Isla to Island

by Alexis Castellanos (Author) Alexis Castellanos (Illustrator)

Isla to Island
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

This stunning wordless graphic novel follows a young girl in the 1960s who immigrates from Cuba to the United States and must redefine what home means to her.

Marisol loves her colorful island home. Cuba is vibrant with flowers and food and people...but things are changing. The home Marisol loves is no longer safe--and then it's no longer her home at all. Her parents are sending her to the United States. Alone. Nothing about Marisol's new life in cold, gray Brooklyn feels like home--not the language, school, or even her foster parents. But Marisol starts to realize that home isn't always a place. And finding her way can be as simple as staying true to herself.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
An important and authentic look at the Cuban refugee experience.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 5 Up--In 1961 Cuba, revolution and violence convince Marisol's parents to make the difficult decision to send their daughter to safety in the United States. Though this wordless graphic novel begins in full, tropical color, when Marisol lands in New York, the only color is in the red flower her father tucked behind her ear; the people and setting are in grayscale, and the speech bubbles are empty or filled with scribbles, representing the English that Marisol cannot yet understand. The two older adults who take Marisol in are kind, but she cannot communicate with them; the first comfort Marisol finds is in a school library book about trees. Her hosts take her to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where plants in the greenhouse are rendered in vibrant color. As winter thaws into spring, Marisol's life gains color through library books, plants, and food. Her hosts cook with her (from a Cuban cookbook from the school librarian), build her bookshelves, and buy plants for her room. When she enters seventh grade the following fall, Marisol's world is fully in color, and she has the courage to speak to her classmates in English. Family photos serve as an epilogue; back matter includes a recipe, a list of further reading, and a note about Operation Peter Pan, the 1960-62 exodus of young Cubans (when Fidel Castro took power, many parents, terrified that their children would be taken from them, sent their kids to the United States). Marisol and her family are Latinx; the older adults who take her in are white. VERDICT This historical graphic novel is an inspiring, empathy-building story, accessible to all readers.--Jenny Arch

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

In a graphic novel that opens in 1958 Cuba, portrayed in lushly colored tropical scenes, Marisol Alabarce leads a vibrant life with loving parents who encourage her interest in books, food, and plants. Political trouble soon stirs as Fidel Castro assumes power, and when military presence, scarcity, and violence descend, Marisol's parents fear for her safety. They send her alone to New York via a Catholic relief program, to live in Brooklyn with an elderly couple who read as white. But adjusting is not easy, and Marisol deplanes into a New York City rendered almost entirely in grayscale art, soon navigating school, learning English, and missing her family in Cuba. When she encounters the school library and rediscovers her love for plants--moments that utilize brilliant pinks and greens amid the gray--her world slowly regains color. Employing spare text in the form of signs and radio chatter in Spanish and English, debut creator Castellanos effectively uses color as a vehicle to portray Marisol's loving life with her family in Cuba, despair at their separation, and slow arc to a new life in which she honors her Cuban identity through food and music. Back matter includes a recipe, author's note, and further resources. Ages 10-up. Agent: Marietta Zacker, Gallt & Zacker. (Mar.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

*"An inspiring, empathy-building story."—School Library Journal, starred review
Alexis Castellanos
Alexis Castellanos was born and raised in Florida where she enjoyed sunny days, dramatic thunderstorms, and delicious Cuban food. After graduating from college, she moved to New York City and worked as a scenic artist, bringing theatrical sets to life with a little bit of paint and a whole lot of ingenuity. She currently works as a graphic designer by day and spends her nights dreaming up stories. She lives in Seattle with her partner and her extremely photogenic cat, Belle. Isla to Island is her first graphic novel.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date
March 20, 2022

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