Bravo Anjali will be released on September 21, 2021.
By Cornelius Minor and Nawal Qarooni Casiano
When truth is unadorned, it’s most beautiful.
All over America right now people are arguing about the ways that we tell the truth to children. Our work has always been to advance truth, yet some are in favor of obscuring truth in favor of more comfortable fictions.
The book Bravo Anjali, written by Sheetal Sheth, is the perfect story for our uncertain times because it is all about the nuanced and multilayered truth of being a kid. “When white people tell our stories, we are reduced to a holiday or a cultural event,” Sheetal said. “Don’t censor these everyday things.”
We agree. Our truths are bigger than our holidays and tragedies. Kids get emotional. Kids get mad at their friends. They experience random and abundant joy. Kids have arguments, and they learn everyday. And in a world that often expects them to be either super/sub-human they are allowed to do that in brown skin. For that specific reason, there are shout outs to old school India folded into the story without being the sole purpose of the narrative. There are nods to cultural artifacts that Indians would notice and appreciate. And at the same time, the book is bigger than that.
“Having big emotions are okay, and I don’t want it to be abstract,” Sheetal said.
Sheetal has built a world in the Anjali book series where the main character, Anjali, is complicated. She is brilliant and impulsive and compassionate and demanding. She is strong and brave and creative. This book normalizes human complexity, and it normalizes this kind of complexity in young girls. This is an important component of Sheetal’s vision. All of these things in Anjali are normal. She sometimes has a hard time dealing with her emotions because that is real life. And her relationships are real – not buttered up, and not glossed over.
In many ways, the book shares in kid-speak what they can say when conflicts arise. In the moments where Anjali and her friend struggle, they face each other to plainly name what hurt.
“The authenticity of the friendship was important to me,” Sheetal said about Anjali and her friend. “I didn’t want to let him off the hook.”
To build an authentic and real character, Sheetal spent a lot of time living in Anjali, asking herself what her favorite color might be, and what her favorite lunch might include. Given that Sheetal is an actress, too, she said that reading her work aloud is a huge part of the creation process. And Lucia Soto, who gorgeously illustrates the Anjali books, has an artistic prowess that meshes similarly.
“By understanding Anjali’s personality I got to bring her to life as a character,” Lucia wrote to us. “To bring a character to life I rely on facial expressions and body language, if you look at any character in the book, but especially Anjali, you can always tell that they are thinking/feeling. So if Anjali is angry, her eyes are slightly squinted, her brow is contracted, her jaw is tight and her body is tense, she shows her feelings just like any of us would!”
Together, they are a powerful creator pair.
“We worked hard on showing that while some emotions feel more stormy than others, these are not ‘bad,’” Lucia said, admitting that it took years for her to discover herself. “I hope that readers will relate to young people and have the chance to chat about the fact that all feelings are valid and that communication is the most important way to understand each other and ourselves.”
We absolutely understand. This sort of processing is critical to our children and their growth. Characters like Anjali help us be more human – with all of our gorgeous complexity. We can express our full selves. We can work through it all.
“We are limitless,” Sheetal said.
Sheetal Sheth is an acclaimed actress, producer, author, and activist. She is known for her provocative performances in a wide range of memorable roles on film and television. She has starred in over 20 feature films and many TV shows and is a favorite in the independent film world, having won five best actress awards on the film festival circuit. She has earned a loyal, international following. Sheetal began her career at a time when few South Asians were making their living as actors. Despite being told she’d have to change her name to work, her successful career has trail-blazed paths for other women of color across media. Sheth supports marginalized communities not only through her own pioneering work as an actor, but by also appearing at workshops and panels and speaking directly to issues facing those communities. She is known as an outspoken advocate and has delivered talks and keynotes at festivals and charity galas. She’s had op-eds published on CNN, The Daily Beast, and Thrive Global. She served in President Clinton’s AmeriCorps and is currently on the advisory board of Equality Now and an ambassador for CA First Partner, Jennifer Newsom’s, The Representation Project.
Lucia Soto is an illustrator living in London and working all around the world. She was born in a seaside town in northern Spain and she grew up in a Mediterranean port city. She has lived in different places and these days she can be found in her drawing room, surrounded by tropical plants and drinking tea from chipped teacups. Lucia is fascinated by people and their journeys through time, she loves mystery and adventure and she spends her days drawing things that are half nonsense and half all sense, the stuff that makes her life silly and beautiful.
Nawal wakes each morning to a cup of strong coffee and a head full of stronger ideas. One time zone away, Cornelius does the same thing, but with tea. Over the years, the two of them met through these ideas , and they soon learned to grow many others. Together. As book people, parents and educators, they believe in the power of storytelling as a way to connect our imperfect past to the infinite potential of our future. For families. For children. And for the world.
They are both educators who work in many capacities, but the capacity that energizes them the most is that they share and discuss stories with young people. There is power in this. Especially when it is done with an intentional focus on diversity. They believe that seeking words and experiences that are different from our own help us be more human.