I’m so happy I gave this one a chance, since I downloaded it entirely at random from my library. I just liked the cover and the description, believing I’d find it relatable (which I did), and decided to give it a go.
Isla to Island by Alexis Castellanos (illus.)
Set in the 1960s, Isla to Island is a wordless middle-grade graphic novel about a girl named Marisol growing up in Cuba. When Fidel Castro began taking over the country, Marisol’s parents sent her away to live in the U.S., in New York City, to ensure her safety. Marisol has a hard time adjusting to the new environment, language, and culture, but eventually her new family are able to help Marisol make her new space feel like home. (Goodreads)
This was a good read. I have a soft spot for wordless picture books and comics because readers have to rely on the art to understand the story, as well as the nonverbal ways in which we communicate and express ourselves. There are some words in Isla to Island, seen in written materials such as letters, but we do not get any verbal dialogue in the story.
I loved this one. It’s about an immigrant’s experience, that of a child who’s sent away from an increasingly dangerous environment to one that’s hopefully safer. The story is both heartwarming and heart wrenching as Marisol must travel, alone, from Cuba to the U.S., a country she’s never visited that has a language she does not speak. We see how much the experience weighs on her when she begins missing her parents and becomes homesick, and we see how isolating the experience is, despite the efforts of the kind folks she’s sent to live with, because the different language, food, and customs are barriers she must overcome. What I love is that Marisol is able to find comfort and solace in books, and plants.
In this story, Castellanos touches on a program called Operation Peter Pan, which assisted Cuban families with sending their children to homes in the U.S. during the early 1960s as Fidel Castro’s regime took over Cuba. Due to the increasingly dangerous political climate in Cuba at the time, parents and families wanted to ensure their children’s safety and took a chance on sending them away, alone, to individuals in the U.S. who would hopefully care for the children until they could be reunited with their families. Operation Peter Pan helped to match the children with foster families and get for them necessary travel documents. It was started by Father Bryan O. Walsh, who directed a Catholic Charity branch in Miami. Some of Castellanos’s family members were Pedro Pans — what children who went through Operation Peter Pan were called. She drew on their experiences as inspiration for this story.
I found the story both informative and relatable. It was informative for me because I didn’t know about Operation Peter Pan. Actually, I wasn’t aware of the program either while reading the story and only learned of it when I read the Author’s Note at the end. But I guess that makes sense since Operation Peter Pan was apparently a semi-secret program conducted without alerting the Cuban government at the time.
I also found the story relatable since I’m an immigrant and could relate to some of Marisol’s experiences. Readers might also sense some familiarity in this story to the refugee crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where several of those crossing are unaccompanied children whose families are taking a chance sending them away alone from a dangerous situation.
I like the art and thought the illustrations were okay. What I love about them is how color is used. I love that the parts set in Cuba, when Marisol is happiest, are vibrant and filled with color, but the illustrations transition to shades of grey by time she gets to NYC with the one pop of color — a flower she brought with her from Cuba.
I love that as she finds more to love in the new country and makes her space feel more like home, the colors begin to return.
Heartfelt, sweet, and wonderful. It made a few tears prickle my eyes.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I recommend it to all readers middle grade and up.
If you like this, you might like…
The Arrival by Shaun Tan (illus.)
It’s a wordless fantasy graphic novel about a man seeking a safe place for his family to live because there’s a threat to his homeland. I often see this shelved in the middle-grade section, so I’d recommend it to all readers middle grade and up.
The Journey by Francesca Sanna (illus.)
It’s a children’s picture book about the refugee crisis in Italy. It focuses on a mother trying to migrate with her two kids to a safer land because their country is ravaged by war. The story is inspired by stories of migration the author has collected over the years.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (illus.)
It’s YA paranormal about a girl who befriends a ghost and is haunted by it. It’s a different type of recommendation from the other two because this one instead focuses on a child of immigrants feeling like an outsider at school.
4 thoughts on “Comics Roundup #69: “Isla to Island””
Wow, I’m really intrigued by this idea of Operation Peter Pan. This does sound like it would teach you something while being somehow comforting to get through. Thanks for sharing, Zezee.
It’s very interesting because I’ve never heard of that program before. Apparently they worked with the FBI, I think, to keep it secret from Castro’s regime.