Monday, January 14, 2019

Review - Islandborn

by Junot Díaz
illustrated by Leo Espinosa
Date: 2018
Publisher: Dial Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

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.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I was able to relate to this book more than I thought I would. In high school, I was given a similar assignment, where we were supposed to give a little presentation on our family heritage. At the time, I knew next to nothing about who my ancestors were or where they'd come from. In contrast, my diverse group of friends (from places like India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines) had no problem with the assignment; they were still in touch with their roots, and some of them had visited their countries of origin, if not actually lived there. So, after panicking a little, I had to ask around within the family, just like Lola does in this book.

The pictures are wonderful and colourful, perfectly transcribing Lola's imaginings onto the pages. She gets a fairly fanciful story about the Island (which I think is supposed to be Hispaniola, based on the map on the superintendent's wall; I'm assuming Lola's family is from the Dominican Republic since they use Spanish words, not French). I kind of wished we'd gotten a little more information about the Island, even in an author's note at the end. I'm not sure who the Monster was supposed to represent, as I'm not familiar with the history of the area; I don't know if most kids reading the book would be, either. That's really my only complaint about the story, though.

Lola's school is really diverse, with kids who have backgrounds from all over the world. The neighbourhood is also a reflection of that diversity, and you can see it in the signs of the businesses as the girls walk home from school. Once Lola starts asking questions about the Island, things really start to get interesting as people from her family and neighbourhood share their memories. She ends up getting so much information that she has to put it all into a book.

This is a lovely picture book that celebrates diversity and remembering where you came from. The story is strong and the pictures are fun. I just wish I could've found out a little more about the Island.

Quotable moment:

"I have to draw a picture of the Island," Lola explained, "but I was just a baby when we left. Prima, you have to help me."

"I don't remember a lot either, except for the bats. They were as big as blankets, and they used to chase after me at night."

"Blanket bats!" Lola pulled out her notebook and began to sketch.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 5/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

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