Islandborn (Junot Díaz)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Islandborn, written by Junot Díaz and illustrated by Leo Espinosa, a stunning story about cultural identity and the immigrant experience.

All the children in Lola’s school come from somewhere else; she has classmates from Egypt, Panama, India, and many more “first countries”. One day, her teacher assigns a project: draw a picture of their country of origin. But Lola left the Island when she was a baby, and while she feels it sometimes in her heart, she has no memories of it. But since many people from her neighborhood are from the Island as well, she and her cousin Leticia spend the afternoon talking to them. They tell of blanket-sized bats and more music than air. Her mom tells of a hurricane like an angry wolf, her abuela tells of beautiful sunset beaches. At last, her superintendent tells her of a terrible monster who held the Island in fear for decades, but was defeated when brave people stood up and fought back. Lola draws all of these memories in a picture, then another, until she has an entire book. And when she opens the book to share with her class the next day, the Island bursts out.

Magnificent. Lola’s story is one of many immigrants and their descendants: how do you connect to a country’s national identity if you don’t remember being there? And while both the text and the vibrant, drop-dead gorgeous art is a love letter to the Dominican Republic, the Island is never mentioned by name, giving readers from all origins a chance to see themselves in the story. And so many beautiful, moving details: the older characters remembering “the monster” with quiet grief, as the generation that fled its oppression. The celebration of what makes a culture great (art, food, music, people), and how we pass these things on as family and community. The length might be stretching it for littler bookworms, but the art was more than enough to keep JJ invested. Absolutely phenomenal, and Baby Bookworm approved!

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