Title: Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
Author: Laurie Ann Thompson
Illustrator: Sean Qualls
Publisher: Schwarz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House
Word Count: 850 (estimate)
A few weeks ago I was at the local library for baby story time with my son. Afterward, I made my usual stop – perusing the racks in the children’s area – and one book caught my attention – Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. Having seen a movie based on his life, and being somewhat familiar with his story, I definitely wanted to see how it played out in children’s book form.
Clearly, as the title of the book indicates, this is a character-driven book. But instead of focusing on character, I’d like to focus on theme. Because while this is Emmanuel’s story, the reader can’t help but come away with the message that anything is possible for someone who refuses to be ruled by their limitations. Anything is possible for someone with “a sharp mind, a bold heart, and one strong leg.”
This theme of the indomitable spirit and the ability to overcome adversity plays out not only in Emmanuel’s life, but also in his mother’s. Here’s a quote as an example:
“Most people thought he (Emmanuel) would be useless, or worse – a curse.
His father left, never to return.
But his mother had faith.”
We learn early on that in Ghana, most children with disabilities couldn’t go to school. However, Emmanuel’s mother, Mama Comfort, carried him there until he got too heavy.
“From them on, Emmanuel hopped to school and back, two miles each way, on one leg, by himself.”
(How’s that for inspiration? And also a great anecdote if your child is whining about walking to the bus stop!)
Emmanuel faces many challenges, such as making friends at school, but he uses his resourcefulness and his creativity to overcome these obstacles – even earning enough money to buy a brand-new soccer ball so that other children will play with him. Later he learns to ride a bike.
“Over and over again, Emmanuel fell – hard – but finally. . . he rode.”
(I think we can all relate to this type of repeated failure at something we’ve attempted.)
The theme of this book can easily be summed up in Mama Comfort’s last words to her son on her death bed:
“Be respectful, take care of your family, don’t ever beg. And don’t give up.”
The book ends with this powerful last line the solidifies the theme:
“He proved that one leg is enough to do great things – and one person is enough to change the world.”
Emmanuel’s story leaves the reader amazed and awed at the obstacles one man overcame to achieve his dreams. However, it also leaves the reader asking, “What are the obstacles I must overcome? And what is the impact that I am meant to make on the world?” For this reason (and for all of the quotes outlined above), I feel that it is an excellent example of theme.
A few years ago I had the chance to visit Ghana. I spent time at two different schools/homes for children with physical and mental disabilities. I learned that these children are often cast off by their parents at birth. A prominent belief in Ghanaian culture is that if a child is born with a disability then the parents must have done something wrong to bring this curse upon themselves. Keeping a disabled child is often a source of deep shame.
The physical therapist at one of the schools shared with me how one the mother of one of her students had contemplated leaving her child to die in a river at the advice of a witch doctor. (Such advice is not at all uncommon in Ghana.) Thankfully, she found the school and now understands that having a child with a disability is not a curse, and in fact, can be a great blessing. Perhaps this personal experience is another reason I am particularly fond of this book.
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