By Mary L. Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson, New Mexico State University
Throughout April 2019, Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson give their take on the 2019 Pura Belpré award winners and honor books (awarded to Latino/Latina writer and illustrator). In their first installment, Mary and Violet discuss Islandborn authored by Junot Díaz and illustrated by Leo Espinoza. The picturebook won the Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Award for 2019.
MARY: From cover to cover, Islandborn is a color fiesta. The vivid pinks, yellows, greens and blues pull me away from the verbal text to explore Espinoza’s visual story. I did a picture walk before I went back to read the narrative about Lola and her quest to learn more about The Island. Tasked by her teacher to draw a picture of her first home, Lola wonders if she’ll be able to draw The Island. After all, she left when she was just an infant, so she has no memory of her birth place. But Lola does know who will remember! Lola begins asking friends and family in her neighborhood to share their memories of The Island. With each memory, Lola imagines what life on The Island was like. In the end, Lola shares her book of memories about life on The Island, both heartwarming and heart-wrenching, with classmates.
VIOLET: The aesthetics of the vibrant colors pull me in as well. I flipped through the pages from beginning to end though it is hard for me to look just at the illustrations without considering the text. I noticed how well the illustrations capture the details of the story. For example, children are represented accurately in the school scene and in the passage describing the people of the neighborhood. When The Island was first introduced, I tried to situate it within a timeframe that would reveal the exact island Lola is from. I used the illustration of The Island in the book to infer what island that could be. Is that really the shape of The Island or is it a generalized picture of an island? I am enchanted by the images that emerge during Lola’s interviews and how she attempts to make sense of a place she is too young to remember. Examples of this include the figurative language used to describe The Island throughout, such as “even the people are like a rainbow,” “bats as big as blankets” and “there is more music than air,” and the verbal imagery of how the “beaches are poetry.” The illustrations capture this language through a child’s perspective in a rich mosaic of color and imagination. In addition, the “monster” is represented as a giant, dark, green bat.
MARY: When I began to read the narrative, I was also inferring which island was The Island. At first, I thought The Island might be Cuba. Then I saw the illustration of the island and had to think of another island. We shouldn’t mention which island is The Island from where Lola and her family and friends immigrated. Let’s keep the readers guessing until they read Islandborn!
I read a blog post that talked about the color of the “monster” in the story. Originally, the monster was illustrated as a black bat. The blog states that the publishers changed the illustration to a green bat after they received feedback about the book from the Teaching For Change organization. The organization was concerned “that the affirmation of racial identity in the beautiful illustrations throughout the book would get undone by the ‘black is bad’ monster.” Congratulations to the publishers at Dial Books for Young Readers for seeking feedback and then following recommendations. And kudos to Teaching for Change for providing insightful feedback that brought about change!
VIOLET: Exactly! This book is such a treat both visually through the illustrations and through Díaz’s charming, heartwarming and heart-wrenching story. Through this task Lola is asked to complete, she becomes a researcher, a young ethnographer. She brings this community together to illuminate a collective memory of her birth place showcased in rich, crisp, clear, vibrant illustrations. We see the beauty of the people and The Island. Through a more critical lens, we also learn of their hardships and their resiliency. To discover more about what Mary and I are discussing here, and as a treat for yourself, you need to read this book and share it with others!
Author: Junot Díaz
Illustrator: Leo Espinoza
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Children
Date Published: March 13, 2018
[Admin Note: Islandborn was reviewed in Volume 11, Issue 1 of WOW Review.]
This is the first installment of April 2019’s My Take/Your Take. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!