Light For All (Margarita Engle)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Light For All, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Raúl Colón, look at the complicated ongoing history of US immigration.

For generations, United States immigrants have followed the beacon of Lady Liberty, coming from their homelands to seek their future here. Some came to join family who had come before, some fled war and poverty, and all were drawn to promise of the American dream. They and their descendants make up so much of our country, our society, our daily lives, even as so many are rejected for their language or the way they look. Many still love and take pride in their homelands, but they love their new homeland too, as they join the “nation of immigrants” and follow the promise of Lady Liberty’s light.

A refreshing mix of honesty and hope. While there are many picture books that talk about the United States’s complicated history with immigration, most like to focus solely on the positives of this national tradition. Engle’s free-form text takes a more balanced approach, both celebrating the promise of the immigrant experience while acknowledging the country’s history of slavery, occupation, land seizure, and prejudice towards immigrants. It’s a delicate line to walk, but Engle does it very well, leaving the reader with both a batter understanding of the struggles immigrants face and a belief that these issues can change for the better. Colòn’s rich and textured illustrations are filled with warm light and a beautifully diverse cast of children. The length is perfect for a storytime, and the content makes this best for elementary-aged readers; JJ especially enjoyed the engaging artwork. A look at a complicated US tradition that will educate and inspire, and it’s 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!