School of Nursing Professor Highlights Filipino American Experience in New Children’s Book

When planning her baby shower, Jamille Nagtalon-Ramos had one request of her guests—to bring a children’s book. A lifelong reader, she looked forward to introducing her son to characters and storylines that would allow him to see himself in the world. But when the time came, she quickly realized those books didn’t exist.

“I wanted to pass on my love for books to my children from day one,” said the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden professor and women’s health nurse practitioner. “Every night, I would read my babies children’s books, but hardly any of the stories reflected our Filipino American experience.”

So, she decided to write her own.

The inspiration for Sinigiggles: Special Sinigang Recipe (Kuwentuhan Books) arrived 18 years later, as Nagtalon-Ramos’ oldest son, Leo, began his journey at the Rutgers School of Nursing. Peppered with Rutgers Rs throughout (a nod to the “special place” where the author and her husband met and got engaged), the book invites the reader to join the Nagtalon-Ramos family at the dinner table—a “sanctuary of understanding and empathy”—in the weeks leading up to Leo’s departure for college.

Nagtalon-Ramos and her oldest son, Leo on move in day

Nagtalon-Ramos and her oldest son, Leo on move in day

Leo alongside his sisters, Leilani and Leah

Leo alongside his sisters, Leilani and Leah

Their conversations, often held over steaming bowls of sinigang, a classic sour and savory Filipino soup, explore the “big emotions” happening in the house as the entire family prepares for this transition, asking questions like “What if things do not go as planned?”Are you worried about making friends?” And simply, “What emotions are you feeling right now?”

“My hope was not just for Leo to do well in nursing school, but to feel safe, happy, and flourish in his independence. We knew that our everyday life was going to change without Leo in the house,” she said. “I decided to write the book as a graduation gift for Leo, but it is also a love letter to my family reminding them that we are here for each other no matter the distance.”

The book draws on Nagtalon-Ramos’s work around physical and mental health in the Filipino American community, which she describes as a “complex and multifaceted issue.”  Her  research explores how internalized coloniality, ethnic identity, and social forces influence access to and utilization of health care as well as health behaviors across generations. Filipino Americans, the third-largest population of Asian Americans in the United States, present with high rates of mental illness and lower rates of help-seeking behaviors compared to other ethnic groups. Openly discussing mental health concerns is often stigmatized and perceived as a lack of faith and resilience, Nagtalon-Ramos said. She’s on a mission to change that.  

“In this family, we try our best not to shy away from doing hard things like talking about how we feel,” she writes in the book. Through this story, she said, she hopes to show parents how to start conversations with young children about their emotions and to give them the language they need to express what they are feeling.

“These conversations encourage them to share their feelings and develop a growth mindset,” she said. “I have found in my research that culture and religion have a strong influence in having robust, honest conversations within families. My husband and I have committed to put in the work to facilitate conversations with our children and not to shy away from talking about how we are feeling.”

Leo’s pursuit of nursing will make him the fourth-generation nurse in the Nagtalon-Ramos family. Eventually, he hopes to follow in his mother’s footsteps and pursue an advanced degree—a deep source of pride for Nagtalon-Ramos, as Filipino American nurses represent an impressive share of the nursing workforce, yet fall drastically behind in leadership positions. This concept of utang na loob— debt reciprocity—has created barriers for Filipino American nurses who feel pressured to build economic stability for their families back in the Philippines rather than pursue advanced degrees, Nagtalon-Ramos explains. Sinigiggles touches on these ancestral ties and illustrates how parents can empower children for academic success while showing unconditional love and acceptance.

“Looking through that tiny window on the plane as I landed in America on that cold, dark, winter evening 30 years ago, I never could have imagined this life and this career in nursing that has been made possible by standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before me,” she wrote in an article published by the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. “And now, 21 years into this profession, caring for patients and educating hundreds of undergraduate and graduate nursing students, I get the privilege to hold my own son to stand on my shoulders so he can see further.”

Nagtalon-Ramos recently presented her book to the Boston Filipino American Book Club and the Professional Filipino American Youth’s Barrio Fest. She was also grateful for the opportunity to read her book at a local middle school in recognition of Filipino American History Month, which she describes as a full-circle moment. Nagtalon-Ramos said she is thrilled to give young readers the joy of seeing themselves represented in literature, and to share Filipino food, art, language, culture, and tradition with the wider world.

“Feedback that I have received from the Filipino American community and beyond has been so kind and encouraging,” she said. “I loved hearing about how readers related to special moments in the book, like eating sinigang, and how this reminds them of home.”

Leo alongside his mother, Jamille Nagtalon-Ramos

Leo alongside his mother, Jamille Nagtalon-Ramos

Creative Design: Karaamat Abdullah