Reviewed by Teaching for Change
Review Source: Teaching for Change
Book Author: Junot Díaz
The new children’s book Islandborn by Junot Díaz tells the story of a young girl, Lola, who learns from family and friends about the island where she was born. The island is not named in the book, but readers can deduce that the story is based on the history of the Dominican Republic.
“Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else,” the book opens. “Hers was the school of faraway places.” Lola was brought to the United States as a baby, therefore she has no memories from the island. When her teacher asks the class to draw a picture of “the country you were originally from, your first country,” Lola asks family and friends in the neighborhood what they remember most about the country where she was born. The stories paint a picture of life on the island and the forces that led her family to leave such a wonderful place. Leo Espinosa’s illustrations of people beautifully affirm a range of skin colors and Afro-Latinx identity. This diversity and genuine representation are rare in children’s books.
There is so much to love about this book. The writing is lyrical with a child reader in mind. Just how hot is the island? “The heat is on you like five bullies.” How shy is Lola in class? “She hated raising her hand almost as much as she hated Nelson’s yelling.”
Most important of all, Islandborn is the only one of dozens of new books on immigration that explains in an age-appropriate way why people are forced to leave their home countries. When Lola hears so many wonderful stories about the island, she asks the obvious question, “Then why did they come to the U.S.?” Finally, the building superintendent explains to her that “A monster fell upon our poor Island. . . It could destroy an entire town with a single word and made a whole family disappear simply by looking at it.” By describing the dictator Trujillo as a monster, Díaz introduces a brutal and essential political history; a history that upends the deficit narrative around immigration and highlights the push factors. He opens the door for conversation with children about the complex reasons for immigration. All too often, this essential part of the story is reserved for the author’s note on the end pages. Islandborn is a Harvest of Empire for young children.
Islandborn by Junot Díaz
Published by Penguin on March 13th 2018
Genres: Caribbean, Family, Latinx
Reading Level: Grade K, Grades 1-2
Review Source: Teaching for Change
Buy at Powell's Books
From New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz comes a debut picture book about the magic of memory and the infinite power of the imagination. Every kid in Lola's school was from somewhere else. Hers was a school of faraway places. So when Lola's teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can't remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola's imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family's story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela's words: “Just because you don't remember a place doesn't mean it's not in you.” Gloriously illustrated and lyrically written, Islandborn is a celebration of creativity, diversity, and our imagination's boundless ability to connect us—to our families, to our past and to ourselves.