay Lanera’s story is simple – a boy indulges in playing with his grandmother’s clothes. He opens his wardrobe and chooses from among the piles of clothes: a yellow skirt, a bright pink shirt, and a purple ruffled dress. He wears them one by one, running and spinning in cheerful innocence, while his grandmother sings and claps.
Tension arises when he cheerfully walks out of the cupboard into the kitchen. His father turns red and shouts, “Boys don’t wear dresses.”
Social issues through symbolism
The cupboard – along with its rainbow-coloured contents – plays such an important role in the story that it’s almost a character on its own, just like the chandelier in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of The Opera. Acknowledged as a metaphor for people who hide part of their identity, the cabinet in I Love Wearing Rainbows presents a universal truth: that adults ascribe their meanings to things, while children see things as they are.
The motive behind the book is a painting. Run by the Center for Arts, New Enterprise, and Sustainable Development (CANVAS), the Romeo Forbes competition begins with artwork that results in submissions from nearly 100 writers. The winning piece will launch a series of original artwork that will consist of a fully illustrated storybook for children.
The Romeo Forbes competition, run by the Center for Arts, New Enterprise, and Sustainable Development (CANVAS), begins with artwork that results in submissions from nearly a hundred writers. Image courtesy of Canvas
The router, as well as all the artwork in the book, is designed by Lui Manaig, a contemporary visual artist who explores social concerns through his work – from gender identity, notions of diversity and equality, to works of self-representation.
A story book that combines Manaig art and Llanera’s prose thrives on visual clues – cabinets, rainbows, and generous use of color (not limited to blue and pink). Pictures capture the child’s fun and innocence. She writes of the clothes: “Their colors are stacked high like buildings” and “Coil[ed] My feet and the pool[ed] On earth like melted ice cream.”
Yanira’s writing is sympathetic without being dramatic and casual without being insensitive. She addresses complex concepts in the book including grief and weighing the judgment of others.
But the book is not a coming-of-age story, and it doesn’t say anything about sex or sexuality. In fact, there are no labels mentioned in the 48 pages of the book, and by the end of the book, we’ll be left in the dark if the protagonist is gay, lesbian, transgender kid, or crossdresser (or none of the above).
“[The story is] Not too preachy,” Yanira told CNN Philippines Life about her approach.[It’s just a] narration of events. It’s just.”
Artist Louis Manig works on a painting for “I Love Wearing the Rainbow.” Image courtesy of Canvas
“[‘I Like Wearing Rainbows’] Introduce an interesting character that readers might recognize… The fact that the story was related to LGBT+ issues was serendipitous, but had little to do with our decision to publish the story, said Gigo Alampay, CANVAS founder and CEO. “It was among the best stories that were presented,” he added. “Nothing else is important after that but to make sure that we are able to publish the best version of the picture book so that our young readers will enjoy reading it, as we did.”
The approach helps normalize the conversation. As a children’s book, it does not engage the young reader in the nuances of SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression) – although that may be implied. The boy loves to wear rainbows, but that doesn’t mean he’s meant to be put in a box. The joy he feels when playing with his grandmother’s clothes may be rooted in something deeper, but that’s not what this book explores.
At its core, “I Love Wearing a Rainbow” is a story about love and acceptance for people who do not fit into society’s heterogeneous beliefs.
“I love to wear the rainbow” is a story of love and acceptance. Image courtesy of Canvas
“It might be a frustrating subject, but the artwork gave it a kid-friendly vibe,” says Llanera.
For Manij, the book celebrates representation: “I wanted it to be an icon going forward.” He recounted that people like him had never before had a platform to see that they belonged. “But there are a lot of us,” he said. “I want kids to feel validated about their choices – that pink and blue aren’t the only colors in the world.”
The book is available for 1,200 JPY and can be purchased at lookingforjuan.com, a local online children’s book store published by CANVAS. Every purchase of I Love Wearing the Rainbow at lookingforjuan.com will be matched by a donation of two books to underserved communities. CANVAS is a non-profit organization that works with the creative community to advance children’s literacy, explore national identity, and deepen public appreciation of Filipino art, culture, and environment. You can also read the book online through the CANVAS website.