Jeffrey Boakye on Kofi and the Rap Battle Summer and kids' books for music fans

Kofi and the Rap Battle Summer by Jeffrey Boakye. Book cover and author photo.


The book we've sent our Cockatoo subscribers this month is a witty, energetic and ultimately moving family drama set in 90s London, packed with humour, a fantastic cast of characters and an important social message that will really resonate with young readers today. And for parents who happened to be teenagers in the 90s, it a nostalgia-fest - we loved it! Author Jeffrey Boakye is an exciting new voice and we can't wait to see what he does next. In the meantime, we're thrilled that he agreed to tell us more about what inspired the book, how he chose the soundtrack and which books for music fans he recommends you read next.

What inspired you to write Kofi and the Rap Battle Summer?

I’d had an idea in my head for a long time about a boy growing up on an estate in South London (where I grew up), but I wanted it to be both magical and realistic. That was the seed of the book – how an urban environment could provide a magical backdrop for a whole series of adventures. I never had anything like this growing up, so it felt like a good challenge to create a book that centred a world I know well, full of black characters and with a black family at its core. Some of the first scenes in my head were linked to Kofi’s money making schemes, which is always a great place to start building an adventure. And then when the characters started to grow in my mind, it was just a case of adding all the things I loved when I was at school – music, adventures, new discoveries, and of course, hip hop.

We love the soundtrack! How did you decide which songs and artists to feature in the book?

Easy! I just thought back to all the songs I discovered when I was at school – from the radio, or my older sisters’ music collections, or from TV recorded on to VHS cassettes. It’s basically the soundtrack of my childhood in the early 90s. And I can’t emphasise enough how exciting it was to discover this whole world of music for the first time. I wanted to show that energy through Kofi and Kelvin’s journey through music, which completely transforms their school and their whole lives.

Do you think the adults in Kofi’s life are fair on him?

Ask any 11-year-old if adults are fair and I bet you’ll get the same answer! One thing I’m really happy about with this book is how much love there is in Kofi’s life. Everyone is looking out for him, even when he’s making things difficult because of all his energy. He has a very stable network of family. It’s no accident that the adults play a role in his adventures too. That said, like any young person, he has a whole other life that his adults don’t really know about. That’s the exciting stuff. As a reader, you get to know him and his secret worlds.

Are any of the characters and their experiences based on real people or events?

There’s always a lot of the author in any book you read, so there are bits of certain characters that are a bit like me. I don’t write with real people I know in mind, but some of the attitudes and behaviours you get in the book are definitely inspired by people I met or grew up with. At the same time, a lot of characters surprised me with things they do and say. Shanice and Jeanette are two examples. They took on a life of their own from the go. I wish I knew them in real life! Events-wise, there are lots of little moments that are taken direct from memories of my school days. The cussing matches really happened at my school. Not good at all. And figuring ways to play the arcades from free was a real-life mission too. But just like in the book, there were always life lessons to learn along the way.

In what ways do you think Kofi’s story will resonate with young readers today?

Being set in the early 90s it could feel like such a long time ago, but Kofi’s story is full of stuff that any young reader can engage with: adventure, creativity, peril, new discoveries and dramatic surprises. And humour. There’s a real funny energy to the book that readers will enjoy. Also, because the 90s was such a different time to now, it feels like a whole new world for modern readers. No mobile phones, no internet, magazines and arcade machines. It’s almost a fantasy world to explore. That’s exciting in itself.

Why did you choose to write books for this age group?

I never set out with a particular age group in mind. I just worried about telling the story I needed to tell and bringing the characters to life. It fell to a ‘middle grade’ audience quite naturally – lots of adventure and humour and fantastic friendships. There’s also a lot in there about discovering the truth about people (and yourself), which is a big part of growing up. So a few life lessons to get into too.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

Weirdly, I like writing when I shouldn’t be. Like when I need to get ready to get off a train, or late at night when I should be getting ready for bed. When the urge takes me, I ca write anywhere. I’m more about surfing waves of energy as and when they hit me rather than having a strict routine.

Which other books that are perfect for young music fans would you recommend our subscribers read next?

Well I obviously have to recommend Musical Truth and Musical World, both by me! I’m fascinated by the way that a playlist of songs can be a jumping off point for big explorations into history and huge conversations that can sometimes feel difficult to get into. Musical Truth is all about black British history, tracked through songs that go all the way from the 1940s up until now. Musical World is a global conversation, wider in scope with lots of recognisable tracks and hopefully some new discoveries too.

Copies of our Kofi and the Rap Battle Summer pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!

This post includes affiliate links to our page, meaning we receive a small percentage of the sale should you purchase through them. Additionally, a percentage from all sales on the platform goes directly to local UK bookshops which is an initiative we're delighted to support!


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