|Laurie Ann Thompson, photo by Mary Balmaceda
Laurie Ann Thompson is the author of the children's picture book Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a winner of the 2016 Children's Africana Book Award. It focuses on a young man with a disability who bicycles across Ghana. She also has written Be a Changemaker and My Dog Is the Best, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Odyssey and ParentMap. She lives near Seattle, Washington.
Q: How did you learn about Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, and why did you decide to write a picture book about his story?
A: I first heard about Emmanuel’s story in 2005 when he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show to help promote a documentary about his life, Emmanuel’s Gift, which Oprah herself narrated.
I was working on a book for teens about unsung heroes, people who’ve changed the world but whose names and faces we may not recognize, and I knew instantly that one of the chapters in that book had to be about Emmanuel!
His story was so inspiring to me, both because of the obstacles he overcame and the way he went about it, that I just couldn’t get it out of my head.
Eventually I met an agent at a conference who suggested pulling out Emmanuel’s story and rewriting it as a picture book. It took me years to figure out how to do that, but I’m so glad I finally did!
Q: How did you research the book?
A: At first, it was mostly through newspaper and magazine articles about Emmanuel, and, of course, the documentary, Emmanuel’s Gift.
Eventually I was able to find an email address for Emmanuel and communicated with him several times while he was in Ghana, and occasionally by phone. When he came to the U.S. in 2010, I finally got to meet him in person and we talked for hours! That was extremely helpful.
I also followed up by reaching out to other people from Ghana to discuss their perception of the events as well as culture, language, food, etc. I pored over maps, travel guides, historical summaries, and images of Ghana.
And I studied magazines and other literature aimed at people with disabilities to try to make sure I was using the terminology correctly and not being inadvertently offensive.
Q: What does Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah think of the book, and what is he doing today?
A: Emmanuel is very pleased with the book. We have stayed in touch and now communicate frequently by phone and email. He now spends most of his time based in San Diego, where he is focused on raising funds for his charity and the school he wishes to build in Ghana for people of all abilities.
Last October he biked from San Diego to Sacramento to raise awareness of and bring in funding for his mission. And he is currently planning an even greater ride from San Diego to Washington, D.C.! You can support his mission here.
Q: You've written for different age groups. Is your writing process similar, or does it vary?
A: It varies a lot! I seem to work better when I have both a picture book and a longer work brewing at the same time (or several of each, which is usually the case!).
They require very different kinds of thinking, and I find it beneficial to be able to switch back and forth from one to the other, depending on how I’m feeling on a given day.
I’m also interested in a lot of different things, so limiting myself would take some of the fun out of it!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just turned in the first revision for the first book in a new series called Two Truths and a Lie, coming in 2017 and co-authored with my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. It’s a hybrid between nonfiction and fiction for middle-grade readers roughly eight to 12 years old.
Every chapter has three weird and wacky stories in it about a specific topic, but only two of them are true. It’ll be up to the readers to figure out which one is the fake! These are so much fun to research and write, and I’m looking forward to diving into the next book in the series.
Meanwhile, I’m also working on a nonfiction picture book set in the 1930s, a historical middle-grade nonfiction book, and a true story for young adults.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: At the very end of Emmanuel’s Dream, you’ll find this quote: “In this world, we are not perfect. We can only do our best.” –Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
I chose to include that quote from Emmanuel for several reasons. First, because I think it exemplifies Emmanuel's attitude toward life. He sets high goals, knowing that he may not be able to achieve them but still believing it will be worth the effort just to have tried.
Second, because it has been an important lesson for me to learn in my life. I have a tendency toward perfectionism and a fear of making mistakes, so it inspires me to just keep going forward and trying to do the very best work that I can. I hope it encourages others in the same way, whatever their pursuits.
Third, I hope that it helps us all be more accepting and tolerant of others, by reminding us that we can’t expect anyone else to be perfect either and that most people are doing the best they can with whatever they have available at the time. Hopefully that can contribute to shaping a world that has less hate and more compassion for all.
It’s an honor to be here. Thank you so much for having me!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb