Book Review: Islandborn


As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:

I wish these illustrations would’ve told a better story as they were as pretty as a, well, you know. More specificity would’ve improved this story–like instead of Lola telling us that her grandmother loved puzzles if she would’ve told us that she loved 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles of nuns and calico cats.

Generalities don’t make a story sparkle.

The metaphors on the first page about where the other kids came from were not done well–they were strangely written and evoked no imagery. For example, “…lived in a desert too hot even the cactus fainted” and “stony village at the tippy top of the world.” If you’re going to use language like “tippy top,” at least be consistent and use that kind of language in the other descriptions. Another oddity was Jhonathan being spelled as such–it looked like a typo. There was also the use of asides in parentheses, which I would try to avoid as they take one out of a story, only to throw you back in all discombobulated (and this is coming from someone who loves asides).

When the Superintendent, Mr. Mir, tells Lola that the island people found the monster’s weakness, I turned the page to find out what that weakness was, only for it to never be mentioned; this was a glaring omission. I figured the monster (that lorded it over Lola’s ancestors) was symbolic of some dictator, so it would make more sense that the monster would be in the form of a scary-looking dictator rather than a giant bat. What’s more, the island in Mr. Mir’s apartment isn’t quite shaped like the Dominican Republic (which many goodreads reviewers said was Lola’s birthplace)–a pretty significant detail.

There was an interesting bit of symbolism with Mr. Mir, referring to Lola’s grandmother as her grandma and not the Spanish form, abuela–indicating complete assimilation as he was vocal in saying that life was better in America; he saw the island for what it was while the others waxed romantically about it (except for one, who said, of all things, that it was as hot as “five bullies”), speaking more of the lingo and omitting any mention of the monster.

I loved that Lola recognized that she could learn from her elders (rather than just her teacher)–actively listening to them tell their stories rather than just googling for information (which she could’ve easily done).

She was an emotionally intelligent little girl.

A great question put forth by other goodreads readers was: If the people were able to defeat the monster, why did they still leave? I didn’t get the impression that Lola’s family or the people in her neighborhood ever went back and visited.

I also found it surprising that all the children in the class of nine were born outside the United States.

The author and illustrator using their childhood headshots was genius. I think kids would get a kick out of that because when you’re little, it’s hard to imagine any adult as having been a child at one time, much less your parents. I believe this made the creators (if kids even pay attention to that page) instantly relatable.

Islandborn was wordy for a picture book; if the story had flowed better and was more fun to read, I wouldn’t have minded the length. However, the author really needs to learn the FANBOYS rules as the lack of commas drove me bonkers. What’s more, the conclusion was very cliche with Lola’s story basically “leaping off the page.”

So, although the drawings/graphics were pretty, the story, ultimately, didn’t captivate me.

Suggested activity: Even if your child has lived where they’ve lived their whole lives, explore your local community. Whenever I’m snapping shots for a Shutterfly book, I often take my daughter with me and explain what I am taking pictures of–even if it’s just a new park that has something unusual. If your child was born elsewhere, have your friends, relatives, or neighbors (who came from the same city/country) tell them their origin stories. Even though I was an apt listener, I wish I remembered more of my grandparents’ stories. You can even help your child come up with a list of questions; asking great questions (i.e. interviewing) is a great skill to have, and they will learn a lot from doing it. If the subject is willing, audio record the interview.

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