The Story Behind "Umar"

My name is David Cahn.  I've worked in Early Childhood Education and Care for over 10 years.  I currently work as an early years and primary SEN educator at a primary school in Harehills, Leeds UK.

Working with Leeds artist MollyPukes I  self-published Umar, my first children's book in 2019.  I soon will be selling a slightly redesigned and updated edition.  All profits from this edition will be split between Sporting Leeds Football Club (a grassroots FC in Harehills ran by the incredible volunteering and work of workmates and friends), Homework Help Club (a supplementary tutoring and Black history project ran by local homeschooling advocate Rachel Sara Lewis) and Black Lives Matter Leeds.

Umar is about a young boy who loves keys and locks.   It shows him observing the adults in his life use them, how he is determined to get opportunities to use them, how he works hard to figure the intricacies of them out, how he copes with frustration and challenge of it all and finally the satisfaction of meeting his own goals.

It’s a simple story about a boy interested in something very mundane but I know it will appeal to young children.

Anyone who knows me is well aware I am huge nerd about young children, play and how they grow, learn and develop in all aspects of their lives.  I’ve cared for and taught them since 2007 in the US, Australia and currently the UK.  These topics really are “passion” for me (what a cliche!) and I strongly believe all adults need to learn more about early childhood development.  To that end, the book has an accessible introduction to how our brains grow in the first 3 years of life and important concepts like self-regulation and executive function.  I worked hard to make this section easy to understand and relatable to a wide audience.

While it’s not about him exactly, Umar is inspired by a real 2 year old boy who was in my Leeds-based nursery in 2018 who was indeed obsessed with keys, locks and doors.  He was so determined to use mine at every. single. opportunity.  He really wore me down at times!  As the months went on though he demonstrated to me what a capable and self-motivated learner he was.  By the time he left my nursery he was semi-officially “in charge” of letting other his Amu and Abu (mum and dad) and other families in and out.  He also figured out the locks to our toy cupboard and other rooms and I let him lock and unlock them for me almost every time. Young children can learn to do so much if we give them time, space and support to follow their interests.

I am including the introduction to some early childhood development basics not because I want to join the chorus of people telling parents exactly what to do as if they don't know anything about their children, rather this information has helped me so much in my own job. Honestly, without it, I would have never been able to see Umar’s fascination with keys as anything more than a nuisance. Understanding how young children grow and develop has helped me immensely in my professional and personal life.  As it has helped me I feel strongly it can help other adults as well.

I wanted to write a book that showcased Umar’s intelligence and determination to learn about the world around him.   I know children will enjoy it but I also hope it helps adults begin to look at the young children in their lives a bit differently. 

Here's the real Umar with the very first copy of the book!