"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Thursday, March 22, 2018

ReedALOUD: Islandborn

In IslandbornJunot Diaz has created a character that readers will love. Lola is a young girl tasked with creating a picture of her island home, an island home she left when only a baby. Thus Lola sets out to learn about her island home by asking her relatives and neighbors about it. Lola's earnest quest to know her island home becomes the reader's earnest quest. We want her to find her answers. We want her notebook to be filled with ideas and images. 

Diaz also fills the reader's senses with the sights and sounds of the island. We can also smell those empanada's and taste that coconut water. 
Soon her relatives' and neighbors' memories become her memories, but not all memories are good ones and Lola learns that many people had to flee from her island home. Lola returns to school triumphant and with not just a picture, but many pictures telling the story of her island.

Diaz's writing is matched by the energetic and colorful art bursting from each page. Just look at the cover. How can one not immediately love that beautiful face peering back at you? Leo Espinosa has created characters and scenes to remember. We feel the connectedness of the people in this neighborhood. As the people tell their stories to Lola, Espinosa captures perfectly their moments of remembering the island, as in the image above or this one:

The scenes in Lola's neighborhood are filled with important details and readers will want to pause to take them in. As she learns more about the island and images start to fill her mind, they start to creep into the neighborhood scenes as well, a subtle and lovely way to have the two worlds begin to meld. 
Check out this spectacular spread:
This particular illustration feels like an homage to Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day, a book that is dear to my heart. Those patterns, that view out the window, that unconditional love -- wonderful.

Diaz has drawn upon his own childhood for Islandborn. 
Although not mentioned in the book, the island being referred to is the Dominican Republic and the monster the people fled from is Trujillo. This interview on NPR is worth reading. 

I love this book, but there is something that I am confused about. I don't understand the character Nelson and his role in the story. As a teacher in a fully inclusive school that also has a social and emotional learning approach, his character reads as off, especially in a book that promotes inclusivity and celebrates diversity. It doesn't make me any less eager to share the book with my students, but I am prepared to address any questions that students might have regarding Nelson. 

I got to hear Junot Diaz speak at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. His talk was both inspiring and motivating. Here are two excerpts:

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