The Mats by Francisco Arcellana and illustrated by Hermes Alegre won the 1995 Philippines National Book Award for Children's Literature. The first American printing was 1999 by Kane/Miller.
The story of The Mats is simple yet powerful. I would say, however, that this picture book would be better for older readers than younger readers. This isn't a toddler and preschool friendly story. As some of the concepts, some of the meaning would be lost. That's just my opinion. Make your own judgment call. But this is as good a time as any to state my philosophy on picture books: NEVER EVER EVER read a picture book aloud to a child (or a group of children as the case may be) without first reading it yourself. Side tangent: Just because a book is packaged as a picture book doesn't mean that it is kid-friendly. There are picture books geared towards adults though they may be disguised and masquerading as a kid's book.
Anyway, back on topic, The Mats is a simple story. A family is waiting for the return of the father. The kids are eagerly awaiting his arrival. They know that he is bringing gifts. He's going to be bringing home a new mat for every member of their family. While they are waiting for his arrival, the narrator feels the audience in on the family's background. We're told about the family's mat. A mat that was a gift to the newlyweds. A mat that is reserved for special occasions. "Mama always kept that mat in her trunk. When any of us got sick, the mat was brought out and the sick child made to sleep on it. Every one of us had at some point in our life slept on it. There had been sickness in our family. And there had been deaths..."
After his arrival, and after the family meal, everyone gathers around to see each mat be presented or gifted. Each mat is to have a name of the family member. The children are told that they cannot use the mats until they are older and go away to the university. But they see that there are three mats remaining.
The revelation or realization that the mats are to memorialize the three sisters (or three daughters depending on your perspective) that had died young is heartfelt and moving. There is sorrow and joy in the remembering.
I liked it. I did. But this would not have been a picture book for me as a kid. I would weep at anything and everything. But I do recommend this book. It is beautifully done. The story was originally a short story.
Francisco "Franz" Arcellana was born in 1916 in Santa Cruz, Manila, the fourth of eighteen children. After studying philosophy at the University of the Philippines, he worked briefly as a journalist before becoming a teacher and a writer of fiction. Collections of his work include Selected Stories (1962), Fifteen Stories: Storymaster 5 (1973) and The Francisco Arcellana Sampler (1990). His stories have been translated into several languages. In 1990 he was declared a National Artist for Literature by President Corazon Aquino. He lives with his wife in Diliman, Quezon City, in the Philippines.
Hermès Alègrè was born in Daet, Camarines Norte in 1968. He set out to become an artist at an early age, drawing pictures on the sand which his playmates would often proceed to erase. Undaunted, he studied art in the Philippine Women's University. After receiving his degree in fine arts, he decided to paint full time. His first picture book, Bahay Kubo, was published in 1993. His work has appeared in over thirty galleries. He lives in Las Pinas, Metro Manila.