Once upon a time, Junot Díaz promised his goddaughters he’d write a book for them.
A couple of decades later, the Pulitzer prize-winning author will fulfill their wish with Islandborn. The picture book will be released on March 13, 2018, Penguin Young Readers announced on Wednesday.
“When my goddaughters were young, they asked me to write a book about kids like them, by which I took to mean super-curious kids who loved to read and draw and ask questions, and whose families had crossed continents to get where they are at,” Díaz said in a statement.
Díaz’s goddaughters are now in their late 20s, but the reason they asked for the book is still pertinent today.
“Behind their request was this longing for books and stories that resonated for them and included them, and opened a space where they could be protagonists in the world,” he told The New York Times.
Islandborn will tell the story of a young girl named Lola, who was born in the Dominican Republic but left the island as a baby. When a school assignment asks her to draw a picture of the place her parents came from, Lola begins a journey to learn more about the island with the help of her relatives and their sometimes beautiful, sometimes tragic memories. Eventually, the girl begins to understand what her abuela means when she says: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”
Lola’s story, set in Washington Heights, will encompass themes of immigration and identity that Díaz has explored in past works, including his Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
They’re themes that, he said, are connected to his own experience as a Dominican-born man who grew up in New Jersey. And much like his goddaughters, Díaz recalls longing for books and characters who he could relate to as a child. “It was an absence I felt acutely,” he told the NYTimes.
Islandborn, which will be published by Dial Books for Young Readers, hopes to fill that void in the lives of young Afro-Latinas.
“All readers deserve to see their stories reflected on the page,” Editorial Director of Dial Books for Young Readers Namrata Tripathi said in a press statement. “Junot Díaz’s debut picture book is a gift to the many readers whose lives cross borders.”