A Map into the World: The Story Behind the Book

by Carol Hinz, Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books

On October 1, we released A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, with illustrations by Seo Kim. I’d like to share a story about the book.

The narrator, Paj Ntaub, is a young Hmong American girl. She sees beauty all around her, and tries (often not successfully) to share what she finds with others. At the end, she provides an unexpected gift to her neighbor Bob, who is grieving his wife’s death.


Now, Bob is not just a character in the book—he’s Kao Kalia Yang’s neighbor in real life. And he is a widow. Bob and Ruth were married for 60 years. They would sit outside on a special bench (which used to be the back seat of a pickup truck).

Bob and Ruth.JPG

Bob is 92 years old. Last winter, he was a worried he wouldn’t live long enough to see A Map into the World published. So the moment we had finished books in hand, Kao Kalia Yang and I made a special visit to present Bob with the very first copy.

The sun was shining, and Bob brought out his special bench so we could all sit on it together in his driveway.

Bob Bench (002).png
Editor Carol Hinz, author Kao Kalia Yang, and Bob in May 2019.

And then Bob invited us inside, and he, Kalia, and I sat around his kitchen table and talked about Ruth and the book and how he never expected to one day be in a children’s book.


After I got my own copy of the book, I brought it home and read it to my kids. My 6-year-old in particular was quite taken by it, and we read it again and again. One night before bed he asked, “Can I meet Bob?”

I thought for a moment and then said, “Oh, probably.”

So on a warm August day, I brought my 6-year-old and my 9-year-old to play with Kao Kalia Yang’s children, and we all crossed the street together to visit Bob. And of course the kids had to try out Bob’s special bench.


I brought chocolate chip cookies, and I advised my kids that they should bring something as well. My 6-year-old drew Bob a map of the world (with an enormous green World Trade Center jutting into space) and my 9-year-old made him a paper airplane.

Bob did in fact live to see the book published, and we invited him to the book’s early launch at the Minnesota Children’s Museum on Saturday, September 28. He came—and he brought his extended family with him.

Kao Kalia Yang, Bob, and Bob’s family at the launch of A Map into the World

After Kao Kalia Yang read A Map into the World at the museum, she asked Bob to stand. You could tell he was a little shy but also very proud. The crowd gave him a round of applause.


Many people bought books that night, which Kao Kalia Yang signed and personalized. And many people asked Bob if they could take a photo with him. He said yes to every request.

Bob_w_reader (002)

In the words of Kao Kalia Yang: “Every single one of us carries a map inside of our hearts that we will need for something we don’t know is coming.”

Map into the World

I hope this book will connect with readers of all ages and all backgrounds. Because don’t we all need a reminder that we carry a map inside of our hearts that will bring comfort when someone needs it the most?


Thank you to everyone at Lerner Publishing Group who contributed to this book, including the acquisitions committee who put their trust in us, designer Emily Harris, art director Danielle Carnito, production designers Martha Kranes and Erica Johnson, pronunciation and story cloth expert Shee Yang, and photographer extraordinaire Shaina Olmanson.

More posts by Carol.

9 thoughts on “A Map into the World: The Story Behind the Book

  1. Sue Reichard

    Thank you so very much for sharing this beautiful back story with us! I cannot wait to receive my copy of this book. I will read it differently when I receive it, knowing this beautiful full story of the book. Thank you.

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