A beautiful and poignant tale of immigration fused with Tagalog myth.



A Pilipino mother recounts a bedtime story about gods and her own family mythology.

Speaking in free verse, Elsie, mother to young mixed-race girls Stella and Luna (their dad is White), weaves a moving and ethereal story about family, loss, pain, and hope. Beautifully steeped in Pilipino culture and cosmology, the story she tells is that of Mayari, the moon goddess, and how she came to make it her life’s work to reflect light. Her heartfelt narration brings the gods to life. Mayari and her siblings, Apolaki and Tala, believe they have humble beginnings but later learn their father is Bathala Maykapal, or God Creator. Forced to choose between Earth and Heaven, the siblings take only what they can carry and follow their father to Heaven despite their fears. Their fight to belong with the other gods mirrors Elsie’s other tale, that of her family’s tumultuous immigration to the United States from the Philippines during Ferdinand Marcos’ reign amid violent protests and rolling blackouts. Like Mayari, Elsie could bring only so much with her and was forced to leave behind more than her toys—like the yayas, or nannies, who cared for her and the neighborhood she grew up in. Woven together in captivating parallels, Elsie’s and Mayari’s stories (the former in black type and the latter in light blue) reflect the struggle and hardship many immigrants face in search of a new life. Sometimes raw and traumatic, other times hopeful and inspiring, Elsie’s bedtime story rings true, encapsulating the heart of Pilipino culture.

A beautiful and poignant tale of immigration fused with Tagalog myth. (glossary, songs, afterword) (Verse fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-11220-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.


The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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A poignant and achingly beautiful narrative shedding light on the price of a violent sport.


An African American preteen finds his world upended when his father, a retired professional football player, displays symptoms of traumatic brain injury.

Twelve-year-old Zachariah “ZJ” Johnson Jr. loves his dad but wonders who he would be if his dad was not a famous athlete. Although his dad is in the spotlight, he is full of love and attention for ZJ and his friends. And fortunately, ZJ has three friends who see him and not his father’s shadow. “Zachariah 44” was a fearless player who suffered many concussions during his playing career. The changes in his father begin slowly and intermittently. Soon the headaches and memory lapses grow increasingly frequent and scary for ZJ and his mom, since the doctors do not seem to have any answers. As his dad slips further away, ZJ’s memories of better times grow closer than ever. Using spare and lyrical language for ZJ’s present-tense narration, which moves back and forth through time, Woodson skillfully portrays the confusion, fear, and sadness when a family member suffers from brain injury and the personality changes it brings. Readers see Zachariah Sr. through ZJ’s eyes and agonize with him as the strong, vibrant athlete begins to fade. The well-rounded secondary characters complete a mosaic of a loving African American family and their community of friends. The tale is set in the early 2000s, as awareness of chronic traumatic encephalopathy and its catastrophic consequences was beginning to emerge.

A poignant and achingly beautiful narrative shedding light on the price of a violent sport. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-399-54543-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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