Log In

Reset Password

Literary Scene: ‘Bravo’ for a South Asian girl

Anjali is a girl who is not afraid to face challenges. She won’t let them stop her from achieving her goals.

She is a lot like Sheetal Sheth, author of the picture books that began with “Always Anjali” and the second in the series, “Bravo, Anjali!” (Marigold and Mango Press, 21 pp, $14.76).

Sheth is also an actress and producer. The many films she has appeared in include writer-director Albert Brooks’ “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World” (2005). She has won several acting awards at film festivals, including a best actress award for “The World Unseen” (2007).

She has appeared on TV’s “NCIS: Los Angeles” (2011) and “Bluebloods” (2013) and did voice work for the animated series “Family Guy” (2016) and “Brickleberry” (2012).

She is co-producing and acting in the upcoming film, “Hummingbird,” which is in post-production.

Sheth, who lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters, was born in Phillipsburg, N.J. She moved with her family to the Lehigh Valley and attended Liberty High School, where she participated in student government, the debate club and was a member of the National Honor Society. Her father Rashmi and mother Rekha live in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

Sheth says that Anjali and her adventures are an amalgamation of herself, her daughters and her friends.

The Anjali books, targeted to readers four to 10-years-old, are unusual in having a South Asian hero.

“When I was pregnant with my first child, I noticed there was nothing out there like that. There were only books about things like holidays or a trip to India. They were not reflective of the world we live in,” Sheth says in a phone interview.

“We don’t celebrate Diwali all year. We play sports, have dinner with our parents and go to school.

“There are more books about animals than about people of color in children’s literature. I wanted to write about how much everyone has in common.”

In Sheth’s book, “Always Anjali,” Anjali is angry about her unusual first name when she tries to buy a personalized license plate for her bicycle. Other children laugh at her name, until she learns to accept it and be proud about being different.

Sheth says that when she began her career as an actress, many producers expected her to change or modify her name. She says that inclusion has improved for young people today:

“Things are a hundred percent better, but we still have a long way to go.”

In “Bravo, Anjali,” the girl follows her dream of playing the tabla. The hand drums are traditionally played by men. She overcomes jealousy and fear as she loses herself in performance.

Titles in Sheth’s series of picture books will feature consecutive letters of the alphabet. The next one is “Anjali Can.” Each book tells a standalone story.

The stories in the first two books deal with self-empowerment, bullying, relationships and understanding. “I want my books to be fun and entertaining but with a layer of something more,” says Sheth.

“My writing is closest to what is on my mind,” she says. “Anjali is evolving. I will get to know her better and how she is experiencing things.”

Sheth is excited about the way youths have reacted to her books. “I get to talk with kids about real things. It is amazing what questions first-graders are asking.”

The Anjali book series is likely to cover a variety of themes, some that have rarely or never been covered in children’s books before. In a way, that reflects Sheth’s adventurous acting career, where she has often portrayed unusual people who do not fit into mainstream society.

“I seem to be drawn to certain types of stories, often dealing with marginal people. I am always looking for new things,” she says.

“Literary Scene” is a column about authors, books and publishing. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Sheetal Sheth, author of picture books that began with “Always Anjali” and the second in the series, “Bravo, Anjali!”