Schools

LA author publishes children's book promoting gender equality


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Helen Vallaeys reads her new book “What You Can Do, I Can Too” to students at Almond School last week.

When Los Altos resident Helen Vallaeys first began writing her picture book “What You Can Do, I Can Too,” she wanted a book she could read to her daughters that taught them women are able to achieve the same things as men.

“I didn’t think in the beginning at all (that) I would get it published,” Vallaeys said. “I truly just set out to write a story for my two little girls that I could read to them.”

In the end, Vallaeys decided she wanted to share her story with a wider audience and recently self-published the book.

“What You Can Do, I Can Too” tells the story of 11 fictional women who work a wide variety of jobs, including pilot, construction worker and lawyer.

Gender equality has long been important to Vallaeys. She is a senior director and the head of Lean In programs at the Sheryl Sandberg & David Goldberg Family Foundation. Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, wrote the best-selling book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.”

Vallaeys has three children: a 5-year-old son, a 3-year-old daughter and an infant girl.

“I really wrote this book initially for my 3-year-old daughter, because I look at her and I want to make sure that she can be or do anything when she grows up,” Vallaeys said.

In the past few weeks, Vallaeys has read the book at local schools and at the Los Altos Library. Although Vallaeys said her target audience is young girls, she thinks parents should also read the book to their sons.

“I think it will resonate with a lot of parents that have daughters,” Vallaeys said. “That’s not to say though that it shouldn’t also be read to boys, to show them how important (gender equality) is.”

The self-publishing process

When Vallaeys conceived of the book’s plot, she wanted to showcase women in a variety of professions, including those that are stereotypically masculine.

The characters in the book include a scientist named Jo, a secret service agent named Ava and a doctor named Roz.

It was also important to Vallaeys that she featured a diverse range of women. The book includes women of color, a woman wearing a headscarf and a woman in a wheelchair.

Not a natural artist herself, Vallaeys hired an illustrator via the freelancing site Upwork. She was drawn to the work of Dani Ward because her illustrations were colorful and vibrant, but also somewhat realistic and not too “cartoonish.”

“I found her illustrations and I immediately fell in love with her work,” Vallaeys said.

Ultimately, Vallaeys decided to self-publish the book through the company IngramSpark. By self-publishing, Vallaeys could choose her illustrator and make all the final decisions about the book herself.

“What You Can Do, I Can Too” is available on Amazon.com.

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