If Dominican Were A Color (Sili Recio)

Hello, friends! Our book today is If Dominican Were A Color, written by Sili Recio and illustrated by Brianna McCarthy, an ode to Dominican culture and the people who embody it.

What is the color of “Dominican”? Is it the blazing reds and orange of a setting sun, the deep green tints of shady palm leaves, or the neutral browns of café con leche? Or would it be the sounds of drumbeats, the sway of hips dancing the merengue, or the roar of a moonlight ocean? In truth, Dominican is no color, but all colors at once, and all the places and people the word represents.

Beautiful yet uneven. Recio writes with a clear passion for the Dominican Republic, and describes cultural and physical aspects of the island with beautiful, rich language that reflects this. However, when the story veers into commentary on colorism (something the DR has a long and particularly complicated experience with), it begins to stumble. Language surrounding skintones reads as slightly more divisive than was likely intended, especially in confusing lines like “If Dominican were a color it would be the shades of orange in the sunrise’s hue, the Haitian black on my Dominican back.” In the author’s afterward, she expresses a wish to affirm Dominican identities in all skin tones, hair types, and ethnic backgrounds; and in fact, McCarthy’s illustrations accomplish this particularly well, in addition to capturing the themes of bright color and lively energy. And while the text makes an effort to celebrate darker skintones and kinkier hairstyles, the effect is hit or miss. Otherwise, the length was fine for a storytime, and JJ did enjoy the beautiful illustrations and lyrical text. A few rough patches, but still worth a look, especially as a celebration of Dominican culture. Overall, Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Islandborn (Junot Díaz)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Islandborn, written by Junot Díaz and illustrated by Leo Espinosa, a stunning story about cultural identity and the immigrant experience.

All the children in Lola’s school come from somewhere else; she has classmates from Egypt, Panama, India, and many more “first countries”. One day, her teacher assigns a project: draw a picture of their country of origin. But Lola left the Island when she was a baby, and while she feels it sometimes in her heart, she has no memories of it. But since many people from her neighborhood are from the Island as well, she and her cousin Leticia spend the afternoon talking to them. They tell of blanket-sized bats and more music than air. Her mom tells of a hurricane like an angry wolf, her abuela tells of beautiful sunset beaches. At last, her superintendent tells her of a terrible monster who held the Island in fear for decades, but was defeated when brave people stood up and fought back. Lola draws all of these memories in a picture, then another, until she has an entire book. And when she opens the book to share with her class the next day, the Island bursts out.

Magnificent. Lola’s story is one of many immigrants and their descendants: how do you connect to a country’s national identity if you don’t remember being there? And while both the text and the vibrant, drop-dead gorgeous art is a love letter to the Dominican Republic, the Island is never mentioned by name, giving readers from all origins a chance to see themselves in the story. And so many beautiful, moving details: the older characters remembering “the monster” with quiet grief, as the generation that fled its oppression. The celebration of what makes a culture great (art, food, music, people), and how we pass these things on as family and community. The length might be stretching it for littler bookworms, but the art was more than enough to keep JJ invested. Absolutely phenomenal, and Baby Bookworm approved!