Editor’s note: Vada Azeem (formerly L.E. for the Uncool) is an artist, rapper, and community advocate who recently completed his first children’s book, The Boy Who Tried to Touch the Sun. We wanted him to tell the (614) readers directly his inspiration for utilizing his pen in a new, fresh way.
I will never forget the applause echoing in my ear as I walked out into the Pavilion at the Columbus Museum of Art with my son, Peyton, at my side.
The day finally came to reveal my children’s book The Boy Who Tried To Touch The Sun.
“Am I going to read this or you?” I asked Peyton, instantly regretting the decision to do a live book reading.
Besides, the book is about him. It’s about a boy who, though faced with seemingly difficult challenges, overcomes them with ease. It is a story of determination that emphasizes the idea of reaching for the “impossible.”
Peyton, much less anxious than I, read the book to a room filled with my friends, family, and mentors who witnessed my journey to The Sun. Suddenly the tingles in my stomach had settled.
I had been preparing for this day for over a year. Writing, deleting, illustrating, erasing—rinse and repeat. Touching The Sun … I knew that would be the premise from the very beginning. To be where I am today, I had to reach for the impossible. I had to imagine conquering what most couldn’t even imagine experiencing. I spent a lot of my childhood believing I was just here. Living with no true purpose except to survive in a world where promises are never kept for people who look like me. As a former hip hop artist, you may have heard me rap about my past selling drugs. It’s true. I did it, and I used music to tell stories so that I could inspire kids to not do the same.
Our children don’t have the luxury of living through the horrors that I’ve experienced, making the same or similar mistakes that I’ve made, that all children make, and getting a second chance. For years I wanted to create a way to inspire kids before they make those mistakes.
I decided to write and illustrate a children’s book because I believe it can be a valuable weapon in the war on our children. Children are pure and full of imagination. I believe imagination is the key ingredient to success. Of course, success is relative but education molds our personal relativity. If everything in a child’s life suggests they can only go so far, once that point is reached they will become content.
There are children already fighting through the impossible. I know children who rely on schools for a meal.
Children who didn’t eat the night before school.
Children who get very little sleep not even having a bed to lay in.
Children who wake up, get their little brother(s) or sister(s) ready for school and head to their failing public or charter school. No one there to congratulate or recognize what they’ve already achieved by showing up to school today. No one there to tell them to keep reaching because they have already conquered the impossible.
I was that kid. And I remember the feeling that came over me when I read Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, And Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. I remember the impact words from the few educators and mentors who took the extra step to make me feel special. I have spent a good majority of my adulthood working with non-profits, schools, and institutions to take the extra step for kids who need the same. I wrote the book about them.
The challenge of writing and illustrating “The Boy Who Tried To Touch The Sun” was not the premise or the illustrations, but being able to take a simple story and ignite the minds of adolescents and adults of all ages. To not only inspire the imaginations of children, but to serve as a constant reminder to them as they grow older; for when they reread the book and interpret the story in a transformable way.
“That is not so hard at all,” Peyton read with enthusiasm. “Have you ever tried to touch The Sun? That is hard!”
As he continued reading, I imagined him as the ancient god Anu. I pictured him overcoming all of life’s challenges. Anu signifies Peyton and many other children who have an uphill struggle to touch the sun.•
For more information on how you can help publish more copies, donate or purchase at vadaazeem.com.