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Learn From the Books That Move You

Sunday, February 26, 2017 1:36
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We have a lot of children’s and YA writers that read this blog and take our classes. If you’re writing for this audience (or if you have kids/grandkids), I want to tell you about an amazing picture book I read a couple years ago, and recently re-discovered while I was cleaning out my daughter’s bookshelf.

Children’s author, Paula Yoo, wrote 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. 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.

Why did this book bring tears to my eyes?  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.

That is the thing about children’s authors–they are so talented and take so much time with sentence structure, word choice, and imagery–very similar to poets. They are writing about difficult topics in terms kids can understand. Illustrators are creating works of art, and Twenty-two Cents is a perfect example of all of this.

Yoo and Yunus

When I had my blog with my critique group, we were lucky enough to have Paula Yoo write a few things about this book for a post, and I wanted to share an excerpt with you today, too. 

Paula said about her picture book:
“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. . .

“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.”

I know you’ve heard that one of the best things you can do as a writer is to read. You can receive an entire workshop through reading Twenty-two Cents or other books you love. Study the language. Look at how the authors chipped away at the topic. See how they introduced characters and themes. When you read, love the story, but also pay attention to the artistry you’re enjoying at your fingertips. 


Margo L. Dill is a writing instructor, editor, and children’s author. Check out more at or sign up for her novel writing course here.

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