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Book Review: Isla to Island by Alexis Castellanos
Reviewed by Alexandra Someillan

Cover for Isla to IslandDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHERS: 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.
MY TWO CENTS: Isla to Island is a book I was meant to read before I even knew it was being published. I met Alexis Castellanos at a book event and fell in love with her fan art before she became a published author. The story of Marisol's main character captured my heart from beginning to end. When I opened this graphic novel, I felt instantly wrapped up in a world of vibrant color. The author perfectly captured the emotion, the magic, the sadness, and the beauty of the world of Marisol. Isla to Island is based on the author's family's experiences related to Operation Peter Pan.
One of the things that I loved about this book is the way that Alexis depicted Cuba before the Castro regime took over. Whenever I read about how idyllic and perfect Cuba used to be, it makes me emotional thinking about it because their island was stolen from them and never the same. Isla to Island brought me this intense longing and sadness for a place that was never my own.
The artistic symbolism behind this book is one of the most beautiful details of the book, and it is instrumental to the heart of the story. I was beaming with joy and brimming with tears as I turned the pages and saw how the colors were used in the book to describe the emotional world of Marisol. Isla to Island is the kind of book you clutch to your chest after reading it, and those books will be with you siempre.
Alexis Castellanos (credit Janssen Solberg)ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website 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 on the West Coast with her partner and her extremely photogenic cat, Belle. Isla to Island is her first graphic novel.

TEACHING TIPS: Isla to Island is an excellent book to learn more about the history behind Operation Peter Pan. Alexis Castellanos lists some wonderful resources in her book where you can learn more about Operation Peter Pan. One of the many recommended books is Operation Peter Pan: The Untold Exodus of 14,048 Cuban Children. The class could hold chapter discussions that could be had in the classroom surrounding this book.
One of the activities that the students could do with this book is a think-pair-share activity where the students could write a journal entry from the perspective of a Pedro Pan child. Then the students could pair up with other students and trade papers where they could ask one another questions about their journal entries. For example, they could ask questions such as:
  1. What are the similarities of our journal entries?
  2. What are the differences between our journal entries?
  3. When will they be back and reunited with their families again?
  4. How will this change the children by being separated from their families?

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Alexandra Someillan is a freelance book reviewer and teacher who lives in Miami, FL. She has written for Frolic Media, where she has raved about her favorite Latinx romances. Currently, she has been accepted in the Las Musas mentorship and is working on her Latinx contemporary novel with Nina Moreno. Usually, you can find Alexandra obsessing over nineties pop culture and eating too many pastelitos.


Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors:
S.A. Rodriguez, author of Treasure Tracks

Interview by Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is an occasional series about middle grade Latinx authors. We decided to shine a spotlight on middle grade writers and their novels because, often, they are “stuck in the middle”–sandwiched between and overlooked for picture books and young adult novels. The middle grades are a crucial time in child development socially, emotionally, and academically. The books that speak to these young readers tend to have lots of heart and great voices that capture all that is awkward and brilliant about that time.

Today, we highlight S.A. Rodriguez.

S. A. Rodriguez is a writer, researcher, and former head of U.S. Hispanic marketing for Citibank, where she spent her career supporting diversity initiatives. She studied Communications at Loyola University in New Orleans and holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Miami. She enjoys living near the coast of Miami with her family. Treasure Tracks is her first novel. 

Here is the publisher’s description of Treasure Tracks, which released in July 2022:

Cover for Treasure TracksTwelve-year-old Fernando “Fin” joins his grandfather on a secret quest to find a long-lost treasure swept to sea. But when their first mission takes a near-deadly turn, leaving his abuelo weak and unable to speak, Fin’s left to navigate the hunt alone. Well, not exactly alone—his boring, totally unadventurous dad agrees to help out. With danger lurking at every turn, Fin dives into the mission in order to save Abuelo's life. But between Dad’s constant worrying, unwanted diving babysitters, and harrowing encounters in the deep sea, the boy finds himself in a race against time to locate the treasure. If he can’t succeed? He fears he might lose Abuelo for good.

S.A. Rodriguez's Treasure Tracks is a fast-paced story filled with heart and humor about the bonds of family, the meaning of a legacy, and most of all, the discovery of true treasure.

S.A. Rodriguez

1. Who or what inspired you to become a writer? 

PictureMy mami inspired me to become a passionate reader, and as a result, a writer. She encouraged me to devour commercial English-language books at a young age, and it's one of the reasons I mastered the language so quickly, even though I grew up in a Spanish-speaking country. When my mom became terminally ill and was in hospice at my house for two years, I channeled my grief into writing. I was determined to publish a children’s novel with Latinx characters to add to diversity in Kid Lit and do so in her honor.

2. Why do you choose to write middle grade novels?

Books had the most profound impact on me at this reading age, when I was trying to figure out my place in the world. It is a time of wonder, but in the upper middle grade range, I have found it’s also a time when kids can get distracted, and their love of reading can wane. With three boys of my own, I feel I understand the middle grade psyche and challenge myself to craft stories that can capture the attention of young readers—especially this segment that includes reluctant readers—through fast-paced adventures.

3. What are some of your favorite middle grade novels? 

It’s hard to answer this question because I have enjoyed reading so many middle grade novels both as a child and as an adult, but I’ll try. Refugee by Alan Gratz is a contemporary favorite, as is The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera, and as a child, The Chronicles of Narnia was hands-down my favorite. These selections cover science fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy, so you can see I enjoy reading all genres.

4. If you could give your middle-grade self some advice, what would it be? 

I would tell my middle grade self that words have power, so speak up and be brave. I’m sure I had a lot to contribute to conversations back then, but I was incredibly shy at this age and muted my voice, especially at school, for fear of being judged.

5. Please finish this sentence: Middle grade novels are important because...

Middle grade novels are important, especially those with diverse characters and themes, because they allow young readers either to see themselves reflected in books or to normalize diversity and gain an understanding of different cultures, perspectives, and experiences to build empathy and better understand their place in the world.

For more interviews with middle grade authors, click here:



photo of Cindy L. Rodriguez by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist and teacher. She is an editor for an educational publisher and lives in Connecticut with her family. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has written: When Reason Breaks (2015), an essay in Life Inside My Mind (2018), three Jake Maddox books: Volleyball Ace (2020), Drill Team Determination (2021), and Gymnastics Payback (2021), a graphic novel, The Doomed Search for the Lost City of Z (2022), and the picture book, Three Pockets Full: A story of love, family, and tradition (2022). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Here are the October 2022 Latinx Releases!


Cover for What the Bread SaysWHAT THE BREAD SAYS by Vanessa Garcia, illustrated by Tim Palin (Cardinal Rule Press, October 1, 2022). Picture Book. Baking with Papan is always an adventure as stories swirl in the kitchen. Join Papan and Vanessa as they go from the bumpy Pyrenees Mountains into fancy Paris and to the tropical island of Cuba while kneading, dancing and singing along the way.

Based on a true story, this was how Vanessa Garcia (author) learned to bake bread with her grandfather when she was a little girl. While baking together, her grandfather told her incredible stories of his life. Through his stories, Vanessa learned about her roots and the power of love and family. Get a copy of What the Bread Says and celebrate family, cultures, and the resilience of the human spirit.


MARIANA AND HER FAMILIA by Mónica Mancillas, illustrated by Erika Meza (Balzer + Bray), October 4, 2022). Picture Book. Mariana is visiting her abuelita and extended family in Mexico for the first time. Her tummy does a flip as she and Mami cross the frontera.

There are all new sights, smells, and sounds. And at Abuelita’s house, Mariana is overwhelmed by new faces and Spanish phrases she doesn’t understand.

But with a story, some kindness, and a few new words from Abuelita, Mariana discovers that the love of family knows no cultural divide.


NIGHT RUNNERS by Geraldo Valério (Groundwood Books, October 4, 2022). Picture Book. Guided by a circle of stars on the horizon, a stag bounds into a thick pine forest. Wolves lurk behind the trees, then begin to run after him. When the stag turns to look at his pursuers, he stumbles over a fallen tree and sinks to the forest floor. The wolves close in … but, unexpectedly, they become the stag’s helpers, bringing water, berries and a bandage After a short rest, the stag and wolves continue the mysterious journey, still following the stars. They finally reach their destination — a campfire, surrounded by all sorts of animals. The stag reaches into his satchel for a ukulele, and a joyful evening of music and dance begins. The musician has arrived just in time for the festivities, along with his back-up singers — the pack of howling wolves.

This stunning wordless picture book from artist Geraldo Val rio explores overturned expectations, friendship among unlikely companions, and the joy of singing and dancing under the stars.


Cover for Nobody Likes SantaNOBODY LIKES SANTA by Karen Kilpatrick, illustrated by Germán Blanco (Genius Cat Books, October 4, 2022). Picture Book. When a young elf tries to convince a group of kids why nobody likes Santa, will it be the elf who learns something in the end? From his outfit to his cookie eating habits, the elf doesn’t understand why Santa is adored. But with the help of some friends along the way, the elf will learn exactly why nobody likes Santa (hint: it’s because everybody loves him ).


ON THIS AIRPLANE by Lourdes Heuer, illustrated by Sara Palacios (Tundra Books, October 4, 2022). Picture Book.

On this airplane . . .
Someone travels solo,
two travel as one,
three return
and four set out.
In this simple and moving book, a young family takes a plane to their new home. While onboard, they encounter all the people you meet on a plane: a bookworm, a businessperson, tourists, crying babies and daydreamers   . . . all with their own stories and all heading somewhere special.


PAYDEN’S PRONOUN PARTY by Blue Jaryn, illustrated by Xochitl Cornejo (Page Street Kids, October 4, 2022). Picture Book. Payden has always used he/him pronouns, until one day Payden realizes those words might not fit. Payden’s parents promise to throw a big party to introduce whatever pronouns Payden chooses—but which pronouns are the best match? On a colorful quest, Payden talks to friends about a rainbow of possibilities: heshetheyze, and so many more! The right pronouns are just waiting to be tried on.


THE FIRST TO DIE AT THE END by Adam Silvera (Quill Tree Books, October 4, 2022). Young Adult. It’s the night before Death-Cast goes live, and there’s one question on everyone’s mind: Can Death-Cast actually predict when someone will die, or is it just an elaborate hoax?

Orion Pagan has waited years for someone to tell him that he’s going to die. He has a serious heart condition, and he signed up for Death-Cast so he could know what’s coming.

Valentino Prince is restarting his life in New York. He has a long and promising future ahead and he only registered for Death-Cast after his twin sister nearly died in a car accident.

Orion and Valentino cross paths in Times Square and immediately feel a deep connection. But when the first round of End Day calls goes out, their lives are changed forever—one of them receives a call, and the other doesn’t. Though neither boy is certain how the day will end, they know they want to spend it together…even if that means their goodbye will be heartbreaking.

Told with acclaimed author Adam Silvera’s signature bittersweet touch, this story celebrates the lasting impact that people have on each other and proves that life is always worth living to the fullest.


WOMBAT SAID COME IN by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Brian Lies (Peachtree, October 4, 2022). Picture Book. Australian bushfires roar above Wombat’s home. He is fortunate that his burrow is deep below ground and he is safe. He snuggles under his crazy quilt and drinks his tea. Soon his frightened friend Wallaby shows up at his door. “Oh Wombat! I c-c-can’t reach my home! M-m-may I stay with you awhile?”

Wombat pauses only for a tick of the clock, and says, “Come in!”

Then, one by one, five uniquely Australian animals – the Wallaby, a Kookaburra, a Platypus, a Koala, and a Sugar Glider – seek refuge from the fires, and Wombat welcomes them all. When you have the heart of a wombat, there’s always room for one more!


MY BROTHER IS AWAY by Sara Greenwood, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (Random House Studio, October 11, 2022). Picture Book. With her older brother in prison, a young girl copes with the confusing feelings his absence creates. At times she remembers the way her brother would carry her on his shoulders or how he would make up stories to tell her at bedtime. Other times she feels angry and wants to fly so far away that she can forget what happened.

When her Mama and Daddy take her on the 500-mile journey to visit him, a trip she knows not all families are able to make, the girl is excited but also nervous. But the nerves turn to joy when she sees him—everything is different, but everything is the same too. Her brother is not home, but his love hasn’t changed.

With words that are spare, gentle, and reassuring, this picture book will help young readers with similar stories feel less alone and give other readers a window into the struggles some children face.


STILL DREAMING/Seguimos Soñando by Claudia Guadalupe Martínez, illustrated by Magdelana Mora, translated by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite (Children’s Book Press, October 11, 2022). Picture Book. Faced with the prospect of being separated from each other, a young boy and his family make the difficult decision to leave their home and begin a journey filled with uncertainty. On the road, they meet other people like them. Families with deep roots tied to the land. Others that helped build the railroads. Some were shop owners and factory workers. Each with similar hopes and dreams.

Historians estimate that between 1930 and 1940, two million people living in the United States were forcibly removed and sent to live in Mexico. Telling this story from a child’s perspective, award-winning author Claudia Guadalupe Martínez lyrically recounts this often-overlooked period of United States history–Mexican Repatriation. Emotive illustrations by Magdalena Mora convey this poignant tale of longing for home and permanence, which reflects many of the dreams and hopes of people today.


WHAT THE JAGUAR TOLD HER by Alexandra V. Méndez (Levine Querido, October 11, 2022). Middle Grade. Jade is starting eighth grade in a new city—Atlanta. She just wants to go back to Chicago, where her friends are. Where her Abuela lives.

But Jade does like walking to her new school on the trail that winds through the woods behind her house, where lush flowers bloom and soft leaves rustle beneath her feet. In the forest, Jade feels protected. Sometimes, it’s as if it’s listening to her.

There, Jade meets Itztli, an elderly storyteller who exists between dreams and reality. In the golden afternoons when Itztli appears, he steps out of the forest as a lithe, agile jaguar. But when he speaks to Jade, he is a wise old man who makes intricate works of art and tells her ancestral stories of Mexico. At first, Itztli’s stories feel far removed from Jade’s life. But as her Abuela suddenly falls ill, two towers come crashing down in New York City, and Jade becomes someone or something she doesn’t yet understand, Itztli’s stories take on new meaning. Jade must learn to have patience and strength to become who she was always meant to be, as the stirrings of an ancient power awaken within her.


FRIZZY by Claribel Ortega, illustrated by Rose Bousamra (First Second, October 18, 2022). Middle Grade Graphic Novel. Marlene loves three things: books, her cool Tía Ruby and hanging out with her best friend Camila. But according to her mother, Paola, the only thing she needs to focus on is school and “growing up.” That means straightening her hair every weekend so she could have “presentable”, “good hair”.

But Marlene hates being in the salon and doesn’t understand why her curls are not considered pretty by those around her. With a few hiccups, a dash of embarrassment, and the much-needed help of Camila and Tia Ruby—she slowly starts a journey to learn to appreciate and proudly wear her curly hair.


TELL THE TRUTH, PANGOLIN by Melinda Beatty, illustrated by Paola Escobar (Anne Schwartz Books, October 18, 2022). Picture Book. Pangolin is enjoying himself on the royal swing in the bright summer sunshine when suddenly, the ropes break and–OW!–he falls to the ground. What will I tell the queen?! Pangolin worries. He races to the stables to ask his friend Badger. “Tell her the musicians needed the swing’s rope for their lutes!” the stablemaster advises. Fox, the castle guard, has a different idea: “Might you say that the King needed to repair his royal jump rope?” Pug, Cat, and Goose all have suggestions, too. But which story will Pangolin tell the queen?! Here is a charming picture book, full of delightful animal friends, about finding the courage to be honest with those around you–and with yourself.


A SEED IN THE SUN by Aida Salazar (Dial Books, October 25, 2022). Middle Grade. Lula Viramontes dreams of one day becoming someone whom no one can ignore: a daring ringleader in a Mexican traveling carpa, like the one she saw years ago while her family was working a harvest in Texas. But when the Teatro Campesino (the official theater company of the United Farm Workers) comes to their encampment in Delano, California, Lula meets activist Dolores Huerta and discovers an even more pressing reason to raise her voice: the upcoming farm workers’ strike, an event that will determine her family’s future—for better or worse.


PIECE BY PIECE: How I Built My Life (No Instructions Needed) by David Aguilar and Ferran Aguilar, translated by Lawrence Schimel (Amazon Crossing Kids, October 25, 2022). Middle Grade. David Aguilar was born missing part of one arm, a small detail that seemed to define his life and limit people’s ideas of who he was and who he could be. But in this funny and heartfelt memoir, David proves that he can throw out the rulebook and people’s expectations and maybe even make a difference in the world–and all with a sense of humor. At only nine years old, David built his first prosthesis from LEGO bricks, and since then he hasn’t stopped creating and thinking about how his inventions, born from a passion for building things, could fuel change and help others.

With a voice full of humor and heart, David tells his powerful story, of family and friendship, of heartbreak and loss, and ultimately of triumph and success, as he continues to dream big and build a life and a better world–piece by piece.


SANTIAGO’S DINOSAURIOS by Mariana Ríos Ramírez, illustrated by Udayana Lugo (Albert Whitman & Company, October 27, 2022). Picture Book. Santiago is new to the United States, and he doesn’t speak English. On his first day of school, how will he connect with his peers? Santiago learns that even when you don’t speak the same language, some interests–like dinosaurs–are universal.

The Latinx KidLit Book Festival is a FREE EVENT and has  A TON OF AMAZING LATINX CREATORS!!!

From their website:

The Latinx KidLit Book Festival will be streamed live on the festival’s YouTube channel, or YouTube links can also be found on each individual event. All posted times are in EDT!

Sessions can be safely streamed into the classroom and shared with students using an educator’s account. Classrooms can engage with festival authors and illustrators using the live-chat option! All video content will be recorded and available after the festival. Sign up for our newsletter to receive links to all the panels directly to your inbox!.

What a great opportunity to connect students with Latinx authors and their work! For all of the information including the dates and times for the panels listed below, go to their website at


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