Lina Maslo is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Free as a Bird: The Story of Malala. Maslo lives in South Carolina.
Q: Why did you decide to write and illustrate this picture book about Malala Yousafzai?
A: I read Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography and was touched by her beautiful story. So I went on to read all the books and articles I could find on her, and to watch the documentaries.
At that time, I felt that the existing picture books about Malala didn’t touch on some aspects of her life I thought were important: the encouragement she received from her parents, and the power that words had in her life.
Q: What age group do you think would especially appreciate the book, and how did you decide to portray her life to younger readers?
A: As most picture book authors do, I hope that this book will appeal to all ages!
I tried to think of various age groups when I was working on this book. For the sake of the youngest readers, I decided to portray the shooting of Malala in an abstract way, allowing the adult reader to tell the child as much, or as little, as they want. (Although it is clarified in the author’s note.)
I also use a lot of metaphor in the book, which older children like to explore. And I think children of all ages can appreciate Malala’s courage in the face of adversity.
Q: Did you focus first on the story or on the illustrations (or did you work on them simultaneously)?
A: It’s always hard for me to try to think back and remember the process. I’m pretty sure I began with a few lines of the story. And notes. Lots of notes. And then I did a few sketches. And then I did a sample finished piece, which I put in my portfolio. It got a lot of great responses, and so I thought, “Well, I might be on to something here…”
I’m constantly going back and forth between writing and drawing and thumb-nailing and book-dummying. So, the answer is, I worked on the art and story simultaneously.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from Malala’s story?
A: That there is power in their words and actions, even at a young age! And I hope that they realize what a great privilege they have in being able to go to school and have an education, even though it isn’t always fun.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I think I’m allowed to say this… I’m working on my next picture book biography: it’s about C.S. Lewis, and how his childhood and life led him to write The Chronicles of Narnia. I’m pretty excited about this one!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I hope that others are as inspired as I was after reading Malala’s story!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb