Richard Roxas Smith–the Filipino Rick Riordan | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Richard Roxas Smith has not started a popular book series like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson stories which are now being made into movies. And, while Riordan had the training to go into book writing, having been a teacher of English and history, Smith is a personal trainer.

He was, in fact, one of the Philippines’ first personal trainers, way before people became obsessed with fitness, and was the first Filipino manager for an international chain of health clubs (Clark Hatch), even writing the column “The Fitness Edge” for the defunct Manila Chronicle.

(Yes, despite the very foreign-sounding name, Smith is Filipino, his family having lived in the Philippines for over a century, since his paternal great-grandfather landed on the country’s shores as one of over 700 Thomasites, Americans who were brought here on the SS Thomas, from where they got their name, to set up a public-school system.)

But the Filipino with the American name has one thing in common with Riordan—they both turned fictional bedtime stories they told their kids into published works for other youngsters to enjoy.

Riordan, the father of two boys, developed the “Percy Jackson” series which started with “The Lightning Thief,” as a bedtime story for his oldest son. Smith similarly decided to try writing and illustrating a children’s book after noticing his kids enjoyed the bedtime stories he made up for them.

“I was also inspired by Maurice Sendak, Caldecott-winning author-illustrator of ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ I wanted to try both writing and illustrating, as he did, resulting in my first children’s book, ‘Amelia’s Angel,’ which to my surprise was one of three finalists in the Best Children’s Short Story category of the 2011 Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA).”

Tragic start

Like most children’s stories, Smith’s tales are positive—full of hope and with de rigueur happy endings. It is hard to imagine that his book-writing career was launched by a tragedy.

“My first book was actually borne out of the harrowing experience of losing my first son a few days after his seventh birthday to a still unknown disease. I decided to write about the loss to provide a ‘companion’ in book form for other parents similarly experiencing such an unusual journey of grief.”

The book, “A Rainbow of Peace,” was published in 2003 by St. Paul’s Publishing, through Fr. Domie de Guzman.

It took almost a decade before Smith wrote his second book. The author, who has four other children with his Italian-Filipino wife, says he decided to develop his own bedtime stories rather than just read published materials, because he thought his kids would enjoy them more.

He also feels that materials for children in modern media, like cartoons, have few moral lessons. As for traditional stories, he finds them lacking in the kind of action that would hold the attention and interest of today’s children.

“So I decided to try action-filled story-lines that still taught valuable lessons and still featured traditional fairy-tale characters like witches, unicorns, princes and princesses.”

CMMA finalist “Amelia’s Angel” is a modern action-adventure tale about a little girl wanting to be bad. But after being turned by a witch into an ugly troll, who had to give children nightmares, she changed her ways with the help of an angel and became more prayerful.

Amelia, says Smith, is physically based on his daughter Amber, now eight years old.

Early environmentalist

Smith’s second book, “The Gift of the Unicorn,” is a story in verse that aims to teach children to value and care for the environment. The author’s concern for the environment is not a newfound passion.

“My earliest literary experience was writing a poem about saving the environment when I was in fourth grade in 1971, which won the gold medal for creative writing at La Salle Greenhills where I attended grade school,” he says.

“The Gift of the Unicorn” tells the story of a young prince who learns the value of protecting and preserving nature after setting free a unicorn he got for his birthday. The prince, Smith says, “is an amalgam of the two boys (his sons)—Liam, who will be 10 end of May, and Kieran, 5.”

The book was Museo Pambata’s Book on the Spot in February. Smith not only read the story to public-school students during the event but also conducted an interactive drawing session.

He is working on his third children’s book, “Hot Rod Teddy,” which aims to teach 5- to 7-year-old kids the virtue of humility. A fourth book about a “tree boy” is percolating in his mind.

Smith says his dream is to have each of his kids work with him on a book.

“My eldest daughter (Alexandra, 19) inked my pencil sketches and contributed two pages of her drawings to my second book . . . Three more kids and at least three more books to go! ”

Smith says he will be happy to accept invitations to book readings and interactive illustration sessions([email protected]).

Both books are available at St. Paul’s stores (; St. Francis bookstore, G/F, St. Francis Square, Julia Vargas cor. Bank Drive, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City; tel. 6321010; and soon at Museo Pambata.

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