Palanca awardee is a math, creative genius advocating for children’s literacy

Young mathematician John Patrick Solano has recently earned his second Palanca distinction, demonstrating his exceptional skills not only in math but also in writing. Through his works, he hopes to inspire children to pursue academic learning, develop positive values, and use their skills to excel in their future endeavors.

His collection of poems titled “Odd Numbers” has recently won the first prize in the poetry written for children category of the 71st Palanca Awards. His piece stood out for its excellence, marking his second win in the prestigious annual literary competition.

Solano’s journey with literature began by writing poetry in high school. Being part of their school publication, he had the privilege of having his literary works published on campus. Although he had a bright future ahead of him in the literary field, he decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in mathematics, which he had struggled with as a child. In one of his essays, Solano reflected on his difficulties with understanding the complexities of math and even questioned the reasons behind its relevance. However, Solano refused to give up and entered college at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, determined to overcome his challenge with numbers. Over time, he grew to love the field of mathematics.

“Malaking tulong ang practice ng pagsusulat para maibahagi ko ang kahalagahan ng math sa mga bata, at yung sarili kong journey sa pag-aaral nito.”  (The writing practice has helped me a lot in sharing the value of math to kids, and documenting my journey of studying it.)

In 2013, he started gathering kids in their community every Sunday to read them stories and teach them science, math, and art concepts. As he watched those kids develop their love for reading, writing, and making art, he discovered how satisfying it was to be a part of their learning journey.

This experience inspired him to pursue further studies, and he subsequently enrolled in a graduate program on Malikhaing Pagsulat (Creative Writing in Filipino) at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. Through the course, he gained a deeper understanding of the writing discipline and found a writing mentor in another Palanca award-winning author, Eugene Y. Evasco, who once told him: “(Patuloy na) magsulat ng mga kuwentong may pag-asa. Kahit na malungkot ang pinagdadaanan ng mga tauhan, magpakita pa rin ng pag-asa.” (Continue creating narratives that showcase hope. Even when your characters are facing unfortunate circumstances, strive to ignite a glimmer of hope in them.)

Another door of opportunity opened for Solano in 2017 when he was granted a full scholarship to take a Masters in Science degree in Mathematics at the Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai, Thailand. While this academic discipline kept him busy probing math concepts and theories deeper, his love for the letters didn’t wane. He actively sent in opinion pieces narrating his trials and triumphs in learning, which were eventually published in major newspapers in the Philippines.

After returning to the country, he delved into literary writing with full force. By 2020, he was able to publish his first children’s book and went on to put out three more through various Philippine children’s publications.

His Palanca-winning collection of poems, “Odd Numbers,” revolves around mathematical concepts suitable for fourth to sixth graders (9 to 12 years old).

“Dahil sa advocacy ko na ilapit yung math sa mga bata, nag iisip po ako ng math topics like counting, addition, at prime factorization na pwede kong gawan ng kuwento o tula. With the guidance of the K to 12 Math curriculum ng DepEd, kumukuha rin po ako ng ideas o topics na recommended for each grade level.” (Because of my advocacy to introduce and make math interesting among kids, I come up with stories and poems that revolve around math topics like counting, addition, and prime factorization. With the guidance of the K to 12 math curriculum of the Department of Education, I look for ideas and topics recommended for each grade level, too.)

Through his works, he aims to inspire young learners to develop a love for numbers — much like how he found his passion for them later in life.

“Unfortunately, yung pagtuturo sa bata natigil po dahil sa pandemic. Noong medyo lumuwag na yung restrictions last year, bumalik po ako sa kanila, malalaki na po sila lahat so nahihiya na rin sila magpaturo. Pero tinutuloy ko po ang advocacy ko sa pagsusulat,” Solano shared. (Unfortunately, our learning sessions were put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic. I showed up last year when the restrictions eased, but the kids have grown a lot and become shy. These days, I push forward with my literacy advocacy through writing.)

Solano’s academic achievements in both math and literature have instilled in him the confidence to make a mark in the world of learning. As he encourages young learners to cultivate the habits of reading and curiosity, he inspires them to recognize their innate talents and potential for growth, no matter how hard it takes.

What’s next for Solano?

“Gusto ko pong magsulat ng mga kuwento, tula, at essays tungkol sa iba pang topics bukod sa math para maibahagi ko pang lalo yung mga ideya na mayroon ako, makuha ang atensyon ng mas marami pang kabataan, at ma-engganyo silang mag-aral.” (I hope to write more stories, poems, and essays on varied topics aside from math. This way, I can further articulate my ideas and narratives, capture the interest of more children, and encourage them to develop a love for learning.)

As a working professional, Solano manages data and statistics at the Asian Development Bank. He has published four children’s books courtesy of Tahanan Books, Adarna House, and Chikiting Books of the Vibal Group. He earned his first Palanca Award in 2016 in the ‘Tula para sa mga Bata’ category (Poetry Written for Children in the Filipino Division) for his poem ‘Tiniklop-tiklop na Bugtong.’ He was a fellow for the Palihang Rogelio Sicat in 2017, and participated in the Cordillera Creative Writing Workshop, and the Angono Summer Writers’ Workshop in 2014.

Solano is a member of Mensa Philippines, a non-profit organization that provides an avenue for intellectual exchange and support among its members with high IQs (intelligence quotient).