Alum’s New Children’s Book Gives Young Girls a New Set of Female Heroes to Admire
“A to Z. They’re Just Like Me” is a new children’s book that looks like the work of a professional artist––it could easily pass for the latest gem from a children’s publishing powerhouse.
Such a compliment makes Nisha Kumar, MBA ‘10, shyly proud: “You’re making me blush!” she wrote over email. She’s the author and illustrator of “A to Z. They’re Just Like Me,” which was released earlier this month.
The book was inspired by Kumar’s daughter, Ahana, who was just one month old when the presidential election took place in 2016. “As a society, as a nation, it just felt like we hit a new level of low with the kind of rhetoric we were hearing from all sides,” she said. “After the election, I vividly remember looking at my daughter and thinking, ‘I have to do something. I don’t know what yet, but I have to do something.’”
In all that Kumar was reading and hearing, three important principles became clear: Words matter. Representation matters. Affirmations work.
“And since we were reading to Ahana every night, I thought: Why not write a children’s book for her that embodies these principles?” Kumar said. “And with that, the idea of ‘A to Z. They’re Just Like Me’ was born.”
A is for Adventurous––and Ada Lovelace
Kumar’s professional background is diverse: she’s worked in finance, city government, and (currently) product marketing. She’s also a longtime artist who’s always dreamed of writing a book––she just thought she might do so in retirement.
Kumar spent her childhood across three countries (Saudi Arabia, India, and the U.S.) that offered dramatically different options for women. Looking back, “it was the small, everyday acts of feminism and dissenting against societal expectations that I appreciate now as an adult,” she said. She recalls a group of "determined aunties” who took shopping into their own hands by not waiting for their husbands to drive them around, arranging for their own mode of transportation instead. She also notes how her mother didn't let the others’ judgement or rule of law deter her from wearing a bindi on her forehead.
After growing up surrounded by strong women, it’s fitting that Kumar’s book celebrates the qualities trailblazing women throughout history possess. Each page of the book features a female pioneer in fields ranging from business to science, with their names corresponding to a letter of the alphabet and a fitting adjective. There’s Ada Lovelace, the mathematician who wrote instructions for the first computer program in the mid-1800s; Indra Nooyi, chair and former CEO of PepsiCo; Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut; and of course, Oprah.
“I love Oprah,” Kumar said. “I love what she stands for, I admire the glass ceilings she has shattered, and I respect the path she has taken.”
World-famous faces, such as Toni Morrison and Frida Kahlo, are alongside lesser-known women, such as Elizabeth Blackwell, Helen Octavia Dickens, and Nora Barney, who were all first in graduating from medical or engineering schools.
Although “A to Z. They’re Just Like Me” was created with elementary-aged readers in mind, Kumar thinks girls aren’t the only group who can benefit from it. “Young boys can learn that the same words we use to describe boys can be used to describe girls,” she said. “And if we want our children to describe themselves differently, then as adults, we need to expand our vocabulary.”
Pushing the envelope
Deciding to self-publish required some bravery, Kumar admits. “I wrote this book with the intention of it being something just for my daughter to enjoy. The thought of self-publishing a book seemed hard, but more than anything else, I was scared––I still am,” she said. “It is not easy to put yourself out there like this.”
But again, she was inspired by Ahana, now two years old. “If I wanted my daughter to be fearless, and push the envelope, then I had to do it myself,” Kumar said. “Publishing this book for all to read is my small contribution to moving forward the conversation on women’s equality.”