Bellevue Reporter: Bellevue author wins national children's book award

by Bellevue Reporter | Jan 26, 2016
Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah could have let his disability control his life.

Born in Ghana in 1977 with a severely deformed right leg, his family and people in the community didn't expect much from him. Most thought he would be a burden.

With the support of his mother, Yeboah hopped to school and learned how to play soccer and ride a bike.

For Bellevue-based author Laurie Thompson, the problems in her life didn't compare. But she saw an opportunity to tell Yeboah's story and maybe inspire other children who have been told what they can't do.

"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 that Oprah herself narrated, called Emmanuel's Gift," Thompson said. "The story was so inspiring to me because of the obstacles he overcame and the way he went about it. I couldn't get it out of my head."

It took 10 years to perfect it, but her 2015 book "Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah" won the national Schneider Family Book Award in the young children's book category. The award is given to authors writing for children and teens whose work "embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences."

In "Dream," Thompson recounts Yeboah's 2001 experience of biking 400 miles across Ghana to bring awareness to the plight of disabled children in that country. Illustrator Sean Qualls fills the 40-page book with Yeboah's life story in ink and watercolor images.

Qualls and Thompson didn't even meet in person until the book had been out for a year, but the collaboration still worked for the two in telling Yeboah's story.

"For me, Emmanuel's story isn't about having a disability as much as it is about persevering even when others count you out, about exceeding the expectations others may place on you, about striving for change even when you don't know if you'll succeed," Thompson said. "I think adults frequently underappreciate children and their abilities, and they themselves are constantly striving to prove to everyone—including themselves—just what they are capable of. In this way, I think Emmanuel's story is one that all children can both identify with and take inspiration from."

His story changed how many Ghanaians viewed people with disabilities, including inspiring legislation guaranteeing equal rights for the disabled. The Ghanaian Association of Greater Seattle helped Thompson with her research

Thompson first met Yeboah in 2010 in San Diego, California. The two have spoken on the phone and exchanged emails many times since then. After his 2001 trek across his native country, the Challenged Athletes Foundation (a California-based nonprofit which provides opportunities for athletes with physical challenges) invited him to San Diego for the 2002 Triathlon Challenge.

While there, he was told that a prosthetic leg might be perfect for him. Six-weeks after a surgery, he entered another triathlon, beating his previous time by three hours.

He took grant money back to Ghana and opened the Emmanuel Education Fund for promising students with disabilities. He is helping to build schools in the country.

Thompson has called Bellevue her home for 15 years. She has written several other books, including a nonfiction book for teenagers called "Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something that Matters" and a picture book for children called "My Dog is the Best."

Other winners of the Schneider Family Book Award include "A Mango-Shaped Space," "A Boy and a Jaguar," and "A Dog Called Homeless."

The book can be purchased on Amazon or from Penguin Random House.