An honest look at the struggles many young people face at home and at school.


A middle schooler experiences the transformative power of writing.

Life holds little promise for Dragon. At school, he struggles to keep up. Home isn’t much better. His mother’s diabetes prevents her from working, so there’s hardly anything to eat and their trailer smells like her cigarettes. Worst of all, the events of one terrifying night have left Dragon wounded, raw, and easily triggered. But seventh grade changes everything; several caring adults support him by giving him the tools and space to process his emotions, and he learns he’s not the only kid with dyslexia in his class. Best of all, he finds his writing voice along with the courage to tell his story. Thoughtful pacing provides a foundation for Dragon’s first-person narration, punctuated by short free-verse poems about his hopes and fears. Dragon’s transformation from fly-under-the-radar, struggling student to brave friend and writer is gradual and satisfying, making up for the sudden, less realistic turnabout of his mother from depressed and unresponsive to conscientious and supportive. Dragon’s classmates, though sketchily drawn, are a well-intentioned, ultimately kind group. This story with curricular applications will be a mirror for kids with similar adverse childhood experiences including abuse and abandonment and a reminder to educators that they have great transformative powers. Whiteness is the default for most characters; Dragon’s mostly nonverbal half sister’s father was Latinx.

An honest look at the struggles many young people face at home and at school. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-945419-22-2

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Fawkes Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

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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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An engaging novel-in-poems that imagines one earnest, impassioned teenage girl’s experience of the Japanese-American...


Crystal-clear prose poems paint a heart-rending picture of 13-year-old Mina Masako Tagawa’s journey from Seattle to a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II.

This vividly wrought story of displacement, told from Mina’s first-person perspective, begins as it did for so many Japanese-Americans: with the bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor. The backlash of her Seattle community is instantaneous (“Jap, Jap, Jap, the word bounces / around the walls of the hall”), and Mina chronicles its effects on her family with a heavy heart. “I am an American, I scream / in my head, but my mouth is stuffed / with rocks; my body is a stone, like the statue / of a little Buddha Grandpa prays to.” When Roosevelt decrees that West Coast Japanese-Americans are to be imprisoned in inland camps, the Tagawas board up their house, leaving the cat, Grandpa’s roses and Mina’s best friend behind. Following the Tagawas from Washington’s Puyallup Assembly Center to Idaho’s Minidoka Relocation Center (near the titular town of Eden), the narrative continues in poems and letters. In them, injustices such as endless camp lines sit alongside even larger ones, such as the government’s asking interned young men, including Mina’s brother, to fight for America.

An engaging novel-in-poems that imagines one earnest, impassioned teenage girl’s experience of the Japanese-American internment. (historical note) (Verse/historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8075-1739-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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