Amadi cannot understand why his mother is so bent on having him learn how to write. He knows his numbers, and that’s quite enough to become a businessman, in the true Igbo tradition. On the day he runs to the market to escape her, Amadi makes several encounters that will open new worlds for him, and forever change the way he looks at books.
The story behind the book
We lived in Enugu, Nigeria, from March 2001 till June 2004, and one evening, my husband came back from work, bursting with stories – and frustration – about the boys who dropped out of school so they could earn quick money doing street business. The seed was planted.
Not counting the little changes writers bring to their stories when they revise,
tweaking a word here, a sentence there, I wrote nine different versions of Amadi’s Snowman. The very first draft showed Amadi looking at the picture book while hiding underneath M. Ogbu’s stall at the market, and the boy all bundled up inside the pages spoke back to him. So, Amadi’s Snowman began as a fantasy story.
The first editor I sent it to wrote back to tell me that she loved the premise, but would I ground it in a more realistic setting? We were still living in Nigeria, and mail took weeks, sometimes months to reach me. My husband brought me the letter late, one night, as he came back from work. I was already in bed, but I ran to my desk, grabbed a printed version of the story, a pen, and started scribbling furiously on the back of the printed pages. That’s how the character of Chima was born. Unfortunately, by the time I sent the new version to that editor, she had left the publisher and I could never find her again.
A few months later, I received an email from Tilbury House telling me they liked the new version of my story – I’d sent them both – and were considering publishing it. They would confirm as soon as they could. Alas, a couple of weeks later, another email told me that with the war in Iraq and the drastic cuts in school library budgets, they couldn’t publish my story at the moment. I was crushed, as you may imagine.
I continued to receive rejection letters from publishing houses. But I believed in Amadi’s story, and continued to work on it, revising, polishing, and submitting it again, and again…
Finally, on November 22, 2006, I received an email from Audrey Maynard, at Tilbury House, asking if the story was still available, as they would like to publish it in 2008 ! What a great Thanksgiving present, all the way from America.
The story behind the name
Amadi’s first name was Ifeanyi. Hard to pronounce?
I – FEY – AH – NYI, with the first letter sounding like the I for India, where we lived when the book was published. It means, “with God, nothing is impossible.”
The concern was that Ifeanyi would be too difficult to pronounce, and I was asked to find another name for my character. That was hard. I had lived with my boy through many drafts and revisions over the months and years. It felt almost the same as giving a new name to one of my children. I spent an entire night on the Internet, searching Igbo names, (I wanted it to sound nice, of course, but also to go well with Ifeanyi), and finally, I found Amadi.
Amadi is short for Amadioha, the Igbo God of Thunder and Lightning in traditional religion, and it means, “God is the true road for everybody.” Other meanings seem to be “rejoice,” and “freebornn” one not born into a social caste or in bondage.
School in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria
Boys, Girls and Schools in Igboland (South-Eastern Nigeria)
Amadi’s character was molded after the young boys who frequently drop out of school so they can earn money doing street business. See this blackboard? My husband took these pictures while visiting schools for UNICEF in the summer of 2003.
According to Unicef 2008 statistics*, 66 per cent of boys, and 58 per cent of girls attend primary school. And yet, the enrollment in that Igbo model school of Oweri shows different numbers. Now, Amadi would be about 10 or 11 years old, and so, he might be attending Primary 3, 4 or 5. As you’ll notice, the number of boys is inferior to the number of girls, and by the time we reach Primary 5, there is almost twice as many girls as boys. Then, the trend seems to reverse, and that is due to the fact that it is still not widely believed that girls need an education, especially after certain basic levels and once they reach a certain age.
Still, not every boy in Nigeria, or in Igbo land, feels the way Amadi does at the beginning of the story. In fact, many children are not only eager to attend school, they can walk a long time to get to the closest one, sometimes carrying their own benches on their heads all the way.
*Unicef, The State of the World, 2008
Resources on Nigeria
http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0107847.html : Information about Nigeria, its history, etc.
http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0930071.html : More information about families in Nigeria, games, food, etc.
Check out award-winning Ifeoma Onyefulu’s books illustrated with stunning photographs.