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Oge Mora on writing Thank You, Omu!

When Little, Brown acquired my book dummy Omu’s Stew, my editor Andrea said that we needed to change the name. “The double oo’s don’t flow nicely,” she explained to me. I verbally agreed, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. Even after we mutually decided on Thank You, Omu! I still wasn’t sure, and as I collaged spreads I debated between Omu’s Feast and Omu’s Magic. Today, as my book is on shelves, I can say with certainty that Thank You, Omu! is the right title. However for me, it didn’t come down to double oo’s. Instead, it’s because Thank You, Omu! isn’t about stew at all.

 

Looking back, this is why I insisted on not including a stew recipe. I thought long and hard about it, and even began to draft one, but I decided it didn’t make sense to include it. A recipe should be able to be replicated, but as my mother and I joke often, you’ll never cook or taste the same stew twice. My grandmother’s stew is a thick, spicy stew that is cooked down for hours. My aunt’s stew is thin, mild, quick to make, yet still delicious. The only thing the differing styles share is a tomato base and a red color. Like people, every stew has its own personality, and each stew is an experience that is vivid and distinct in its own right. And like a person, you can’t write that down.

 

Still, while Thank You, Omu! is not about stew, “thick red stew” is a main character and making it is not easy. Though the Omu in the book puts her stew on simmer and goes into another room, stew in reality has to be constantly attended to. Not only do you need to stir every couple of minutes, but there are onions to chop, meats and leafy greens to add, and countless seasonings to sprinkle in. Traditional stew takes both time and skill. Therefore, when Omu opens the pot in the end and sees it empty she’s devastated. Yes, that big fat pot of thick red stew was destined to be the best dinner she ever had, and Omu is sad it’s gone, but the process also took an inordinate amount of time.

 

Nevertheless despite all her effort, Omu never hesitates to share with her neighbors. Giving can be a sacrifice of time and talent, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. While the neighborhood brings every intricate dish you can imagine, it is the little boy’s simple letter that shares the same collage paper as Omu’s stew. The stew and the thank you letter are equal in value. While having a delicious stew was the dinner Omu expected, the thank you letter the little boy presents her with is what she truly wanted. The countless hours she spent making the stew were worth that one note. I’ve come to cherish the name Thank You, Omu! because at the heart that’s what this book is. It’s a thank you. Like the little boy, I’ve written my own thank you letter. Not simply to my grandmother, but to everyone who has given me love, encouragement, and support. What my community, what my grandmother taught me is that life is more than what you can get. It’s about what you can give.

 

I’ve always thought of collage as a conversation. You talk to the work, and the work talks back to you. You can craft things with all the intention you desire, but in the end like stew, the work decides what it wants to be. While I stubbornly believed Omu’s Stew was the right name, today, at the end of this journey, I am glad I listened back. And I’m still listening. Every time someone tells me about their own cherished loved one and the meals they bought or cooked and shared with them, my story grows and changes. While my senior project Omu’s Stew was about a popular Nigerian dish, my book Thank You, Omu! is a reflection on food’s magical ability to bring us all together.

13 March Reads You Might Have Missed

March at LBYR has been a busy month with releases galore! From sweet bedtime board books to heart-wrenching YA with adult crossover, these new titles include something for every reader.

Ten Tiny Toes by Todd Tarpley, illustrated by Marc Brown

Now in board book, this modern classic illustrated by Marc Brown celebrates the joy of a new baby entering the world. An ideal baby shower gift, featuring diverse illustrations and a heartwarming message about growing up.

The Brother Book and The Sister Book by Todd Parr

Bestselling and beloved author Todd Parr has returned with not one but two books about brothers and sisters of all kinds! These are stories showcasing the uniqueness of families, perfect for soon-to-be big siblings.

Sheep 101 by Richard Morris, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

A clever, charming picture book tailor-made for bedtime reading! What happens when a boy is counting sheep, and sheep 101 gets stuck jumping over the fence? He’ll need help from some familiar nursery characters, each one funnier than the last.

The True Adventures of Esther the Wonder Pig by Steve Jenkins, Derek Walter, and Caprice Crane, illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld

Meet Esther! Maybe you’ve already heard of the not-so-miniature pig adopted by two dads who got a lot more than they bargained for—Esther the Wonder Pig was a bestselling adult memoir. Now her story is in picture book form, perfect for young readers.

 

The Super Awful Superheroes of Classroom 13 by Honest Lee and Matthew J. Gilbert

The wacky kids of Classroom 13 are back! This installment of the chapter book series sees the students struck by lightning, granting them superpowers. But with great gifts comes great chaos… and a lot laugh-out-loud fun.

 

President of the Whole Sixth Grade: Girl Code by Sherri Winston

Book three in the Presidents series features African American middle schooler Brianna going outside her comfort zone to interview students from a girls’ coding program at an inner-city academy. Will she learn to ignore stereotypes and embrace the world around her?

 

Survival Tails: The Titanic by Katrina Charman

Don’t miss this series starter about animals in peril during important historical events, perfect for fans of the I Survived series! Survival Tails blends historical facts and exciting animal adventures into a winning combination.

 

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Roz the robot has returned at last! The sequel to Peter Brown’s bestselling The Wild Robot is already a bestseller as well. Roz has learned to survive and thrive on a remote island with her animal friends and adoptive goose son, Brightbill, but what will happen when she’s returned to the civilized world? Can she find her way home again despite the technology and humans standing in the way?

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

This is a powerful and tender middle grade novel about bravery and identity, featuring LGBTQ characters historically absent in books for younger readers. Ivy’s hopes and fears as she grapples with her feelings for another girl and her growing family are a welcome addition to the list of coming-of-age stories.

 

The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection edited by Colby Sharp

This collaborative triumph edited by teacher and book advocate Colby Sharp is bursting with ingenuity. Featuring prompts and writing by Kate DiCamillo, R.J. Palacio, Linda Sue Park, Javaka Steptoe, and other renowned authors and illustrators, this book will leave readers itching to create stories of their own.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

John Green called this YA debut “brilliantly crafted, harrowing… heart-wrenching”. What further endorsement is needed? A lyrical, story of grief and forgiveness The Astonishing Color of After deals with the aftermath of Leigh’s mother’s suicide and her journey towards understanding her family history.

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

The Hate U Give meets All American Boys in this timely YA debut about race relations in America, justice, and freedom. A can’t-miss story of Marvin, a black teenager whose twin brother Tyler goes missing at a party during a raid, and the aftermath of the police brutality that ensues.