Islandborn

Junot Díaz, illus. by Leo Espinosa. Dial, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2986-0
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.” Ages 5–8. Agent: Nicole Aragi, Aragi Inc. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/18/2017
Release date: 03/13/2018

Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio

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