Few real-life heroes have captured the imaginations of as many readers as Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner whose death-defying fight to go to school was first recounted in the 2013 book I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. That book, which describes Yousafzai’s childhood in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, her dream of universal education, as well the attack that brought her name and cause to the world’s attention, has sold close to two million copies worldwide; the Little, Brown Books for Young Readers edition, I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, has more than 750,000 copies in print across multiple formats. This month, with the release of Malala’s Magic Pencil, Yousafzai uses a picture book format—and the gold-embellished illustrations of the French duo Kerascoët—to reframe her story for even younger children. PW spoke with the now 20-year-old Yousafzai about the challenge of writing for this audience about complex topics such as activism and terrorism.
Why was it so important to you to write a book for young readers? What did you want to convey to them?
I meet so many children who want to know why I fight for 12 years of education, so it was important for me to share my story with them. For this age, a picture book felt like the best way—to use pictures and show the events in a way that younger kids will understand. Some of my story is scary and involves complicated politics, but I wanted to be able to share it with young readers so they can see that even one person’s actions can create change.
What was the writing and editing process like for this book? How was it different this time?
Writing the other books took a long time, and the process was intense. There were so many details to remember, which meant [my editor Farrin Jacobs and I] were always checking dates and facts to make sure they were accurate. Retelling my story in this new way was also a lot of work. It involved choosing the artists, figuring out how to express everything in pictures, and deciding if the art felt accurate—down to the cracks in the wall of our home. Once the text was paired with the art, we made a lot of small changes that made a big difference. I really enjoyed writing Magic Pencil.
In the book, you describe seeing the “dangerous” men in your city, carrying weapons. What is your advice for children who may be frightened about events they’re seeing in their community or in the news?
My advice is to speak about your fear—to your friends, to your teachers, to your family. You might want to join a club or start a group to talk about how you can make a positive change in your community. This action might seem small—how will one small action bring change in this big world? But if we do it together, it will multiply. When frightening things were happening in Swat, I didn’t know if raising my voice would bring any change, but I refused to stay silent. Your voice is powerful, and you can raise it in different ways.
Congratulations on starting your first year at Oxford University. Do you have any thoughts yet on a focus of study?
Thank you. I’ll be studying PPE—Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. I’m eager to meet new friends and find out what life will be like on my own for the first time, but also quite nervous.
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illus. by Kerascoët. Little, Brown, $17.99 Oct. ISBN 978-0-316-31957-7