Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘biographies for young people

Twenty-Two Cents by Paula Yoo is a literary and visual experience. As an adult, I enjoyed reading this biography of Muhammad Yunus who established the first microbank. In considering whether or not to recommend Twenty-Two Cents for its target audience of children, I also thought a lot about the wide variety of picture books that exist, including those which are intended to be read aloud.

In being a literary and visual experience, Twenty-Two Cents is the perfect example of a mentor text or a good example of writing for students. The narrative is thorough. It starts at Yunus’s childhood when he first noticed the terrible conditions in which the poor lived, covers his college years when he first met the women who were unable to break out of poverty, and finishes with his senior years when he became known as the Banker to the Poor. Yoo’s prose is both inviting and detailed, as seen even from the initial paragraph: “Muhammad’s stomach growled as he and his brothers and sisters watched their mother mix rice flour, sugar, and coconut to create….” As for the pastel chalk illustrations by Jamel Akib, in reflecting both the richness of Bangladesh and the harshness of poverty, they also enhance this unique story.

As an adult, I enjoyed being introduced to an individual whose accomplishments led to him being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Yoo invokes admiration within me for Muhammad Yunus who from a young age felt compassion for those in need. The list of how Yunus provided help is extensive: As a Boy Scout, he raised money for the poor; As a young adult, he studied economics so he could teach people to manage their money; As a college professor, he moved his classes outside to learn how poor villagers managed to survive. Yoo does not skimp on the details of Yunus’s life. If anything, there are times when I’d have appreciated even more anecdotes.

With some reservations, I think that young people will equally enjoy Twenty-Two Cents. As I noted above, reading Yoo’s book inspired me to reflect on what exactly a picture book is. Picture books are most often aimed at young children, but can also be suited for youth and adults. When aimed at young children, the text is often designed to help develop reading skills. The text might be easy enough for independent reading or it might be sophisticated enough that adults will need to read it aloud. The text-heavy pages and challenging vocabulary of Twenty-Two Cents will require adult guidance. Discussions might also ensue about heroes, banks, and other thought-provoking topics.

Twenty-Two Cents provides an engaging look at a relatively unknown hero from Bangladesh who helped change the world. The afterword includes additional information about poverty and the role of microbanks in alleviating it. Several author sources are also provided. This is a text which could inspire adults and students alike to become activists.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

It was in Bangladesh that Muhammad Yunus met a young craftswoman who needed just twenty-two cents to buy materials and feed her family. Ignored by local banks and in debt to moneylenders, she existed in a cycle of poverty. With a dream of world in which no one goes hungry, Yunus launched Grameen Bank in 1977.

The above description comes from the inside flap of Twenty-two Cents, a picture book from author Paula Yoo. In 2009, Yoo had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Muhammad Yunus. The latter, along with his organization, won the Nobel Peace Prize for using the concept of “micro credit” to help eradicate poverty in Bangladesh.


YooYunusPaula Yoo is the author of two other award-winning picture books from Lee & Low. According to Cynthia Leitich Smith, Yoo’s initial inspiration for Twenty-Two Cents came from a discussion with editor Jason Lee. He had just read Muhammad Yunus’ autobiography Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty and thought Professor Yunus would be a great biographical subject for Lee & Low Books. Yoo read and loved the book. Like Lee, she was inspired by Muhammad Yunus’ work.

According to Mitali Perkins, Yoo next read several other books along with newspaper/magazine articles about Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank as part of her research for Twenty-Two Cents. She also interviewed historians and professors who teach college courses about the history and culture of Bangladesh. Most importantly, of course, Yoo had the honor of meeting and interviewing Muhammad Yunus himself when he visited Los Angeles.


When Mitali Perkins asked Yoo about the dream response by a reader, Yoo indicated it would be their admiration and respect for a country that has never given up, even in the face of war, famine and natural disaster. “I would hope readers would be inspired to read more about Bangladesh and its beautiful and complex cultural history as well. And of course, to visit a restaurant and eat the awesome food, especially the many different kinds of pithas that Muhammad loved to eat as a child! :)”

The text indicates that Yunus was born in 1940 in a port city in India. For the family and sometimes even the neighbors, his mother fried pithas, a sweet pastry made from rice flour, sugar, and coconut. Other foods common to Yunus were tea and chanachur, a snack made of fried lentils and chickpeas. For fun, Yunas and his friends fly kites made from bamboo and paper, pretend to be soldiers, attend Boy Scouts, and sometimes see a movie. Around Yunus, delivery trucks would rumble past passengers riding in colorful rickshaws.


While growing up, Yunus noticed the poverty around him. Families crammed together in tiny shanties built of bamboo, cardboard, and rusted tin. Beggars wandered side-by-side with businessmen. Homeless mothers huddled with their children in alleyways overflowing with sewage. It was almost impossible for poor families to find enough clean water and food. Yunas noticed how just a few coins would buy enough rice to feed a family for a week.


To learn more about Bangladesh, check out Virtual Bangladesh. Started in 1994, the site covers the history and geography, the culture, the language and literature, and even little known facts. For example, below is a video about the liberation war.

While Virtual Bangladesh does include recipes, you might enjoy browsing Bangladeshi Food Kitchen. It contains recipes, information on cooking styles, and a glossary. The two chefs who host the site both grew up in Bangladesh.

Of course, one can’t read Twenty-Two Cents without becoming aware of village banks and their importance. Lee and Yoo discuss village banks in Banking Smarter and Managing Finances. This guest post contains information on loans, loan sharks, micro-credit, and Yunus’ innovative banking methods. Yoo’s book combined with this article would make a great resource for educators in teaching students about economics.

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Thank You!

Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

You can continue to follow me at:



Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 127 other followers