Abdirahman Ahmed toyed with the idea of writing a children’s book for months.
An IT professional by training who runs a Minneapolis Somali restaurant, Ahmed worried that storytelling might not be his strong suit. But he was eager to plant the idea of pursuing careers in science and technology in the minds of more youngsters than could enroll in the computer coding classes hosted by his nonprofit.
He knew there was a dearth of books featuring young Somali-American heroes and their families.
Ahmed self-published his debut picture book, “Roble and the Robot,” this year. A second book is coming out soon, and a third one is in the works.
“I hope my books will help kids have some new dreams,” he said.
Earlier this year, Ahmed shared his idea of writing a book with an old friend he was driving to the airport. Ahmed’s nonprofit, Aspire Institute, offers free coding classes at places like Lincoln High School, a charter school that serves primarily Somali youth. But Ahmed’s passion for getting kids excited about technology was running up against the limited number of “Junior Geeks” these classes could serve.
“I realized I can only teach 20 kids at a given time,” he said. “How can I reach more kids and inspire them to learn technology?”
Ahmed told his friend he wanted to write about a Somali boy called Roble who likes to code. The friend loved the idea, and the two kept brainstorming. By the time they reached the airport, they had the book’s title and a basic plot: Roble designs a robot he can control with his digital tablet; he and his sister take the robot for a spin in the neighborhood.
From the airport, Ahmed drove back to his Safari Restaurant and shut himself in his office for the rest of the day. At first, he was paralyzed by insecurity about his writing chops. But then he decided to focus just on fleshing out the plot. In the following weeks, he dedicated every free hour to “wordsmithing.” An Indian illustrator Ahmed found online contributed the pictures.
Karen Gulliver, the director of Argosy University’s college of business, was one of the early fans of the book, which is available through Amazon.
“Abdi realized the need for positive perspectives and role models for young Somali Minnesotans,” said Gulliver, who met Ahmed while he worked on his MBA at Argosy and sits on the Aspire board. “I think his book is unique because it is told from a child’s perspective.”
Advocates for Somali and other minority students believe helping young people zero in on satisfying future careers early on can help narrow academic gaps they face in Minnesota.
Ahmed has since written a second book, about a Somali girl and fledgling food scientist who creates an award-winning energy drink in the kitchen of her father’s St. Paul restaurant — “a very smart young woman who knows what she wants.” He is gearing up to start work on a third installment, a sequel to “Roble.”
“My mission is to transform young lives through technology,” he said.