Islandborn/Lola by Junot Díaz | SLJ Review

K-Gr 3 –When Ms. Obi asks her students to draw a picture of the country they are originally from, the children are excited. All except for Lola, “What if you left before you could start remembering?”

redstarDÍAZ, Junot. Islandborn. ISBN 9780735229860.

––––. Lola. tr. from English by Teresa Mlawer. ISBN 9780525552819.

ea vol: illus. by Leo Espinosa. 48p. Dial. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99.

K-Gr 3 –When Ms. Obi asks her students to draw a picture of the country they are originally from, the children are excited. All except for Lola, “What if you left before you could start remembering?” As Lola talks to some of her neighbors from the Island to draw from their memories, she learns of bats as big as blankets; a love of music and dancing; coconut water and sweet mangoes. And an island where “Even the people are like a rainbow—every shade ever made.” With a place so beautiful, Lola wonders, why did people leave? Reluctantly, Mr. Mir, the building superintendent, tells her of a Monster that fell upon their Island and did as he pleased for 30 years. Though never mentioned by name, the country in question is the Dominican Republic. The Monster refers to the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. Lola learns from her assignment that “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.” Espinosa’s gloriously vibrant mixed-media illustrations portray a thriving community living under the shadow of the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan. As Lola learns more about her Island, the illustrations cleverly incorporate a plethora of tropical plants and color, bringing to life both Lola’s neighborhood and La Isla. Lola, a Spanish language edition, is ably translated by Mlawer and publishes simultaneously. VERDICT A sensitive and beautiful story of culture, identity, and belonging—a superb picture book outing for Díaz and one to be shared broadly in a variety of settings.–Lucia Acosta, Children’s Literature Specialist, Princeton, NJ

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2018 issue.

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