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From The Asian Reporter, V34, #5 (May 6, 2024), pages 13 & 15.

Pedro’s Yo-Yos: How a simple idea turned into a worldwide toy obsession

Pedro’s Yo-Yos: How a Filipino Immigrant Came to America and Changed the World of Toys

By Rob Peñas

Illustrations by Carl Angel

Lee & Low Books, 2024

Hardcover, 40 pages, $20.95

By Jody Lim

The Asian Reporter

Pedro’s Yo-Yos: How a Filipino Immigrant Came to America and Changed the World of Toys, written by Rob Peñas and illustrated by Carl Angel, tells the story of how a simple idea learned during childhood turned into a worldwide toy obsession. The book is aimed at children from kindergarten through grade two, so I read it to my favorite nephew, who was engaged and interested in the trajectory of Pedro’s life.

Early in the book, readers are introduced to Pedro Flores, who was born in 1896 in the Philippines. Pedro longs to leave his village and gain freedom over his own life rather than work in the rice and abaca fields.

When not laboring in the fields, Pedro and his friends play with a toy they made: "a grooved disc carved from a water buffalo’s horn." In Tagalog (one of many languages spoken in the Philippines), their simple toy is called a yo-yo, which means "come back." The friends spend much time playing with the yo-yo, "swinging it on a string and competing with each other to conjure up the fanciest moves."

In 1898, following more than 300 years under Spanish rule, the United States purchased the Philippine Islands from Spain. Many changes are in store for Filipinos, such as the construction of highways and the people no longer being confined to their villages.

Pedro and several of his fellow Filipinos eventually see the new opportunity placed in front of them — to leave the Philippines and go to the U.S. — and they take advantage of it.

At the age of 15, Pedro leaves for America to try to create his own dream. He travels for a month by ship through Hong Kong and Japan until his "steamer docked in Honolulu." After two years of long hot days working for low pay in pineapple fields on Hawai‘i, Pedro then journeys to San Francisco, and later works on steamships bound for Mexico, Central America, Guam, and Alaska.

Eventually, Pedro decides to further his education and become one of the few students at the time who attend high school. He also goes to college for a short time before ending up in Santa Barbara, California, working as a bellhop. Frustrated, and now 30+ years old, he wants to "find a way to work for himself."

Pedro remembers playing with the "grooved disc carved from a water buffalo’s horn" after playing catch with a ball for hours and hours with a young boy. Pedro knew there was a better toy, so he carved out two wood disks, joined them with an axle, and added some twisted twine. Summoning his childhood, he made the toy hop, spin, and do fantastic tricks. In time, the toy would soon spark the eventual yo-yo obsession.

With the help of people around him, and some savvy marketing sense, the popularity of the Flores Yo-Yo grew and grew — so much that even other companies tried selling imitation yo-yos.

To learn more about the expansion of Pedro’s yo-yo business and his ingenuity, take a moment to read this colorful new book by Rob Peñas and by Carl Angel. To find out more about the illustrator’s creative process, please read the blog at <>.

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