Dominican-American novelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz (“This Is How You Lose Her,” “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” “Drown”), just announced that his new project is a children’s book. The 48-page book was illustrated by award winning Colombian artist Leo Espinosa. Twenty years ago, Díaz promised his goddaughters he’d write them a story, and he finally got around to keeping his promise.
“Islandborn” is Díaz’s first picture book and is the result of a promise he made to his goddaughter’s about 20 years ago.
According to the New York Times article Díaz shared on Facebook, the project started two decades ago as a pitch from his goddaughters, who asked him to write a story with characters like them: “Dominican girls living in the Bronx.” The book, released through Dial Books for Young Readers, is an attempt to bring more visibility to literature for people of color. As a young voracious reader, Díaz didn’t see himself represented in literature, saying, “It was an absence I felt acutely,” to The Times.
Two decades after his initial promise, it was another young girl who helped nudge him to keep his word. The daughter of a friend asked him to tell her a story and he obliged, coming up with one on the spot. After being recorded while reciting the story, and after lots of convincing from colleagues and his agent, Díaz eventually sat down to write the story that became “Islandborn.”
The book follows Lola, a young Dominican girl from Washington Heights who is asked by a teacher to draw her family’s homeland. When she can’t, having left DR as a baby, she asks her family for help. The story contains themes that Díaz incorporates into his vivid stories normally aimed at adults, including immigration, identity, and displacement.
The official description of the book on the Penguin Random House page reads:
So when Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”
The book releases on March 13, 2018, until then, you can brush up on Díaz’s other work — probably best not to read those to children, though.