By Kirsten Cappy
In the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, there is so much waiting – waiting for the conflicts in South Sudan to end, waiting to return home, and for some, waiting for resettlement in America. But in the children’s book Joseph’s Big Ride, what Joseph is waiting for at Kakuma is to grow tall enough to ride Daau’s bike. Each day, Daau tells an impatient Joseph, “Tomorrow, hey.”
However, before Joseph’s legs grow long enough to ride Daau’s bike, he and his mother are resettled in the U.S. There, he longs for the bike ridden by the Dominican girl upstairs. Will she slow down long enough to understand that Joseph wants a ride? Each day is another day of waiting, or “Tomorrow, hey,” until the girl Whoosh offers him the handlebars.
Author Terry Farish wrote Joseph’s Big Ride for a real Sudanese boy – Moses William – who very much wanted a bicycle, just like Joseph. Farish got to know the family not long after Moses arrived in Maine from Cairo, when he and his family welcomed her to their Kennedy Park home. She modeled the character of tall and confident Daau on the bicycle taxi drivers that she later met when visiting Kakuma. Joseph’s Big Ride soon will be followed by A Feast for Joseph, which Farish co-authored with O.D. Bonny, an Acholi musician and debut author.
Like Whoosh, the book’s illustrator Ken Daley is first generation, with immigrant parents from Dominica. When he was growing up, Daley did not see Black children like himself in books. “I would go to the library and a lot of the books would have white kids in them,” he said in an interview for the Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival. “I know the tide is changing, and I love seeing that. That my baby niece and nephew can go into a library and see a little Black girl or Black boy on the cover means the world to me. It tells you that, ‘I matter, that I am visible, that I’m here.’ ”
The Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival was founded by Indigo Arts Alliance to tell Black and Brown children that they matter, that they are visible, and that they are indeed here. Joseph’s Big Ride is just one of seven books the festival will give away to children and will feature in videos in order to share the crucial message that no child should have to wait for “tomorrow, hey” to be seen and celebrated in books or in our community.
The full Ken Daly interview and a read-aloud of the book will be shown on the big screen at the National Night Out event, August 3, at Fox Field in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood, and on BeautifulBlackbird.com. Thanks to CycleMania, one Kennedy Park child who attends the event will even go home with a new bike.
Kirsten Cappy is the executive director of I’m Your Neighbor Books, a nonprofit that celebrates the lives of New Arrivals and New Americans with books like Joseph’s Big Ride. I’m Your Neighbor Books is a founding partner of the Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival.