James Cosby grew up on the rougher side of Pawhuska, in that hardscrabble subdivision known officially as Meadow Glen and colloquially as Fort Apache.
The neighborhood molded him – and it has served as a big part of his inspiration to write a series of children’s books designed to uplift kids who might need a boost in their young lives.
Two of the books were published in October on Amazon.com’s Kindle: “There’s a Puppy in the Pantry” and “I Adopted an Alligator,” both of which target children between ages 3 and 6. Cosby aims to publish a third book for slightly older children, “Einstein the Fish,” in a few months, after a marketing campaign commences.
The books are allegorical, like fables, in which the story reveals a larger truth. In Einstein, for example, a fish suffers from wanderlust and decides to live out of water. He stumbles awkwardly on land, where first he meets an army of frogs who judge each other by the height of their jumps, then a flock of birds for whom the beauty of singing is the measure of accomplishment, then a scurry of squirrels whose bragging rights are determined by how well they climb trees and gather acorns.
The fish, of course, can perform none of those tasks well, and he is ridiculed by those he encounters outside his element – until he slips in mud and falls into a colony of beavers.
An empathetic mother beaver takes him in and explains how beaver dams work in concert with each other to help not just beavers but other animals and the environment.
Unlike the animals before her, she doesn’t ask the fish to perform tasks he is ill-equipped to do. “She doesn’t ask him to chew wood because he has no teeth,” Cosby said.
When an earthquake destroys the dams, all the animals the fish encountered on his uphill journey are devastated: Baby birds are flushed from nests, acorns are swept away. The fish, back in his intended place, becomes a hero to all, saving the babies and the food supply. He is applauded by all who had jeered him. And the moral of the fable is a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.”
Each of Cosby’s books hones in on a different challenge a child might face, and he said the books are specifically designed not merely to engage a child with the book – but to engage those reading the book with each other; a parent with a child, an older sibling with a younger one, and so on.
Cosby said he has long mentored or connected with children facing hurdles.
“It has taken me a long time to understand how to make a difference in those children’s lives,” he said. “A lot of kids are angry at the world because they are not getting the attention they deserve, or they think they don’t deserve the attention they are getting. They need to understand they are not to blame.
“We’re doing great things in this tribe, but I want to help those kids who are going through pain. There’s an endless possibility of scenarios that can hinder their development.”
Cosby has three children himself, including his elo^pah, Elijah, 11, whose name is used for the main character in “There’s a Puppy in the Pantry,” which is about a puppy that causes havoc in the young boy’s life until his mother realizes she needs to step in, pay attention and help.
Cosby has worked as an electrician and in the past year has become an electrical estimator for Oil Capital Electric, a job that reduced his weekly working hours from about 60 hours a week to 40.
“Now I get to breathe,” he said. “And I have the opportunity to put effort and time into these books.”
The books out now are illustrated by a foreign artist – Cosby owns all rights – but his goal is to create a series of books using Osage illustrators.
So far, he said, the books have been selling well on Amazon.com despite no marketing effort at all. The Osage Foundation helped with their publication, and Cosby expects the foundation will also help with marketing come January or so.
“I have always wanted to help with communications among our people,” Cosby said. “Once you get to the point where people are old enough to make their own decisions, the damage has already been done. I decided to address children to help them understand where they’re at in this world, to help give extra support or encouragement that a child might need at that point in their life.”