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Posts Tagged ‘Paula Yoo

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.

There’s something to be said for the idea that one likes to read books that capture one’s own experiences. I love Good Enough by Paula Yoo, because of all the ways I can relate to it: Main character Patti is an overachiever in school and yet capable of having fun. Her parents have flawed ideas about what might bring her happiness, but are otherwise stable, hard-working adults who want only the best for her. That’s why although they encourage her to play the violin, they don’t want her to pursue the risky profession of a musician. Her church youth group is as flawed and normal as her school peers, while also believing in God. And, like most average adolescent girls, Patti is attracted to the best-looking guys in school.

There are some differences between Patti and I. My hard-earned grades got me into college, but the Ivy league schools weren’t even a consideration. I grew up the only child of a widower father. And, while I liked to play piano, but my actual passion has always been writing. Yet despite these little discrepancies, I felt as Paula Yoo was writing about me, which isn’t something I often feel about the fiction I read.

There’s also something to be said for the idea that one should write about what they know. As a graduate of Yale University, Paula Yoo would intimately know all the intricacies of what applications to those schools would involve. Perhaps, this is why she can give strategies for being accepted, examples of SAT questions and tips on how to solve them, and provide perfect responses to interview questions. None of this academic talk ruins Good Enough, because Yoo writes with a light and interesting style. As a former concertmaster for an all-state high school orchestra, Yoo would also intimately know all the intricacies of playing an instrument for it. Perhaps, this is why she can list classic musicians, list their styles, talk about who inspired them, tell what challenges they faced, and explain how to best play their musical scores on the violin. In between the music talk, Patti (like Paula Yoo) sneaks out occasionally to see cool bands, undergoes a bad home perm that burns her ear, and works on a few songs with a cute guy in her classroom.

There is one outstanding way in which Paula Yoo and are different. She is Korean American; I am Canadian. And so in the same way that Yoo can easily write about the rigors of applying to Ivy League Schools or competing for concertmaster position with an all-state high school orchestra, she can also easily share aspects of her Korean American culture. From her, I learned some Korean phrases and foods. Three recipes are even included, all with funny tips about how to obtain or prepare the ingredients: “Again, I’m assuming you know where to buy kochu jang. If you don’t, try to find the nearest Korean church in your town and sneak into their kitchen…. Don’t forget to return it afterward, because ‘Thou shalt not steal’ is the eighth commandment.”

How to Make Your Korean Parents Happy

  • Get a perfect score on the SATs
  • Attend Korean church every Sunday
  • Don’t talk to boys
  • Don’t rock the boat
  • Be good at math

For Patti, gong to church was not just about congregating to celebrate God and socialize with others. “Korean church is also where parents try to one-up each other on their children’s accomplishments.” This theme of being successful is huge in Good Enough. Patti’s parents believe that their daughter will be successful if she is accepted into the Ivy League schools. Her parents have good reasons for this belief. Her parents grew up in Korea, where they had to pass a difficult entrance exam to be accepted into university. That was the only way to get a job and have a career. Her father struggled so much during his youth with calculus that he attended a hagwon (private school) every day from two o’clock in the afternoon until ten at night including weekends. Moreover, he studied every day for fourteen straight hours until exam day. Talk about pressure!

Yet Patti learns that success is not everything: “Safe from what, Dad? Nothing’s safe! Remember how Stephanie’s mom yelled at you. She didn’t care what college you went to! It’s not about where you go to school or what job you have!” Several examples of racism are scattered throughout Good Enough, the above being one of them. In the cafeteria, the football quarterback taunts Patti: “Ching chong … Jap” Patti wonders what her ethnicity has to do with her being brainy or physically uncoordinated? On Halloween, a white classmate dresses up as a geisha and says, “Me speakah no Engrish.” Patti wonders if the girl would have dressed up like this if there were other Asians in the school besides Patti.  Then there’s the incident at a clothing store, from which I took the above quote. The family is in line at the register when her dad remembers that he needs socks. When their turn at the register comes, a customer behind them complains, “Where did that Chinese man go?” First, Patti’s family is not Chinese. Second, again, what does their ethnicity have to do with anything? Even when Patti’s dad returns seconds later and apologizes with an accent, the customer complains: “Is he speaking English?” Not willing to let the moment go, the customer rants, “These people, they come to our country, they don’t bother learning the language.” Ironically, Patti’s parents have been so determined to ensure her success in America, that the family speaks only English at home. Patti herself knows only a few Korean phrases.

Good Enough “is based on my own life growing up as a ‘violin geek’. I have often read books about violinists that come off as very ‘well-researched,’ but do not have the authenticity and ‘insider knowledge’ that a real violinist would have. I tried to bring that authenticity across in my novel. In addition, although my novel is about a Korean American teenage girl who pursues her love of music despite her immigrant parents’ academic pressure on her, I wanted my novel to strike a universal chord among all teens.”
–Paula Yoo, Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Paula Yoo has some interesting stories to tell about how she knew when she wanted to become a writer. For example, according to her profile at Lee and Low, Yoo began writing short stories and even mini-novels in kindergarten. On the back of the latter, she’d even draw a picture of herself with a biography that read: “Paula Yoo, age 7, is a second grader at Keeney Elementary School. This is her first book.”

In an interview at Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind, Yoo shares that after reading Charlotte’s Web in the first grade, she felt inspired to write her own stories. Her first “novel” was a 75-page handwritten book entitled “The Girl Called Raindrop.” Yoo submitted it to Harper & Row because they published her favorite series, the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Yoo received a nice letter from them saying that she was ‘talented’ and should consider trying out for their writing contest for children ages seven to ten. However, Yoo was so upset they were rejecting ‘The Girl Called Raindrop’ that she tore up the letter. She thought, ‘I’m not a CHILD writer, I’m a REAL writer!’

Basically, Yoo has wanted to be a writer since the moment she learned to read. She loves putting words on paper to create a whole new world, an entire universe filled with fascinating characters. And–Yoo wanted to have her picture on the back of a book, just like her favorite authors!

Before becoming a full-time writer,Yoo worked as a freelance musician, English and music teacher, journalist, and tv screenwriter. By working as a reporter for The Seattle Times, The Detroit News, and PEOPLE Magazine, she paid off her journalism graduate student loans. Journalism taught her how to write on deadline. Yoo then taught for a little bit before switching over to being a full-time TV screenwriter for shows like Beyond the Break (The N), Eureka (SyFy), Hidden Palms (The CW), Side Order of Life (Lifetime), Tru Calling (FOX), and The West Wing (NBC).

Her lifelong dream of becoming an author came true with the publication of Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story. He was the first Asian American to win a gold medal at the Olympics in 1948 for diving after facing racial discrimination. Yoo submitted her nonfiction book to the Lee & Low Books “New Voices” contest, because she loved their books and thought it’d be a good entry for them.

Her first young adult novel Good Enough was written between her TV jobs. Yoo says, “I was unemployed and took advantage of the free time to work on a new novel. I wrote about my life as a teen violin geek. I literally wrote this novel in five weeks straight. It just poured out of me. I then revised it and sent it to my agent and he submitted it to yes, HarperCollins, and they finally decided I was a ‘real’ writer and not a ‘child’ writer and published it!”

The above information I compiled from mostly from online biographies. I encourage you to also check these interviews:

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