Amari Cooper Ferguson wants every kid to see themselves in the pages of his books
Words by Cindy Marie Jenkins | Photos by Jessica Friend
Amari Cooper Ferguson was only 4 years old when he learned about his dream job: A paleontologist. He simply couldn’t believe that there was a career where you could study fossils all day long. This discovery sparked something special in him, so Amari’s family set out to explore dinosaurs together. However, while looking for books to read, they noticed something disheartening: “Books about dinosaurs or paleontology rarely, if ever, featured people of color,” explains his mother, Tammie Cooper. So she decided to do something about it.
Tammie began to write down the creative ways Amari played and noted his sayings like, “I’m going to use my box house as a time machine to go back in
time and see my favorite dinosaurs.“ She then took his words and spun them
into an exciting narrative, where Amari is the protagonist going on lots of
After deciding to self-publish, Tammie and Amari released their first book: Amari Goes to Dinosaur Land. In it, Amari travels back in time to play with dinosaurs. They partnered with illustrator Sameer Kassar, who specializes in African-American characters. “It was important to us to have representation for Amari and for other kids who look like him,’ Tammie says.
Amari has three books in total: Amari Goes to Dinosaur Land, Amari Goes on an Expedition, and Amari’s Dinosaur Adventures in Florida, along with a dinosaur coloring book and fun merchandise like a “Life With Mari” mug, shirt and face mask.
Tammie and Amari also found ways to organically add other elements from Amari’s life into the stories by including insights about how military families operate and how co-parenting works.
“Military life was very challenging for our family due to the frequent relocations, cultural shifts, deployments and other times of separation,” says Tammie. “Through Amari’s books, we’re able to show how military families can stay connected, even after divorce, and it sets a positive example for other families that may experience the same challenges.”
In his latest book, Amari’s Dinosaur Adventures in Florida, Amari holds a Zoom birthday party to honor celebrations that took place during the pandemic. He is wearing a mask on its cover to add realism and reflect current events.
Florida’s favorite future paleontologist has given away book bundles to military classrooms, hosted readings at the Sanford Police Department and at Texas Roadhouse for Literacy Week, and even shared his stories with his kindergarten class at One School of the Arts in Longwood. Amari’s teacher, Ashley Vasek, was overjoyed when he brought in his signature Dinosaur Book Bundle to share with the class.
“They were so excited to see a character in a book that looked just like him,” says Ashley. “Each child in the classroom received a copy of Amari’s Dinosaur Coloring Book, and it is their favorite thing to grab when they have free time.”
“When the children saw Amari as a paleontologist, they were in awe!” she continues. “Seeing someone they know was exciting for them and inspired them to create their own stories.” Inviting Amari to read from his own books is a great example of how Vasek and One School of the Arts create nurturing environments for their students. “When a child is given permission to be creative, we find that they soar academically. This has most definitely been the case for Amari. Amari is creative, intelligent and kind. I have loved having the opportunity to see him shine and grow in the classroom.”
Beyond reading his books, Amari’s fans can also watch an animated version. “We wanted to make his books come alive and to also have another affordable and interactive way for all kids (and adults) to enjoy Amari’s book,” explains Tammie. “Also, some of our readers have special challenges that inhibit their ability to read alone. That, along with the fact that we know that sometimes parents are super busy and may miss story time with their kids, inspired us to get creative and make the books more accessible to all. It’s still amazing to me when I see his characters moving in the animation! The thought of a child who is blind or who doesn’t have access to a nearby library being able to listen to or watch his books brings new purpose and meaning to our project.”
And how does the author feel about his success at just 6 years old? Amari simply accepts being a published author as part of his young life: “It makes me happy!” he says.
Amari’s books and merch are available at amariferguson.com.