Islandborn by Junot Diaz

Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.
— Junot Diaz in Islandborn

As a mother of 3 boys, I love finding books for my sons with rich characters and a strong storyline that are relatable to our history. I am from Jamaica and moved to the United States at age 12.  My boys were born here but surrounded by island culture.  Islandborn by Junot Diaz is the kind of literary treasure that we love to discover.

Islandborn is about Lola's quest to understand her roots.  She was born in the Dominican Republic but moved to the United States when she was a baby.  She is part of a close-knit family that values their history so she grew up listening to the music, enjoying the great food and hearing some stories but she has no memory of her own experience there and doesn't fully understand why her relatives relocated.  Islandborn is her story of discovery.  The story builds from curiosity to discovery and takes the reader along for a delightful ride.  It is a book that will capture the imagination of kids of all ages.  

As an islander, I was thrilled to see that the complexity of island life (both the beauty and the struggle) was honored by Mr. Diaz.  Although each island is diverse in its culture, there are a few things that we often share - our love for music and dancing, coconuts, mangoes, struggle, love of learning and the joy of community.

Even the most beautiful places can attract a monster.
— Junot Diaz, Islandborn

Mr. Diaz accomplished a small miracle when it comes to writing for children - he was able to discuss an incredibly challenging time in the history of the Dominican Republic in language that is appropriate for young children.  Readers understand the story of the "monster" that caused Lola's older relatives to leave home without the need for a graphic telling of the story.  Older children will be curious and will likely do additional research on the challenges that Lola's relatives faced.

The illustration by Leo Espinosa is captivating! Although Junot Diaz's story is brilliant, I found myself eagerly awaiting the art on the next page of the book. It creates a huge, welcoming window to Lola's life and her Dominican culture.

Islandborn feels precious.  It is the kind of book that you want to read without damaging the pages because you want to pass it to every child and save it for the next generation.  It is a book that deserves many awards and I look forward to following it's journey.