In the imaginary world of children's book author and illustrator Kofi O. Okyere, piccolos are parables, chance encounters become epic twists, and a monkey teaches life's big lessons.
His book To Catch a Monkey, the first in a series called "The Coconut Years," tells the tale of a boy from a poor family with an ill patriarch. The boy takes a leisurely trip to the city with a friend one day and discovers a way to save his father — but it goes against everything his father's ever taught him. "The means doesn't always justify the ends," Okyere says. "That's the conflict in the story."
Kofi O. Okyere
Okyere self-published the book through his company, 2911 Entertainment, after raising more than $1,200 on the website www.kickstarter.com. He's done signings at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, and with the help of his fiancée, teacher Clare Richard, he's shared the book with classes at a few Phoenix public schools.
A single father, Okyere draws inspiration from his two sons, ages 11 and 13, as well as his own life. "The picture books are mostly based on my kids, because kids do the craziest things when they're young," he says. "But the chapter books, I based a lot on different aspects of my life, and different stories I heard about my grandfather and so on."
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Born in Ghana and raised in Ethiopia (his parents both worked for the United Nations), Okyere tries to include culture in his writing and illustrations. His family's return to Ghana when he was 12 was important to him, and the animals and landscapes of Ghana are warmly and vividly drawn in his books.
Okyere moved to Phoenix in 1996 to attend Arizona State University, where he got a degree in economics, then worked as a mortgage broker. He brings his business sense to 2911 Entertainment (named after his favorite Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.")
With his newest work, Okeyere is reaching out to the young adult audience. It's a graphic novel titled Cry of the Forsaken, the first book in his "Kairos" series. "It's a mix between graphic novel and actual novel," Okyere says. "The imagery's a bit darker." The main character is named Elizabeth; she's stuck in a monotonous job and struggling through life. Then she has a life-altering encounter with a stranger.
The first "Kairos" book will debut in May at Phoenix Comicon. Okyere hopes to have three books in the series complete by the end of the year, along with six more "Coconut Years" books. His challenge, he says, is not taking on too much at once. "The key," he says, "is to under-promise and over-deliver." — Niki D'Andrea