My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else. Hers was the school of faraway places.” Her teacher, Ms. Obi, recognized the importance of celebrating her students’ diverse backgrounds so she tasks them with drawing pictures of the country they’re from. By the story’s end, their classroom is filled with beautiful illustrations of everyone’s first homes. “Now our classroom has windows…Anytime you want to look at one another’s first homes all you have to do is look out the windows.”
There is just one problem though. Lola can’t remember anything about the island she is from because she was too young when they moved. She takes her teacher’s advice and decides to interview those who would remember.
Island Born follows Lola’s journey as she unlocks a treasure of Island memories as recalled by her family, friends, and neighbors. Her imagination sores as she weaves together their stories told about bats as big as blankets, mangoes the size of your head, everyone always dancing to the music, beautiful colors all around the island, and the big bright sun with heat on you “like five bullies.” But there were also hurricanes and tyrants akin to the worst of monsters. Yet still, there were heroes and a community of smart, resilient people who made the Island a better place.
Lola was filled to the brim with so many memories that they bubbled over beyond the limitations of just one page. She had enough drawings to fill an entire book bursting with beautiful images of her first home.
I love the heart of Ms. Obi’s assignment and that she made it a priority to have a classroom that made everyone feel: Important. Accepted. Seen. This is the classroom/school-wide community that we want all of our students to be a part of. One that celebrates what makes us unique as well as those similarities that unite us.
I really loved the vivid imagery in Junot DÍaz’s words and Leo Espinosa’s illustrations. It was as though each memory came to life on the page as Lola interviewed each person.
I would highly recommend Island Born for your classroom or school library’s collection.
Some of my favorite lines from Island Born:
“The whole country is like the inside of a güira. Like the inside of a drum.”
“On the island there’s even more music! There’s more music than air!”
“Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it isn’t in you.”
For Further Study
I liked that Junot DÍaz did not make specific references to the “faraway places” that students were from because it leaves it open to the interpretation of the reader. “Somewhere else” could really be anywhere on the globe. It would be my hope then that it would spark the curiosity of the reader to find out more. As such, I found a few articles that I read after reading Island Born. References to the Island being the Dominican Republic and an explanation of the Monster.
Article from Social Justice Books, “Why is the Monster Black in Island Link to article
NPR Books Article, “In Junot DÍaz’s ‘Island Born,’ a Curious Child Re-Creates Her Dominican Roots” Link to article
Crimson Staff Article, “Junot DÍaz on the Monster of ‘Island Born'” Link to article
Junot DÍaz | http://www.junotdiaz.com/
Leo Espinosa | https://www.studioespinosa.com/
Dial Books for Young Readers
Penguin Young Readers Group