Building a Diverse Library: Practical Tips for Families and Educators by Shetal Shah

Please welcome children’s book author Shetal Shah to Frog on a Blog. Her debut Shakti Girls: Poems of Inspiring Indian Women launched just this week and is perfect for Women’s History Month! Through 13 poetic, biographical stories and colorful portraits (by artist Kavita Rajput), the book introduces kids to real Indian women who’ve accomplished incredible things in the fields of science, politics, sports, math, and activism and exemplify Shakti, a Hindi word meaning feminine energy and strength, power, and a force to be reckoned with. Shetal is a former educator currently pursuing her mission to positively impact and inspire girls from all backgrounds with her writing and to bring diversity to bookshelves. I asked her to stop by and talk about the importance of showing diversity in children’s literature and diversifying curriculum to bring visibility to all students. Let’s hear from Shetal!

The year was 1999. I was a senior in high school experiencing a heavy dose of seniorities and found myself at the local Barnes & Noble more often than planned. On one of my weekly trips, I walked into the store and a beautiful henna-inspired cover with a name that felt familiar caught my attention. The author, Jhumpa Lahiri, I knew right away was of Indian descent. Could it be that a South Asian author made it to the New York Times Bestseller list? This was new to me. I immediately grabbed the book, Interpreter of Maladies, and ran home to dig in. After a few days of indulging her words, I felt a sense of comfort, peace, and home that I had never felt from reading especially the novels assigned at school. It wasn’t long before I returned to the bookstore and actively sought out the works of other South Asian authors, including Arundhati Roy, Chitra Banerjee Divakurni, and Salman Rushdie. While there were few at the time, I knew getting my hands on as many as possible would recreate the feeling of being seen and understood as much as my heart needed.

I know my experience is not unique. Scholar Rudine Sims Bishop, who famously coined the phrase “mirrors and windows”, explained that “literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation…” When children see themselves in book pages, they feel seen and valued. They feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, no longer an outlier or exception to the full American story. As a window, diverse books expose children to different cultures and contexts helping them expand their capacity to appreciate and understand differences. “Research has shown that children notice race as early as six months, begin to internalize bias between the ages of two and five, and can become set in their beliefs by age 12.” If children are not exposed to the diversity of the world starting at a young age, then they will not be prepared to navigate and reap the benefits of this diverse world when they are adults. What better way to start than with books?

Whether it’s small steps or broad strokes, any action toward building a more inclusive curriculum and school or home library will make a positive difference in a child’s life. Families, schools, and educators either in a diverse or homogenous community can use any of the following ideas to get started:

  1. Develop an annual ritual of evaluating books in your curriculum and library. What percentage of books reflect characters from diverse backgrounds? How many were written by people of color? From here, create a SMART goal to strive for to grow your diverse library.
  2. Assess the books in your (or your child’s) curriculum, including summer reading lists. What percentage of characters and themes reflect diverse cultures and identities? Are students and families from diverse backgrounds and identities reflected in these books? Identify the gaps and find the titles to fill those gaps. For schools and educators, set a numerical goal or standard to ensure that future book lists are representative of diverse backgrounds. Families can reach out to their teachers and suggest or donate titles to add to the class library.
  3. Do your children love story time? Rotate diverse themes and characters when reading to them. Set some rules or routines to ensure you include a number of diverse selections every day.
  4. Not sure where to find diverse books? You can use tools like Diverse Book Finder, Social Justice Books, and even social media to help you discover diverse titles.
  5. Shop for books at your local BIPOC-owned bookstore. Consider partnering with them to host your next school book fair or birthday party!

Setting measurable goals and developing intentional strategies and tactics to reach those goals is an effective strategy for building more diversity and inclusion in a school’s curriculum and school or home library. By focusing on these concrete goals, you are ensuring there is measurable progress being made to close any gaps and help your children feel validation and belonging while offering a window into another world. As I moved on from high school, I sought out educational settings as both student, teacher, and mother where inclusion was starting to become normalized. As a result, I started to see myself as a valuable member of society who has something unique to contribute. I can only imagine what impact this would have made on me had I grown up with access to more diverse books. Better late than never, I say.

SHETAL SHAH grew up to the sounds of Bollywood and the delicious smells of her mother’s Indian cooking in the suburbs of New York City. As a second-generation Indian-American, Shetal hoped to one day see more stories of girls like her fill the shelves of local bookstores.

A former educator, Shetal taught world history in all-girls schools where she was reminded how curriculum and literature inclusive of women from diverse backgrounds can have a positive impact on girls’ self-esteem, identity development and belonging. Shetal also developed and led numerous educator workshops, presenting at national conferences covering topics on pedagogy and diversity and inclusion.

Shetal currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and her two young boys while pursuing her writing and mission to bring diversity to bookshelves with stories that inspire. “Shakti Girls” is her inspiring debut.

Follow Shetal on social media:

Facebook | Twitter: @ShetalWrites 

Instagram: @Shetal.Shah.Writes and @Shakti_Girls

An Interview With 12-Year-Old Published Illustrator Alyssa Brulz by Author Brigitte Brulz

Please welcome picture book author Brigitte Brulz and illustrator Alyssa Brulz to Frog on a Blog. This talanted mother-daughter duo’s new picture book Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure was published last month. I really like the bold, colorful art of this concept book, which works well to tell the tale of a little bird that crashes on a deserted island. Each page or spread highlights one letter of the alphabet and continues in order as the story progresses.

Brigitte contacted me about sharing a post in which she interviews her daughter with the hopes of inspiring other kids who may be interested in writing or illustrating and publishing their own books. And I thought it was a fabulous idea! Let’s hear from Brigitte and Alyssa!

Interview with 12-Year-Old Published Illustrator, Alyssa Brulz

Conducted by Brigitte Brulz

Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure is a comical story told in alphabetical order with only one to three words per page about a bird who is blown away and crashes on a deserted island. Will he figure out how to get off the island? And who – or what – is following him?  

Since there are less than 40 words in the entire book, the illustrations are crucial to telling the story of Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure.

I am excited to share an interview with 12-year-old Alyssa Brulz, illustrator of this newly released picture book, which received a Readers’ Favorite Five Stars review.

Q: How did Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure start?

A.B.: Aah! Blown Away, Crash! was started when my mom went to one of her monthly writer group meetings in 2017. Someone mentioned a challenge of creating a book similar to Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run!, with the words in alphabetical order. In response, my mom came up with a draft of Aah! Blown Away, Crash! She, my sister, and I created a “dummy” with paper stapled together. Since then, the book has changed quite a bit – both the text and the illustrations. Mom brought the dummy to her writer group. They suggested a few tweaks and some of them thought my mom should pursue getting the book published. By that point, she had published two picture books, Pickles, Pickles, I Like Pickles and Jobs of a Preschooler, so she was familiar with the publishing process. She didn’t want to do the illustrations, so she hired me.

Dummy and actual finished copy of Aah! Blown Away, Crash!

Q: What was the illustration process like for Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure?

A.B.: It took a lot of research – shadows, birds, islands, palm trees – to make objects look realistic while still being cartoonish. I used Affinity Designer for the illustrations, and if you have a careful eye, you might be able to see that most of the objects were actually made with simple shapes. My sister also helped by making the bird out of clay and pipe cleaners, so I could see how it would look from different angles.

Clay bird model

Q: What did you enjoy most about illustrating it?

A.B.: My favorite part was working on the expressions. The only character in Aah! Blown Away, Crash! is a bird, whom we affectionately named Finch (even though he really isn’t a finch). Some of the expressions he made were absolutely hilarious to me. In real life, I love to watch the expressions on people’s faces when they’re excited, angry, sad, surprised, etc., so working with the body language Finch needed to have was super fun.

Q: What was the hardest part?

A.B.: I think the hardest part was that both my mom and I had our own opinions about how the illustrations should look, so it was a little challenging to create pictures that we were both satisfied with. We obviously figured it out and tried to go with the best option.

Original idea to final “U” page in Aah! Blown Away, Crash!

Q: What was something you learned?

A.B.: Just one thing? I learned A LOT, from how to use Affinity Designer more effectively to how to work with what you have to make something great. I watched some videos and did quite a bit of research while doing the illustrations to help me learn more.

Q: What other projects have you been working on?

A.B.: My 13-year-old sister and I recently published an activity journal titled Write, Draw, Believe: 75+ Faith-Building Activities for Christian Kids, which I had a ton of fun making. My sister was the ideas person, and I created most of the graphics for it. We hope other kids will really enjoy it. We plan on reaching out to various people, bookstores, and churches to sell our journals. Also, I have been writing a middle grade novel for a couple years now and am on the third draft. That project has been one of my favorite writing projects, and I hope it will eventually be published.

Click here: Write, Draw, Believe: 75+ Faith-Building Activities for Christian Kids

Q: What advice would you give to other kids who want to be published?

A.B.: I have realized that you really shouldn’t doubt yourself. Many people don’t think they can actually be published, but that is a myth. Try to use whatever talents you have and do your best, no matter what. Learn a lot. If you are writing, read and write. If you are illustrating, examine other illustrations and draw. For whatever you want to do, learn and take action.

Q: Where can people go to learn more about Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure and your journal?

A.B.: Since I am not technically allowed to have my own website until I am thirteen, the best place to contact me or learn more about Aah! Blown Away, Crash! and the journal my sister and I created is my mom’s website. You can visit under the Books and Journals tabs for more information. I also helped my mom create a teacher’s guide and other fun extras to go along with Aah! Blown Away, Crash!, which are available on her website under the Fun Extras tab.

Thank you, Alyssa, for showing others it is possible to be published even at such a young age!

Click here: Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure

Alyssa Brulz is a 12-year-old homeschooled student who knows the alphabet in English and in French. She used a computer program to create all of the illustrations for Aah! Blown Away, Crash!: An Alphabet Misadventure, which is her first published picture book.

Brigitte Brulz is a homeschooling mom, author, journal creator, and freelance writer. She offers free coloring pages, activity ideas, and more information on her website at

Thank you so much Alyssa and Brigitte! Your interview is sure to be an inspiration to kids everywhere who like to write and make art and who’d love to share their stories with the world.