Author: Junot Diaz
Illustrator: Leo Espinosa
Target Ages: 4-9
Genre: Realistic Fiction Picture Book
Every kid at 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 emigrated 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 come 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.”
Every kid at Lola’s school was from somewhere else.
Hers was a school of faraway places.
Mai was from a city so big that it was like it’s own country.
India and Camila were from a stony village at the tippy top of the world.
Matteo had lived in a desert so hot even the cactus fainted.
Nu was bone in a jungle famous for it tigers and poets.
And Lola was from the Island.
Lola opens her book of memories—“and out busts the Island.”
Lola’s exploration of her heritage is rich in imagery and figurative language. As members of her family and community share their memories, they blend with the imaginative. Bats the size and shape of blankets soar above. People dance in the city streets. Coconut plants become part of the barbershop landscape. Each image and memory brings up feelings of joy and longing.
The story does not shy away from the unpleasant though. One neighbor reveals the dark side of their island experience: A monster took power that instilled terror in the people. He destroyed whole towns with a single word. Eventually, people fought back and defeated him. But for some, there are still scars in their hearts. Then a hurricane destroyed her family’s community—prompting them to come to America. Lola learns that with joy there is also a sorrowful side of her homeland.
Through these conversations, Lola feels more connected to her homeland and community. She is inspired to draw a variety of pictures blending the real with the fantastic and the beautiful with the ugly. Author Junot Diaz multi-faceted view of life is memorable and moving.
Leo Espinosa’s vibrant multi-media illustrations capture all the heart and imagination of the story. Striking colors aptly depict this beautiful story of diversity and family pride.
Islandborn is a must read!
Activities and Extension Ideas for Lesson Plans:
- Social Studies: This story is perfect for starting a conversation or school project highlighting students’ lives. It can be a simple one like bringing in “All About Me” pictures and information to more in-depth projects about family heritage.
- Reading: Use the story to discuss the different between reality and fantasy—both in the illustrations as well as the descriptive elements of the story. Consider why Mr. Muir says a monster took over the island rather than an evil person/government.
- Language-Arts: Identify examples of figurative language, like hyperbole, imagery, and simile. Students can create their own examples and draw pictures of them.
- Geography: Identify on a map the author’s home country of the Dominican Republic. Read about this island nation. Consider: Do the descriptions of Lola’s island compare with what you learned about the Dominican Republic?
- Art: Draw or paint an island that blends the real with imaginative.
- Science: Learn about hurricanes. Compare hurricanes vs. tornados.