Rustin HS Alumna Publishes Children's Book and Donates Copies to WCASD

Rustin HS Alumna Publishes Children's Book and Donates Copies to WCASD           

 Asia Grant                               Asia Grant and School Board

                 Asia Grant proudly displays a copy of Poncho the Llama                                                                                                   Asia Grant and the WCASD School Board

As a 10th grader at Rustin High School, Asia Grant never thought that a class assignment would have led to her becoming a published author by the age of 22, nor that the subject matter of her story would be so apropos in today's society.

In 2011, Rustin English teacher Sarah Gallagher challenged Grant's honors English class to write a children's book based on an existing word, and its origin. Grant said she was wearing a poncho that day and that's how Poncho the Llama was born.

Poncho the Llama is about a technicolor llama born in a village in Peru filled with llama whose fur is white. After being shunned for looking different, Poncho leaves his home questioning why he does not fit in. On his travels, Poncho encounters a stranger who tells him that his colorful fur is beautiful and that he should celebrate his differences. The two begin a journey together, meeting other colorful animals along the way, leading Poncho down a path of self-discovery and ultimately acceptance.

The overall theme of diversity and acceptance is timely.

"The topics that are troubling today - racism, discrimination, segregation - are very hard things to discuss without feeling guilty or angry or needing to blame someone else. I feel like the opportunity to speak about these things through a children's book creates a level field for everyone to be able to explain their feelings and understand another person's point of view," said Grant.

Despite children being her target audience, Grant said the story strikes a chord with adults due to its message of acceptance, empathy, and self-discovery.

The idea to publish Poncho the Llama was planted in Grant's mind in 2011 when West Chester Area School District Superintendent Jim Scanlon read her assignment and asked to take it home to share with his young children. He later urged her to publish the book.

"I don't think Dr. Scanlon realized how much his suggestion meant to me," said Grant. "That experience and his words stuck with me. There are some of the most motivating and supportive people in the West Chester Area School District. This district helped shape the person I've become, and I wanted to give back."

Grant is giving back. She had donated a copy of Poncho the Llama to each of the district's ten elementary school libraries.

Grant, a 2017 graduate of Penn State University and Schreyer Honors College, now works as a Digital Consultant for IBM in Manhattan.  Her work ethic and drive are enviable; her energy is infectious. This past May, Grant completed her senior thesis, published Poncho the Llama and then graduated with honors from PSU.

Grant said she doesn’t quite fit the mold of ‘corporate America’ and thrives on creativity and self-expression. While proud of all of her academic achievements, Grant said she is most proud of publishing the book.

"I came up with the original idea. I had to structure a schedule around it, find an illustrator, budget for an illustrator, publish the book and handle the marketing. The whole process was very much self-initiated, so it gives me a greater sense of pride and accomplishment," said Grant.

The book's illustrator is Carolyn Balch, who Grant first met in 3rd grade when the two attended Penn Wood Elementary School together. The pair remained friends throughout their years in the West Chester Area School District, so it made perfect sense for them to work together. Balch is currently studying graphic design at Virginia Commonwealth University.

"Plus, Carolyn grew up on a llama farm," added Grant.

"If you notice the illustrations in the book, no one has a face. That was intentional," said Grant. "The whole point of Poncho is to teach empathy. I believe empathy is something that is not seen but is heard. I wanted kids to be able to read the book and not look at the character's faces for how to feel, but rather listen to the words within the context of the story to be able to understand what Poncho was going through, yet at the same time understand what the villagers felt. I hope that Poncho's story will help people have the patience and acceptance to say 'I hear what you are saying, but let's try to look at it again in order to have a more holistic and accepting environment.'"

Grant already has plans for a follow-up book, which focuses on what occurred in the village after Poncho left. Poncho the Llama is available on Amazon and through