Paula Yoo: Learning From the World


Delivered by Paula Yoo, Children’s Award Winner for Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low, 2014)

Thank you to the South Asia All Conference organizers and the South Asia Book Award committee for this IMG_0174award. Congratulations to the other winners and honorees Tanuja, Padma and Vivek. It is an honor and privilege to receive this award. Special thanks to Rachel Weiss and Kevin King for organizing this conference for the authors. I’m married to a 7th grade math teacher so I support all teachers and librarians for their hard work and inspiration for our children.

Right now, diversity in children’s literature is a hot button topic where many heated debates have happened online and at various conferences for librarians, teachers, writers, publishers and readers.

I believe this award raises more awareness not only for our own books but for the importance of increased diversity in children’s literature. Many people believe equal representation is necessary in children’s books – that today’s books must provide a mirror for readers. Non-white and non-mainstream characters provide a chance for children of color and other diverse backgrounds to see themselves reflected in literature. A child who is South Asian or Asian American can see someone like Professor Yunus who looks like them and feel included and represented in our unfortunately very divisive country.

But I also believe diversity is necessary because it provides not only a mirror but a window for ALL children of ALL backgrounds to look out into the world and realize we are more alike than different in terms of our humanity. I spoke today at a very diverse elementary school called the Eagle School and was so moved by how all the students, no matter what their racial, ethnic, cultural, gender sexual orientation, religious background, identified immediately with Muhammad Yunus. They admired his compassion, generosity, and desire to help empower people and eradicate poverty in the world to create peace. Kevin spoke earlier of the theme of Heroes amongst our four books tonight. The fact that children of all backgrounds can identify with our characters as heroes and be inspired to become heroes themselves is the power books have for children, and this is why I do not take my job as a writer lightly.

Thank you again for this honor. I’m so grateful and I admire all the important work everyone is doing at this conference. I want to close with the words of Muhammad Yunus’ father that influenced his journey – “Learning from the world is the greatest learning.” And books are a window into that world. Thank you.

Delivered as part of the 44th Annual Conference on South Asia—the world’s largest such event, with more than 800 scholars, students, professionals, writers, artists, and anyone interested in research on the region in attendance for four days of research panels and roundtables, lectures and addresses, film screenings, booksellers, association receptions, and other special presentations.

Read Tanjua Desai Hidier’s acceptance speech on Reading While White.


Paula Yoo is a children’s book author and TV writer/producer. Her books include the Young Adult novel GOOD ENOUGH (HarperCollins 2008), which was an Honor Book of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Youth Literature, along with the IRA Notable picture book biographies SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY, SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY and TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK from Lee & Low Books. Her TV credits include NBC’s THE WEST WING, Amazon’s MOZART IN THE JUNGLE, and SyFy’s EUREKA. She was most recently a Supervising Producer on Syfy’s third and final season of DEFIANCE. Paula is also a professional violinist who has played with everyone from IL DIVO to FUN and NO DOUBT. She is represented by CAA and The Shuman Company for her TV writing and by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency for her books.


Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank

written by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee &Low Books Inc., 2014)

Twenty-Two Cents smartly chronicles the life and inspiration behind Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, and the internationally transformative Grameen Bank’s micro-lending system. Coupled with rich illustrations that vibrantly capture the essence and depth of Yunus’ experiences, this poignant picture book easily lends itself to readers of all ages. Includes an afterword and author’s source notes. (Grades 2-5) Lesson Plan

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