Book Review: Always Anjali, by Sheetal Sheth and illustrated by Jessica Blank

Review by Sarai Roman-Mendoza

What is the meaning of your name? Has anyone pronounced your name incorrectly? How did that made you feel?  In Always Anjali, a little girl Anjali struggles in finding the beauty in her name, being in a culture that does not value it. Anjali and her two best friends want matching license plates for their bikes. There is one problem, though. Her friends easily find their names, but Anjali can’t find hers. Anjali feels unrepresented. She also gets bullied for her “different” name, for sticking out in a wrong way. Always Anjali is an inspiring story about difference, embracing your own uniqueness, and reacting with love. Growing up in a culture that is different, Anjali learns to love and take pride in her name.

There are times we feel different and wonder why we “can’t be like everyone else.” This is especially true of children who have a need to belong in a peer group—a group often defined by sameness. Society tends to dictate which aspects of our being are considered “normal” or not. In the context of a child’s desire to “fit in,” any bit of difference can lead to unkindness, bullying and racism. These experiences are especially hard for young children who are in the process of forming their identity.   

Always Anjali is a marvelous picture-book that can be appreciated by all age groups. Its amazing illustrations reinforce the powerful message about embracing one’s culture. In a world where we are always trying to fit in, this book provides the opportunity to start a conversation about accepting ourselves and honoring our diversity. Its authentic representation of the daily struggle that many children from minority cultures go through is something I would have loved reading when growing up. I came to the US from Guerrero Mexico when I was ten years old. I did not speak a single drop of English. On top of adjusting to a new culture, I had to get used to the fact that everyone in my community and school pronounced my name incorrectly. Being only ten years old, making friends and feeling a sense of belonging was extremely important to me. Unfortunately, I could not see myself represented anywhere. My name was a huge part of my identity and every time it was mispronounced I felt very sad. Reading Always Anjali helped me remember these early experiences. Read this book with all age groups. It illustrates the importance of our names. It shows how, in the words of Anjali’s mom, “Your name is a very important part of who you are.”

Always Anjali. (2018). Sheetal Sheth and Jessica Blank (illus). Mango and Marigold Press.

About the Reviewer: My name is Sarai Roman-Mendoza, I am from Guerrero, Mexico. I am currently pursuing my Master’s in Immersion Education at the University of Minnesota. I am a Spanish Immersion kindergarten teacher who LOVES teaching about my culture and learning about another people’s culture.

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