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Asian Festival of Children’s Content
23–26 May 2024

by Rebecca T. Añonuevo


Not only has the age of the internet transformed my ways of reading and writing, it has also shaken the ground where I used to be steady and confident. To deal with the challenges brought by AI, I have decided to regard it as an opportunity to learn from a fresh perspective and an unfamiliar zone. As a digital immigrant (part of the GenX born from 1965 to 1980), I catch myself reading and listening and watching the screen, sometimes all at the same time. Multitasking is like wings naturally growing on my shoulders and I welcome it, even if it is the exact opposite of the attitude of full attention for which I trained myself when I was a student of the 20th century.

Although fumbling occasionally with the Large Language Model (LLM) when I first learned how to explore it, I find myself often more excited, at the risk of being addicted, than anxious and afraid, when new developments are announced concerning AI technology. LLM is a game changer in web development. I do not wish to lag behind young people who seek guidance from ancient creatures like myself when they do decide to pursue a college education. It is my duty to be acquainted with new forms and modalities of learning and instruction. I remind myself that it is a privilege to witness and participate in what Arthur C. Clarke has proven time and again: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Magic it is to me, who did reading and research in the dank recesses of the library, surrounded by books that were brittle and yellowed and earth-smelling through the ages.

With enough warning from influential voices of the dangers of AI, what is now the writer’s place in a world of readers, whose average attention span at 8.5 seconds already displaces the goldfish record of 9.0 seconds, according to marketers? How can writers earn readers who are easily lured by various apps with a promise of new ways to earn rolls of dollars, even when they only have a mobile phone to transact; an array of open windows, only a little above the eyeline, not to catch fresh air but deep sighs for dream vacations and electric cars; arrows pointing at red waves to right wrongs; bins waiting to catch what is not needed; data stored in cloud?

My mind wanders to Odysseus and his sea-battered men, enchanted by Circe, who turns them into swine after they partake of the drug in her dishes. If sooner or later, the world’s readers would have turned mystically into swine, we can only surmise the culprit drug we should point a finger to, with apologies to pork defenders. The creatures have no idea why they have been turned into rascals by Homer and Orwell, whereas Lamb revealed the secret of the pleasure in pig’s skin in his dissertation. Filipino sisig and lechon lovers can only vehemently agree.

What is the place of writing for authors, when AI can outpace humans through generated content, using the human language? This question is appropriate, in view of the act of writing as a process. To re-view thus what writing means to writers these days is in order. In newsfeed ads of Facebook, for instance, is a recurring invitation to enroll in a programme, to write a book even when you’re not a writer, and to publish your bestseller. The ads feature personalities who consider themselves non-writers–there is the irony–but promise you will be a writer if you invest in their offered programme or course. 

On pre-X (formerly Twitter), what users call poetry and novels attract followers, as in the case of Whatsapp and Wattpad novels first published online before they are printed, with readers engaging writers who write what their readers would like to see happen to the fate of their protagonists.

Writing in such cases is a two-way traffic, dislodging the traditional notion of writers as isolated, sulking, needing only a handful of money and a room of one’s own to be able to write. Some writing being done these days is unapologetically flirtatious—I venture to say—the writer charmed by the raves of attention from online readers, and the readers unabashed and upfront, swooning over the writers they engage in online conversations. Business-savvy non-writers who turn to writing and end up being influential to their number of followers, have not only turned the tables upside-down; they might have also replaced the nostalgic menus that used to be called the "literary canon" and is probably hardly known and read by today’s readers who prefer summaries, or at best, condensed and simplified versions of an author’s celebrated work.

Some things never change, at least to me. Except for being dependent on a laptop, I take to writing as an interior act, private to myself and a sleeping dog under my pair of short legs. I have yet to try a creative work prompted and composed by Gemini (used to be called Bard) or the like. I love AI, make no mistake about it; it is awesome and enthralling in many aspects, especially where visual images and sound play tricks to the senses. But when the act of writing demands from me more than routine, predictable speech, writing equals hard work in stead; such writing goes through stages, including non-writing, defenselessness, stillness, utter quiet, just all ears and fingertips and the slight tingling of the spine, or the back of the neck when I am certain a sacred presence is in the room. Before the faintest light breaks, I sit up slowly but with gaining awareness that I can literally hear my breath, right under my nose. It alights softly on the skin. When words are not enough to say a prayer, I know my heart is open. The Spirit steps in, and I say to her, "Be my guest."

That body posture is not to say I don’t give in to distractions. We live in a mega-distracted world. Multitasking, on second thought, could very well mean inattention, which feigns skill or advantage. It is so unlike the kind of writing I possessed when I was young and my mother was busy in the kitchen. She allowed me to write in my corner of the house, by the small window. I would gaze at the guava tree outside only to rest my eyes from the screen. I could write three poems in a day. I was absolutely certain there was nothing I could not write. And I wrote because things mattered, or I sought to matter to the world.

When I wrote about the shy little rooster named Onyok (Ang Mahiyaing Manok published by Adarna House in 2000), I was aware of my own self growing up timid and too shy. Old people would often tease, “Asan ang dila mo? Saan napunta ang dila mo?” (Where is your tongue? Where did your tongue go?)

Onyok was shy because he could not crow–no sound would come out of his body, no matter how he tried. He thought the other roosters, old and young, were making fun of his incapacity. The child I grew up as was assailed by a lack of self-confidence, imagining the worst that neighbours would say because I had none of the material privilege I saw in cousins and playmates who got what they wanted when they bawled out on the floor, succeeding to draw everyone’s attention. I hid in corners in between curtains and sank on my seat. I probably excelled in classes to compensate for the poor social skills of the child I was, who did not know yet what she could do, if she could not sing in tune as her classmates did, when the teacher called them to perform in front of the class.

Unlike today’s children, my generation still carried the trauma of the massive dose of miseducation inherited from one colonizer after another in Philippine history. “Huwag makikiluklok sa matatanda, kung di pag-utusan at pilit-pilitin” (Do not join the ranks of adults, unless you are called for an errand, or they force you to join them) is a line from the proto novel by the Tagalog friar, Modesto de Castro, Ang Pagsusulatan ng Dalawang Binibini na si Urbana at Feliza (1) (1864), about two sisters exchanging letters that exposed the social etiquette and proper behaviour in the context of the 19th century under the Spanish colony. As I was growing up, I took to heart the lessons of the virtue of obedience in between memorising Catholic prayers. I would not dare break rules or disrespect elders. I was diligently obedient as a child.

Like Onyok, I had dificulty finding my voice when I was starting to write. When I managed to draft the story, however, it was not because I shoved in my mind from the very start the agenda to encourage children to believe in their potential. The story was born because I was hearing the unending crowing of roosters in the backyard of the old house; an uncle was tending them to prepare them for cockfights. Meanwhile, my sleep was being interrupted because the roosters did not seem to sleep day and night, or so I thought. When one started to crow, one by one the others followed.

It helped that I first wrote poetry before I wrote the story. I love to hear myself recite certain lines as I write them—I can play with the sounds and I am partial to images that observe a beat and produce rhyme when descriptions are applied.

Onyok, tumingin ka sa lahat ng manok.

Walang nakatungo kapag tumitilaok.

May palong o wala, puti man o pula,

Masayang nagigising, nanggigising nang masaya,

Nakatingala sa langit, pinapagpag ang gilid,

Nagpupugay sa sarili, at sa paligid.

(Look at all the roosters, Onyok.

No one bends his head when he starts to crown.

Whether they wear a crown or none at all,

Whether they are white or red,

They joyfully wake up, and wake up others with joy.

They raise their heads to the sky, clap their wings,

Give honour to the self and to the world around.)


When I read and reread the finished story, I was happy to realise that I saw my little self in Onyok—insecure, embarrassed, overly self-conscious and suspicious of others, and generally unsure of what I could do in life that was in harmony with my own being. Finally when the shy rooster did learn to crow, it was not unlike any child growing up or even a human adult at that, who found her voice because she at last recognised herself in the mirror, with none of the apologies or wishful thinking that she did not relish. I burst with joy for that moment’s recognition of being born not as any other Maria but myself.

Such a moment of epiphany is the writer’s found voice. For those who are aspiring to write, finding your voice is the exact turn you need to sustain writing, should you decide to pursue it for the rest of your life. The croaking disappears through time, to be replaced eventually by crowing in your finest. The years of experience and day-to-day wins over challenges, mistakes, rejections, and frustrations, together with the constant self-relection one practices, help.

With the ubiquitousness of AI, finding and cultivating the writer’s voice is a real challenge, but it is also an opportunity to open the gates of untapped human creativity. If the human mind of a laidback writer has been sleeping for 200 years, now is the time to wake up the dragon. Human lives connected to the computer have not been the same after 30 November 2022 when the company OpenAI released ChatGPT, which described itself as “an advanced artificial intelligence (AI) language model that utilises deep learning techniques to understand and generate human-like text responses based on the input it receives...trained on a vast corpus of text data from the internet, enabling it to comprehend and generate responses across a wide range of topics and contexts.” In simpler terms, it is meant to be a language assistant, with which humans could engage for their own purpose.

ChatGPT was met with a plethora of reactions from raving excitement to enthusiastic exploration to skepticism and ridicule to debate and research, but all led to the development of more AI tools similar to it, some for free like Gemini; some for a price. Classroom teachers were and are aghast that students have become so bold as to turn to AI, which not only produces a sample written work in an instant, but also provides alternative drafts, displays outline and content, edits work, summarises chapters, checks for plagiarism, and everything else that is both marvelous and petrifying at the same time for the malleable young minds, their ability to communicate and comprehend, their potential to weigh and discriminate between fact and fiction, and their capacity for critical thinking and judgment.

I maintain that good writing can only be a product of imagination, sense and sensibility, context, and much introspection. These things are what the human author will forever create and recreate, in a human tone. In contrast, although AI is unparalleled in terms of speed and eficiency, it admits to its own limitations and disadvantages. Here’s an excerpt from the reply Gemini provided, when I asked what place is left for human authors amid AI:

As a large language model, I can indeed generate children's stories in seconds.

However, that doesn't mean there's no place let for human authors. Here's why:

Heart and Soul: While I can mimic structure and even generate rhyming stories, I lack the lived experience and emotional depth that human authors bring. Your unique experiences, your understanding of children's emotions, and your ability to tap into their imaginations are irreplaceable. You can create stories that resonate on a deeper level, sparking genuine connection and inspiring young minds.

The Spark of Creativity: Creativity isn't just about producing content; it's about the intention and meaning behind it. I can follow prompts and produce stories within parameters, but I can't truly innovate or surprise in the way a human can. Your ability to think outside the box, break conventions, and come up with unexpected twists and turns is what makes your stories truly special.

Understanding Nuances: Language is far more complex than just words and grammar. It's about understanding cultural nuances, humour, and the subtle emotional cues that resonate with children. While I can process information and adapt my writing style, I may miss subtle cultural references or miss the mark on humour that appeals to a specific age group. Your ability to tailor your stories to a specific audience and cultural context is invaluable.

The Human Connection: Storytelling is an inherently human experience. It's about sharing experiences, building empathy, and connecting with others on a deeper level. While I can generate stories, I cannot engage in the dialogue and discussion that your work can inspire. Children learn and grow through interaction, and your ability to spark conversations, answer questions, and engage with young readers adds a dimension that AI simply cannot replicate.

The response was straightforward and reassuring, but I wanted to be further persuaded, so I asked for stories written for the Asian child, for a Filipino child, and for the children raised in an indigenous community in Mindanao in that order. This time I turned to ChatGPT. In a few seconds I was reading “The Magical Lantern Festival,” “Biboy and the Enchanted Sarimanok,” and “Datu and the Dancing Firelies” respectively. I heaved a sigh of relief as I read them. Restating the obvious, AI wins over humans in terms of instantaneous production, efficacy and efficiency. AI is Aladdin’s genie from the magic lamp, taking a bow and saying, “Your wish is my command.” The question to ask, though, is: Can these stories last as a legacy for the pleasure and startling remembrance of a generation of audiences, as did classic fairy tales that generation upon generation enjoyed, regardless of religion or cultural background?

My answer is no. Legacies are honoured and celebrated, again and again. We speak to our dearly departed as if they were still alive. LLMs, when they generate replies, even when you ask them to imitate a human voice, are characterised by patterns and predictability. The best human authors blow off our heads with how they shape language to produce meaning and move us weeping to the core. We are not the same after a good book.

AI can sound like a human, because it is the amalgamation of human productivity, but it is not as singularly human as C.S. Lewis' advice, with characteristic humour, to the young writer: “Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means that if you are interested only in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing to write about.)”

Human writing can suddenly jolt you, as Lewis does in another piece of advice when he recalls an episode in history depicting himself unable to contain his disdain for “cliche and platitude” in soldiers’ letters. “The shocking truth is that, while insincerity may be fatal to good writing, sincerity, of itself, never taught anyone to write well. It is a moral virtue, not a literary talent. We may hope it is rewarded in a better world: it is not rewarded on Parnassus.” Parnassus refers to a Greek mountain associated by the ancients with Apollo, the Muses, and poetry. Lewis was not one to put up with mediocre and insipid writing, even amid war.

Human writing is Tolkien ruminating on the paradox of the fairy tale, whose definition is dependent on the nature of the “Faërie”—which he also calls the “Perilous Realm” and is thus, indescribable. “Faërie cannot be caught in a net of words,” he says. In later paragraphs, his explanation swings between that of a linguist and of an alchemist: “When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world external to our minds awakes.”

Human writing is Roald Dahl replying in longhand, in a letter dated August 2, 1989 to then 20-year-old librarian Christine Wotton, asking about his style and attitude towards children’s literature:

Never shelter children from the world...the ‘content’ of any children’s book is of no importance other than that it enthralls the child – and thus it teaches or seduces him or her to ‘like’ books and to become a fit reader – which is vital if that child is going to amount to anything in later life.

The book-reading child will always outstrip the non-book-reading child in later life. There are very few messages in these books of mine. They are there simply to turn the child into a reader of books.

There have been a number of versions of the story about Franz Kafka and a child’s doll but one that went viral was a column piece published on 3 October 2011 from psychotherapist and writer May Benatar. According to the viral post, Kafka meets a desolate child looking for a lost doll, but failing to find it, Kafka decides to appease her through letters from the doll, talking about her adventures. When the day comes for Kafka and the child to separate, Kafka pulls out a diferent doll, who explains, “My travels have changed me.” The version of the story ends with the heartwarming line attributed to Kafka: "Everything you love will probably be lost, but in the end, love will return in another way."

In 1984, the literary critic Anthony Rudolf published a version of the story, translated from French, in the literary supplement of the Jewish Chronicle. The version, described by Rudolf as a “simple, perfect and true Kafka story” was supposedly relayed in person by Dora Diamant, with whom Kafka lived for about a year in 1924. The story was printed in one long paragraph, justified. In this version, Kafka writes through the doll to the girl every day for three weeks. To me, an illuminating part of this narration is the description given to Kafka when he writes the fictive letters. Like every writer worth his salt, Kafka regards the child with respect and dignity, and does not mock, admonish nor insult her. Diamant as immediate witness of the author narrates:

And Franz went home immediately to write the letter. He set to work with the same seriousness he displayed when composing one of his own works, and in the same state of tension he always inhabited at his table, even when writing a postcard. Besides, it was a real labour, as essential as the others, since the child must at all costs not be cheated, but truly appeased, and since the lie must be transformed into the truth of reality by means of the truth of fiction.

In the present time then, what is human speech? What does it mean to write with all of one’s humanity intact and broken at the same time? Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, author, and anti-war activist Chris Hedges, writes a letter to the children of an open-air prison called Gaza, which might as well have been a letter to the entire world. The letter was published on 8 November 2023 in the Chris Hedges Report. Here are excerpts:

At night you lie in the dark on the cold cement floor. The phones are cut. The internet is off. You do not know what is happening. There are flashes of light. There are waves of blast concussions. There are screams. It does not stop.

When your father or mother hunts for food or water you wait. That terrible feeling in your stomach. Will they come back? Will you see them again? Will your tiny home be next? Will the bombs find you? Are these your last moments on earth?

You drink salty, dirty water. It makes you very sick. Your stomach hurts. You are hungry. The bakeries are destroyed. There is no bread. You eat one meal a day.
Pasta. A cucumber. Soon this will seem like a feast.

What would writers who lived and witnessed at least two world wars during their time say about the repeated horrors of wars and warmakers who are unbelievably insatiable up to the 21st century? When Tolkien says the mark of a fairy story is one that is indescribable, what do we make of the slaughter of children and women, and ethnic genocide given carte blanche in Palestine, as if the Roman numeral after World War were indeed ominously written to fulfill the curse of a Third after a Second, which came after the First was named as such, and probably after a Third, a Fourth, and so on?

When life stops in some parts of the world because wars are sanctioned by international agencies and a band of nations, what planet deserves the human race? What are the characters not heeding? What signs are not correctly read or not read at all? I have no words let when images of war invade the internet and the latest developments, the statistics of casualties are reported. I am writing in the comfort of my home, but a mass of innocents are dying in their own land. The citizens of the world are dismembered from one another. We don’t seem to belong to one planet.

Writers amid AI rising should be unscared but more motivated to write the stuff that brings back humanity to humans. In an article published in Forbes more than five years ago, the author says in the opening paragraph: “The amount of data we produce every day is truly mind-boggling. There are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day at our current pace, but that pace is only accelerating with the growth of the internet of things (IoT).”

Obviously, those stats are now historical data. An article uploaded on 4 February 2023 by Skill Lync, an educational institution in India offering online engineering courses, gives the following facts on Google alone as the world’s leading search engine: It processes over 3.5 billion daily searches, which means over 40,000 search queries every second or 2 million GB per minute, which means over 20 petabytes - a petabyte defined as a unit of information or computer storage equal to one quadrillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) bytes, also equal to 1,024 terabytes or 1,048,576 gigabytes. (2)

I swear I have been living under the rock, my vocabulary stunted, for not knowing what the prefix after tera- should be peta-. Therefore, after terabyte comes petabyte. Next is exabyte, then zettabyte and yottabyte. In my own world, the geeks are using Middle Earth language of the Elves and are probably casting a spell on an unsuspecting world.

My point simply is this: AI is here to stay and grow, and it is futile to arrest it or plan to start war with it. Our biggest enemy is ourselves, if we allow AI power to go out of control, to take over our duties and responsibilities; to write without conscience because it has none. AI is meant to assist but not replace humans. They cannot. But if today’s authors and readers do not exercise mindfulness, empathy and connection with fellow humans, and if learners refuse the hard work entailed in using their own reason, strategy and foresight, we will continue to replicate war machines because they are the most profitable business on earth. It is disturbing to note that in the 2020 Philippine census on educational mass media, the Philippine Statistics Authority did not list books as a form of mass media but included magazines and newspapers. Books are print media first, but are now accessible online to read and listen to, in audio form; books are definitely a form of mass media. Why would the nation’s statistics office not include reading books in its census? The omission is telling.

I am aware that books for children in the contemporary world are being written for instruction or to advance a cause, such as to promote the UN Sustainable Development Goals, for example, or align with themes of annual festivals and events. With some publishers, books are classified according to the children’s ages. Book creators may prefer that their books are promoted as inclusive—respectful of diversity and multiculturalism, actively calling for peace and support to countries afected by war and terrorism, famine, environmental disaster, and the refugee crisis, among a host of global problems.

For some children and families barely surviving amid such situations, books could provide hope or relief, smiles or laughter. For the children of war, books would be a strange object beside a glass of clean water, or a piece of bread, or loved ones still alive to hold them amid non-stop explosions and shaking of the ground. Meanwhile, for children fortunate to live in privileged homes, books are doors to let them know that the big world is teetering on edges—beyond their celebrity idols’ spectacular concerts—someone did say ‘unmissable’—and fancy tours to Disneyland and Hollywood.

In the animated film Spirited Away (2001) by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, the character No Face appears like a hungry ghost, shaped like an elongated, masked humanoid, with an insatiable appetite for other spirits whose personalities and traits he absorbs the moment he swallows them. He constantly follows the child Chihiro, hungry for his attention. Like No Face, AI by the vast amounts of data it collects, would have stored humanity’s evil excesses ad infinitum. What do human writers want to leave to children? Many stories have yet to be written. A human writer’s language is precious, but more so the writer’s insight, that light inside, that lamp placed not under the bushel, but on a stand to give light to all.



Añonuevo, Rebecca T. Ang Mahiyaing Manok. Adarna House, 2000. The Chris Hedges Report. 8 November 2023.

Did Franz Kafka Invent Letters from a Missing Doll to Comfort a Little Girl? |

How Google Handles Over 40,000 Petabytes Of Data On A Daily Basis | Skill-Lync.

J.R.R. Tolkien on Fairy Tales, Language, the Psychology of Fantasy, and Why There’s No Such ing as Writing “For Children” – The Marginalian. Forbes. 21 May 2018.

Lumbera, Bienvenido & Cynthia Lumbera, eds. Philippine Literature History & Anthology. Anvil, 1997.

Spirited Away. Animated Film Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. 126 minutes. Studio Ghibli. 2001.



(1) Excerpts from the work are included in Philippine Literature: History & Anthology, ed. Bienvenido Lumbera & Cynthia  Lumbera. Anvil, 1997.

(2) How Google Handles Over 40,000 Petabytes Of Data On A Daily Basis | Skill-Lync.


About the Author

Rebecca T. Añonuevo is the author of prize-winning books of poetry, critical essays on language and literature, and children’s stories recognised by the country’s esteemed institutions in writing such as the Don Carlos Palanca Awards (which has given her eleven awards), and the National Book Awards from the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board.

Her children’s book, Ang Mahiyaing Manok, a story on a growing child’s development of self-confidence, is one of the top-selling titles in the genre. In 2010, she was awarded the Gawad Balagtas by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino. In 2013 she received the Southeast Asian Awards (SEAWrite) from Bangkok, Thailand in recognition of her solid contribution in the field of literature in the Philippines. She has a PhD in Literature from the De La Salle University in Manila.