Storytelling Through Pictures: A Review of Isla to Island

Isla to Island 
Alexis Castellanos 
March 15, 2022 
Atheneum Books for Young Readers 
Ages 10 and up 

This wordless graphic novel follows Marisol, a young girl sent alone to the US when her homeland of Cuba becomes increasingly unsafe. When she first arrives in New York, she is miserable. The winter weather is nothing like what she is used to, and she does not understand anyone around her. As time passes, she comes to realize that home does not have to be restricted to one place. Marisol loves plants and teaches herself English by checking out books about nature from her school’s library. Her foster parents notice this interest and show her areas of New York that are reminiscent of home, even in the winter, like a botanical garden. As time passes and the seasons change, Marisol comes to see the same vibrant nature she loved in Cuba come to life in her new home. The story ends as she finally works up the courage to introduce herself to her peers at school, closing with an epilogue shown through photos the depicts her parents arriving in the US and Marisol herself eventually starting a family in the US. 

The book is primarily wordless, with text being used at the start and ending to label photos that set the scene. As art is the primary storytelling vehicle, movement through the story occurs with varying paneling formats. The style of the art itself is simply with uncomplicated backgrounds making the story easy to follow. When Marisol first arrives in New York, the art becomes black and white, with occasional splashes of color when she sees things that remind her of home. Through this initial lack of color, the visuals embody how terrible Marisol feels. Over time, the color returns to the illustrations, initially through the plants that Marisol sees and books she reads that make her feel at home again. By the end, the illustrations are once again in full color. Back matter provides additional context to the wordless story. This includes an explanation of Operation Peter Pan, the real-life program that brought Cuban children to the US, along with an author’s note and list of historical sources for those who want to do further reading on the topic. Isla to Island presents a touching narrative about the immigrant experience without the use of text, which allows it to have appeal to young readers who may be overwhelmed by lengthy books about this important topic.