I am so honored to welcome picture book biography author Paula Yoo to the Lit Ladies today. She has written a beautiful book, Twenty-two Cents, about Muhammad Yunus and his work in Bangladesh to help people borrow money, as low as 22 cents, and pay it back without huge interest rates. His inspiration came from the poverty he witnessed as a child in Bangladesh because before he started his village bank, he was an economics professor. Most people used the money he loaned them to start their own businesses and become self-sufficient. He is responsible for loaning more than ten billion US dollars in micro-credit and empowering people, especially women, to take care of their families and break the cycle of poverty.
The book is PERFECT for elementary-school aged children–I read it to my 4-year-old daughter; and although it was a bit over her head, she sat and listened and wondered about the tears in my eyes when I finished the book. I was touched by this man and his story and how Paula Yoo was able to put such difficult concepts into ideas kids could understand. The wonderful illustrations by Jamel Akib just add to the book’s beauty.
We are so lucky to have Paula’s own words, explaining to us what it’s like to write a picture book biography. Take it away, Paula:
by Paula Yoo
I was so excited when I received my official first copy of my latest book, TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low Books, 2014), in the mail.
I immediately took a bunch of silly photos of me holding the book, my cats sleeping on my book, etc.
But in flipping through the pages, I suddenly realized how much hard work went into the making of this book. Writing a children’s picture book biography is like sculpting a statue. At first, you’re presented with a giant, heavy block of marble that you must slowly chip and chisel away in order to carve a shape out of nothing. You can’t carve a statue out of marble overnight. It takes a lot of time and patience. But if you work steadily, a shape soon emerges.
With my “sculpture,” I first had to assemble my tools. These tools included all the books, newspaper and magazine articles, and Internet research I had to read before even WRITING this book. The books I read included
- BANKER TO THE POOR: MICRO-LENDING AND THE BATTLE AGAINST WORLD POVERTY by Muhammad Yunus and Alan Jolis (Public Affairs 2008)
- BUILDING SOCIAL BUSINESS: THE NEW KIND OF CAPITALISM THAT SERVES HUMANITY’S MOST PRESSING NEEDS by Muhammad Yunus (Public Affairs, 2011)
- THE PRICE OF A DREAM: THE STORY OF THE GRAMEEN BANK by David Bornstein (Oxford University Press, 1996).
I also read and researched information about the concept of micro-lending, the history and culture of Bangladesh, national and international poverty statistics, and even food recipes. I took copious notes, jotting down relevant quotes, facts, and statistics into my research notebook. I even contacted Muhammad Yunus’s office in Bangladesh and arranged an interview with him during his visit to Los Angeles.
Then it was time to start chipping away at this giant block of research. Rough drafts, first drafts, second drafts, third drafts, line edits, revisions of revisions… Then I had to fact-check my final draft to footnote all the facts and quotes I had incorporated into the story. Finally, a figure emerged from my giant block of research – a submission-ready manuscript.
But after the manuscript sold, I still had to do several more rounds of revisions to address my editor’s questions and concerns. If this manuscript were my sculpture, I would be at the sanding down process in which I smoothed out the rough edges of my manuscript.
But after all that work, I still had to make sure there was a compelling and interesting STORY about a character that readers would root for and care about. So I re-read and revised the manuscript according to Muhammad Yunus’s emotional journey from a compassionate child to an adult activist determined to eradicate poverty from the world. How could this book about such a complicated topic (micro lending) and epic theme (battling poverty) resonate with children? If this book were a sculpture, I would now be polishing it into a high sheen with this final revision process.
In the end, I finally held what was a very slim and compact 32-page picture book in my hands. But each word and each image represented months and even years of hard work to tell Muhammad Yunus’s life story in the best way possible. The book felt light in my hands, but I knew its topic was epic in weight. I was finally able to step back and admire the final shape that had emerged from this book.
Thank you, Paula. I truly think your hard work paid off. I hope several teachers and parents will be buying a copy of this for the holiday season, and that your work inspires more acts of kindness and generosity around the world.