For Ages
8 to 12

A girl discovers a connection between her home in the Philippines and her new home in the U.S. through a special garden in this middle grade novel that celebrates nourishment and growth.

Twelve-year-old Isabel is the new kid in her San Francisco middle school. It’s the first time in many years that she’ll be living with her mother again. Mama's job in the US allowed Isabel and her grandparents to live more comfortably in the Philippines, but now Isabel doesn't really know her own mother anymore.

Making new friends in a new city, a new country, is hard, but joining the gardening and cooking club at school means Isabel will begin to find her way, and maybe she too, will begin to bloom.  

In this beautifully rendered novel-in-verse, Mae Respicio explores how growth can take many forms, offering both the challenges and joy of new beginnings.

An Excerpt fromIsabel in Bloom


I walk with my grandfather
      a thousand shades of green
      plants dressed in dew
      flowers flooded in light
as birds fill the trees with their
wild loud songs.
Our garden
comes alive
in mornings.

Lolo drags a hose
the water trickling slow.
We pause at a planter of


Weeks ago when I found
out I’d have to say goodbye
he made me plant it
So when you return
you’ll see how it’s grown, he said.


takes up most of this space.
Rows of shrubs like fences
small white flowers
perfuming the air with their
sweet lush musk.

But we hover over mine
leaves wilted
brittle brown stems.
No blossoms here.

I crouch down.
    What’s wrong, little Jazzy?
      I ask, almost expecting a reply.

Plants respond to humans
our voice, our love.
It’s why I name and talk to some of ours:
Elvis Parsley and Vincent van Grow,
my favorite, the Spice Girls
(a cluster of herbs named after
a music group my friends and I
dance to when we play our CDs).
    Should I have grown it in the ground?
      Or in a different pot?

    Or . . . something?
      I ask my grandfather.
      I don’t know what to do.

You should trust.

It’s just a little thirsty.


has gifted
my family
our livelihood
by learning the art
of growing and selling.
Its blooms are our survival.

I know its petals
soft and white.
I know its smell
without it near
but I don’t know
why this one looks
how I feel
when I haven’t even
left for California yet.

I sigh.
Feeling nervous for your trip, Isabel?

      If I don’t like it there, can I come home?

To my surprise he nods.
But only for visits.

Lolo raises my chin
so our eyes meet.
Sumpa kita
sounds like sampaguita.
It stands for

I promise you.
And I promise
you will do fine

in your new home.

He lays the hose
slips it a drip
saying something
I’ve already heard
many times, my whole life.

We bloom
where we
are planted.

Don’t Want to Say It

Goodbyes look like
summer in my small town
green hills and rice fields
my best friends and I strolling toward home.

Goodbyes sound like
chattering about school and friends
how next year we all turn thirteen
—though they’ll be here and I’ll be elsewhere.

Goodbyes taste like
tart calamansi from Lolo’s tree
round, small, and green that Lola’s
slicing and squeezing into drinks

for me, Cristina, and Rosamie.
Ice clinks
glasses sweat
we take slow sips
and our lips pucker
from the sweet and the sour.

Goodbyes smell like
sampaguita flowers
Lola’s picked and strung
piled high on the table in soft pearly mounds.

Bye, Lola! See you tomorrow, Isabel!
my friends say.

Lola waves back and drapes
a single jasmine garland
around my neck the way she does
with each fresh batch.

Goodbye is
Lola’s sad smile
the waning sun
that citrus still on my tongue
these white blooms near my heart
her warm hand on my cheek
knowing how much
I already hate saying


Me, Isabel Ligaya, Age Twelve

      I’ve never lived in a city

I’ve never seen snow

      I’ve never been rich

I’ve never had a mother take me to a mall.

      I’ve never left the Philippines

or ridden in an airplane

      or wanted to make new best friends


      I love the ones I already have.