About the Holiday
December is Human Rights Month, an observance established by the United Nations in order to raise awareness of, promote, and protect the equality of the world’s citizens. It takes vigilence, compassion, dedication, and determination, but achieving the goal of equal human rights is a responsibility we all share.
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
Written by Laurie Ann Thompson | Illustrated by Sean Qualls
A baby is born in Ghana, West Africa with bright eyes, healthy lungs, and tiny, clasping fingers—but with only one strong leg. Most people think the baby will grow up to be a burden or worse—a curse. His father leaves the family, but his mother keeps the faith. Her name is Comfort and she names her child Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
As Emmanuel grows, his mother encourages his independence. He learns how to crawl and hop to complete his daily work all with one leg. Most kids with disabilities don’t go to school, but Comfort carries her son back and forth until he becomes too heavy. From then on Emmanuel hops the two miles each way all by himself. At first the other kids won’t play with him, but Emmanuel is clever. He buys a soccer ball with the money he earns shining shoes and when he offers to share it, the kids include him. On crutches he is a fierce competitor and earns his classmates’ respect. Riding bikes is another favorite activity. Can Emmanuel pump those pedals with only one leg? He practices and falls, practices and falls some more until he masters the technique.
When Emmanuel is 13 years old, his mother becomes ill. As the only family member capable of working, Emmanuel takes a train to a city 150 miles away to find a job. He doesn’t see his family again for two years. Because of his disability it is hard for him to find work. Finally, a food stand owner hires him and gives him a place to live. Over time Comfort grows sicker. When Emmanuel goes to be with her, she tells him to never beg and never give up. He takes these words to heart.
Emmanuel has an idea to show the world that “disabled does not mean unable”—all he needs is a bike. When the Challenged Athletes Foundation learns of his plan to bike around Ghana, they give him a bike, a helmet, and clothing. He trains and receives a blessing from the king of his region. Then accompanied by people who will document his trip, he takes off. “He pedaled through rain forests, over rolling hills, and across wide, muddy rivers….He pedaled as trucks roared past on the narrow highways and wild animals stalked his thoughts….He rode up, down, across, and around his country, proudly wearing the colors of its flag on a shirt printed with the words “The Pozo” or “the disabled person.”
Emmanuel talks to others with physical challenges and to those without. He meets farmers, landowners, government officials, and reporters. He wants everyone to learn of his message. People begin to pay attention—they ride and run alongside him; people with disabilities come out of their houses to see him (some leaving home for the first time ever). Emmanuel is becoming a national hero! Emmanuel completes his journey—nearly 400 miles—in only 10 days. In that short amount of time he proves that anyone can do great things and that one person is enough to change the world.
An Author’s Note expanding on Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s life since his bike ride follows the text.
Laurie Ann Thompson tells this story of courage and achievement in straightforward language that highlights the difficulties and prejudices Emmanuel overcame to live the full life his mother envisioned for him. The details Thompson reveals—both within the school setting and in the world beyond—will inspire anyone who reads this special and moving true story.
Sean Qualls renders the story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah in the vibrant colors and patterns of his native West Africa, giving energy and spirit to the fire that burned inside the young boy who rose above his disability and the expectations of his community. His relationship with his strong, supportive mother is drawn with obvious love and compassion. The use of a folk-art style combined with scenes of African markets, landscapes, and traditional tableaus, effectively sets the story for children. One particularly touching illustration shows a tiny Emmanuel hopping off to school as his mother, shown larger in the foreground, watches.
Ages 4 – 9
Schwartz & Wade, Random House, 2015 | ISBN 978-0449817445
Discover more about Laurie Ann Thompson and her books on her website!
To view a gallery of picture book illustration by Sean Qualls, visit his website!
Human Rights Month Activity
Change Your World Coloring Page
You can make a difference in your school, your town, and the world around you. Here’s a printable Change Your World message that you can color and hang in your room or locker to remember how much power you have.
Picture Book Review