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Island Born: Exploring Culture with Children

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Where we come from can often tell our story. Our heritage is an inherent part of who we are. That’s what makes the new book, Islandborn, by Junot Diaz, such a gem. It tells the story of a young girl who looks for her roots and find pride and joy in them. Find out how we translated this into an activity that pertains to our family. And a quick “thank you” to Penguin Random House books for sending us a copy of this beautiful book to preview!

Islandborn talks about how children explore their countries of origin. But the key character, Lola, doesn’t remember the island on which she was born. So she talks to key people in her life that can fill her in on the beauty, magic, and tradition of her home country.

This book is lovely…. just beautiful. But, our family genealogy is quite diluted and we don’t identify with any specific nationality. So I thought it would be a wonderful way to explore the only home country that my children know….America.

To do this, my son and I explored what it meant to be born in the United States and together created a collage on what growing up our country is all about.

Materials needed:
Paint and/or markers
Glue sticks
Internet images
Family pictures
Digital photo editing program (optional for the graphic design option)

You can do this project one of two ways. The first is what I call the “old school” method. Let children put together a poster board that reflects what they know/how they feel/what they think about their country of origin. They can print out pictures from the internet, use family photos, and incorporate script to fully encapsulate their thoughts.

The second way this activity can be completed is to allow grade-schoolers to create their own digital art project that displays their thoughts/memories on their home country. This is the option we chose and to do this, my son utilized images we found through searches on Pixabay and assembled them with PicMonkey. Not only did this give him a chance to explore his American heritage, but it also gave him some practice in graphic arts.

Here’s what he came up with:

Where we come from is not an island, or a foreign country from which we can draw identity and family traditions from. Instead, the United States is our home, our “island”, the only one our family has known for generations. I try to teach my children to appreciate and support the USA for what is truly supposed to be… a place where people from multiple backgrounds that can live collectively and still hold tight to the traditions of their culture (like the children in the book). That’s what makes books like Islandborn so important in the landscape of children’s literature. It’s vital that children of color see representation of themselves in the characters they read about in books. Likewise, it’s important that children who aren’t exposed to much diversity see main characters who aren’t exactly like them to teach them acceptance of those who don’t look or live like they do. Multiculturalism in literature is a win-win situation for all children so long as the books are free from stereotypes, racism, and misinformation.

Get your copy of Islandborn here. And find more books that promote multiculturalism at these links:

Andie Jaye

Andie Jaye is a former preschool teacher turned stay-at-home mom of 3 kiddos. Her blog, Do.Play.Learn., (formerly named Crayon Freckles), focuses on creative learning and play ideas, as well as parenting topics. Andie strives to be honest in her approach and experiences in parenting to let other moms know that they are not alone in their struggle. In her free time, she writes children’s books in hopes of publishing someday.

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