In Ghana, West Africa, a baby boy was born:
Two bright eyes blinked in the light,
two healthy lungs let out a powerful cry,
two tiny fists opened and closed,
but only one strong leg kicked.
So begins Emmanuel’s Dream, the true story of a young man born with only one leg who biked around Ghana to raise awareness for what those with disabilities can do. This story was eye-opening for my children, as evidenced by the questions they asked: “Why was Emmanuel born with one leg?” “Why did his dad leave him?” “How did Emmanuel play soccer with only one leg?” There are very few books that feature characters with disabilities, and this is a good one. Emmanuel’s Dream will captivate children and broaden their view of the world.
Author Laurie Ann Thompson does an excellent job of telling Emmanuel Ofosu’s story. She avoids over-telling. Each word seems to serve a purpose — either moving the story forward or elaborating on the theme of how those with disabilities have been viewed in Ghana (and elsewhere).
Rather than focusing solely on Emmanuel’s bike ride around Ghana as an adult, Thomson also describes aspects of Emmanuel’s childhood that young readers will be able to relate to. For example, Thomson describes Emmanuel’s efforts to fit in with classmates and first learn to ride a bike.
While I believe Emmanuel’s Dream is a valuable, eye-opening story to share with children, I personally keep returning to this picture book to gaze at Sean Quall’s illustrations. They are beautiful. Quall’s illustrations are flat, apparently influenced by folk art, and yet they pack an emotional punch. The image above depicts Emmanuel’s parents’ reactions when they discover that Emmanuel has only one healthy leg. Emmanuel’s father is devastated. Emmanuel’s mother appears to be holding the family together.
In this image, we see Emmanuel walking the two miles to school alone for the first time. Emmanuel looks small and yet determined.
Sean Quall has illustrated several other picture books, including Before John was a Jazz Giant by Carol Boston Weatherford and Dizzy by Jonah Winter. With Emmanuel’s Dream, Quall’s illustrations seem to have found the perfect match. Quall’s illustrations have a generally subdued feeling that help tell Emmanuel’s story in a way that is moving but not overly sentimental. Quall depicts the Ghanaian landscape with lots of texture and a salmon, turquoise and beige color scheme. Finally, I like the decision to stick with a simple, sans serif font throughout to avoid competing with Quall’s illustrations.
Recommended for: Ages 4-9
Emmanuel’s Gift: The Movie
Emmanuel Ofosu’s story has also been told in a 2005 documentary called Emmanuel’s Gift that I will now have to check out. It is rated G, so it’s appropriate for sharing with children. Here’s the trailer.