Isla to Island by Alexis Castellanos

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Marisol has a happy childhood in Cuba, where she is a cherished only child.  When Castro comes to power, though, life suddenly becomes dangerous for her family.  Her parents decide to send her to New York where she is placed with foster parents.  The illustrations abruptly change from brilliant colors to monochromatic grays as Marisol struggles to adjust to living with strangers, bullying at school, enduring cold weather, and not speaking English.  Bits of color return as she begins to connect with her foster parents and discovers the school library with its books about botany, a subject she loved in Cuba.  As winter turns into spring, summer, and fall, Marisol’s world slowly becomes fully in color once again.  A series of pictures at the end show Marisol’s later life: a reunion with her parents when they immigrate from Cuba, a career as a teacher, and marriage and children with both sets of parents supporting her.  Includes a recipe for arroz con pollo a la Chorrera; additional information about Operation Peter Pan; an author’s note about how her family’s story inspired this book; and a list of resources.  192 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This nearly wordless graphic novel beautifully relates an immigrant girl’s story using color to show her emotions and the connections between her old home and the new one. The author’s note makes some interesting comparisons about how Cuban children were treated by the U.S. versus children immigrating from Latin American countries today.

Cons:  Readers who don’t have much background knowledge on Cuba in the 1950’s and 1960’s may want to start with the back matter to better understand the story.

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