RISING talent Caris Avendaño Cruz has just released her debut book inspired by Filipino folklore.
Cruz said she wrote Marikit and the Ocean of Stars in honor of two amazing women in her life: her mother and Inang, her grandmother. Inang was a seamstress and had a vintage sewing machine that helped her get her eight children to school.
The book, which has been described as atmospheric, evocative, and thoughtful, has made it to the Junior Library Guild Selection. This means that the book has received distinction from the group that reads and reviews thousands of manuscript submissions each year (prior to publication) to choose the best, award-worthy books for their members.
Julie Abe, author of the Eva Evergreen series calls it radiant and lyrical while Alex Aster, award-winning author of the Emblem Island series describes the book as “a stunning, lyrical, and magical tale that is sure to become a new favorite.”
“Marikit and the Ocean of Stars is rich and magical, full of heart and imagination. A must-read for fans of mythical creatures, magical gods, and marvelous monsters,” said Erin Entrada Kelly, winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal for Hello Universe and 2021 Newbery Honor for We Dream of Space.
Many elements in the book transport the readers back to Inang’s room: the creaky wooden floors, the Capiz windows fully opened to let the daylight in, the yards of fabrics folded on her workplace.
“My mother, equally spirited and brilliant, is the fifth of the siblings and was born on Inang’s birthday. When Inang passed away, my mother inherited the sewing machine and began repairing clothes for us, too,” Cruz told the Asian Journal.
The author revealed that she drafted the story as soon as she had the idea.
In the original version, a young girl’s mother was kidnapped, leaving only a strange dress that was the only map to find a secret treasure. Cruz got stuck in the first chapters for so long that she decided to play around, adding magic and folklore to it.
That was when the story took a complete turn.
There was no outline for Marikit, Cruz felt like it was a story that wanted to be written, and she just happened to be the pair of hands to type the words.
Cruz started drafting Marikit early in 2019 when she took a break from her first manuscript.
It was her “in-between book,” a story she kept putting off thinking that her first novel would make it (it did not).
Early in 2020, she decided to finish Marikit for a pitch event. That same year, she got an agent, then the book deal. Marikit and the Ocean of Stars Is published by FSG Books for Young Readers, established in 1953, and is an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.
“I went from an obscure writer to a debut author. It was a book of many miracles and much Filipino heart! My editor, Trisha de Guzman, and the book’s cover illustrator, Alexis Young, are both Filipinos, and the work and love everyone put in radiate from every page,” she shared.
In essence, Marikit and the Ocean of Stars is an ode to Cruz’s childhood.
“It is a tribute to my roots, to my community who embraced me with warmth and generosity. It is for our lolos and lolas, to tell them that their stories have never been forgotten,” she proudly said.” And above all, it is a love letter to every young Filipino, reminding them of what was and what has been, so that they can find their way back to who they are.”
As a child, Cruz loved reading and writing. However, she realized that the media she consumed “always had white heroes—or, in my specific circle, as a lover of anime, Japanese leads.”
“So many Filipino creators have been trying to change that for a long, long time. When I finally wrote my story, I knew this was a chance to steer the lens toward my people. The thing I kept asking myself was, “How Filipino do you want this to be?” And my answer was, “As Filipino as it gets.” From here I knew that the heroes I’ll write about will always be us and ours,” she said.
This was the reason why she took immense joy and pride the day she first held her published book.
Cruz was born in Malolos, Bulacan, where she currently lives, in a house “in front of a thinning bamboo grove where many familiar faces have grown up and left.”
“It’s a place that brings me so much comfort and inspiration: the familiar shout of our local magtataho, the view of the rice fields on both sides of the road, the old cathedrals, our favorite stall owners at the palengke, and the sound of the neighbors’ children laughing as they played habulan,” Cruz shared, describing her home in vivid detail. “It’s a community that feels like a family, and I’d like to soak in more of their joy and warmth.”
For now, Cruz is working on her second book, and just like Marikit and the Ocean of Stars, she promises it is inspired by magic, myths, and a young hero she describes as “proudly kayumanggi.” g