Malala talks about her new children’s book Malala’s Magic Pencil, and the importance of helping young people to find their own powerful voices
You have told your story in a memoir for adults and one for young readers. Why was it important for you to share your story with an even younger audience?
I have met many young children who want to know about what happened in my life and why I believe in education for all, 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 to simplify the events in a way that younger kids can understand. There are scary parts to my story, or details that are complicated to explain, but I wanted to be able to share it with a younger audience as best as I could.
What was different about the process of creating a picture book?
With the other books, it was more stressful – so many details to remember and to make sure were accurate and we were always checking dates and it was a very intense process that involved a lot of work. With the picture book, it was also a lot of work – choosing the artists, the color of the magic, and the color on the cover, and deciding how we should express everything in pictures and if the art felt accurate, down to the cracks in the wall of our home (I had to ask them to add more cracks) – small things that mattered a lot. And then when the text was paired with the art, we made a lot of small changes that made a big difference. I am proud of the memoirs, too, but to be honest, I enjoyed this process more.
As I was turning pages, it reminded me of those joyful moments of my life in Swat. I had this beautiful past… and that time is gone now
What was it like seeing your illustrators, Kerascoët, bring your memories to life?
As I was turning pages, it reminded me of those joyful moments of my life in Swat. Seeing all that in these pictures made me happy, but it also made me miss that life. I had this beautiful past, but I had difficult times as well, and that time is gone now. I was impressed by how the illustrators managed to do everything so accurately and how well the images represented Swat Valley and my school life.
Seeing my story in pictures was nice – it was like seeing my story in a different way.
How did you approach the more serious issues like terrorism, poverty and violence when retelling your story for a younger audience?
I tried to explain it in simple terms and not go into too much detail. Some of my story in reality is horrible and scary, so both the artists and I tried to convey that bad things were happening - that happy moments had turned to bad moments and fear was growing. But the most important thing is that girls couldn’t go to school and I spoke out against this. The attempt on my life was an attempt to silence me, so that’s what we focused on for this version of my story, rather than include anything about the attack itself.
The first thing is for young readers to believe in themselves and their ideas. They should never doubt themselves if they are fighting injustice
The book touches on the magic and power of our words and actions to create positive changes in the world. What advice do you have for young readers who want to change something in their lives or their community, but aren’t sure where to start?
The first thing is for young readers to believe in themselves and their ideas. They should never doubt themselves if they are fighting injustice. After that, there’s no limit in this world – whether you want to raise awareness by writing or making a video or talking to your parents. Or if you want to raise money for a cause or join a group or start a group. Sometimes these things look small to us – how will one small action bring change in this big world? – but if we do it together it will multiply. Back in Swat, I didn’t know if my voice would bring any change. But I spoke up anyway. Your voice is powerful and you can raise it in different ways.
What message do you hope children take away from Malala's Magic Pencil?
I hope that they find their magic pencil. My magic pencil was my voice. I myself am curious what they will learn from this book and I hope they’ll reach out and tell me. I love getting letters from young people.
What is your favourite children’s book?
In our school in Swat, children were limited to their school textbooks and didn’t read extra books. I was considered a big reader because I read 8 or 9 books outside of school. That all changed when I got to the UK. But some of my favorite books that I read growing up were Parvana’s Journey by Deborah Ellis, which is part of a series; and Meena: Heroine of Afghanistan by Melody Ermachild Chavis. It’s not a children’s book, but as a child, I also enjoyed A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking – I loved reading about science.
Could you tell us about your favourite or most inspirational teacher when you were growing up?
Miss Ulfat was my teacher from an early age. I grew up with her. She inspired me to be good and respectful and to obey my parents and listen to my teachers. She inspired me to be a good student, work hard, and study. She gave me advice and would encourage me to participate in different activities. She always encouraged me to be better and to do better.
What other young people have inspired you, especially ones who have used the arts as a way of influencing change / getting their voices heard?
I have met so many amazing young people who are using art to change the world, from Emma Watson to girls I met in Iraq and Nigeria. They use writing, colours, painting and other forms of art to express their view and influence change.
With your international Girl Power Trip culminating in the Autumn and Malala’s Magic Pencil publishing in October, what is next on your and the Malala Fund’s agenda? What are you looking forward to most about university?
At Malala Fund, we will continue the work we’ve been doing. And I will continue to travel and speak on behalf of girls’ education.
I’m excited for this new phase of life at university, and quite nervous, as it will be the first time I’m not living with my family. So many emotions are going through my mind and so many questions – what is my life going to be like? I am eager to find out.
More about the author
As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil that she could use to redraw reality. She would use it to give gifts to her family, to erase the smell from the rubbish dump near her house, to sleep an extra hour in the morning. As she grew older, Malala wished for bigger and bigger things. She saw a world that needed fixing. And even if she never found a magic pencil, Malala realized that she could still work hard every day to make her wishes come true.
This beautifully illustrated picture book tells Malala's story, in her own words, for a younger audience and shows them the worldview that allowed her to hold on to hope and to make her voice heard even in the most difficult of times.