Islandborn
By Junot Diaz
Illustrated By Leo Espinosa
Published by Penguin Young Readers Group
Age Range: 5+

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“From its very first sentence, this first picture book from Díaz is both beautifully nuanced and instantly comprehensible…”  —Publishers Weekly

Description
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.

Reviews & Accolades
“From its very first sentence, this first picture book from Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) is both beautifully nuanced and instantly comprehensible: “Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else.” Lola is from a place that she calls the Island, which adult readers will recognize as the author’s native Dominican Republic, but she left as a baby. When her teacher asks everyone to draw a picture of “the country you were originally from, your first country,” Lola, who doesn’t remember the Island herself, embarks on a quest through her tight-knit city neighborhood to collect memories. Many recall the Island with fondness: nonstop music, mangoes so sweet “they make you want to cry,” colors of every kind. “Even the people are like a rainbow,” says one. But Lola also hears stories of fear, hardship, and sadness; the super in her building recalls a reign of terror by what he calls “the Monster” (dictator Rafael Trujillo) and the courage it took to resist. As the story moves between past and present, the Island and “the North,” and the microworlds of classroom, streets, and home, the sweep of experience and emotion becomes unmistakably novelistic. Reminiscence, reality, and Lola’s imagination similarly merge in Espinosa’s effervescent, mural-like drawings (which eventually become the work Lola presents to her class): bats soar through the air on blanket wings, and a barbershop customer tears up while clutching a translucent mango. With his tenacious, curious heroine and a voice that’s chatty, passionate, wise, and loving, Díaz entices readers to think about a fundamental human question: what does it mean to belong? Lola realizes it means both being cherished by those around her and taking ownership of their collective memory. “Even if I’d never set foot on the Island,” she tells the class, “it doesn’t matter: The Island is me.””
Publishers Weekly  (Starred Review)

Groups Represented
Dominican
Dominican American

Themes
#OwnVoices
Citizenship
Community
Cultural Identity
Education
Immigration
Migrant Life

Setting
Unknown

Engagement Projects & Resources
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