Teaching Life Lessons at an Early Age: Meet United Way donor and author Wei-Li Shao

Giving back to the community through United Way can take many forms. Donations of time, talent and treasure all serve to support children in pursuit of a quality education; struggling families in pursuit of a stable life; and our vulnerable and homeless neighbors in pursuit of the basics to survive.


For Wei-Li Shao, his United Way donation took the form of a story. Wei-Li always dreamed of being a children’s book author, and who better to serve as his inspiration than his two daughters, Anna and Emmy? In his publishing debut, Wei-Li tells the story of “Anny” (an amalgam of his daughters’ names) in Anny The Tall Girl. Anny is unusually tall for her age and different from other kids at school. She learns how to embrace her differences and celebrate what makes her unique. To date, more than 300 copies of Anny The Tall Girl have been sold through Amazon, with 100 percent of the profits going to United Way of Central Indiana.


We chatted with Wei-Li over the holiday break to learn more about the book, the story, and why giving back to the community means so much to him.


Where did the idea of writing a children’s book come from?

I have two wonderful daughters – Anna (age 14) and Emmy (age 12). When they were young, our bedtime ritual always included storytelling. I would say to them, “girls, go pick out a book for me to read.”  When they scurried off, I must admit I was thinking, “please don’t bring back a book the size of War and Peace!” And yet, they always did [laughing].  When I decided to become a children’s book author, I knew my first story should teach an important message *and* be the perfect length – for young children and their parents!


Tell us about Anny, the story’s main character, and the theme of the book.

I didn’t grow up in the “majority.” Sadly, I remember getting made fun of a lot as a child. It’s likely that we’ve all felt that way at one point in time or another. If I could help my kids understand that unusual traits make us different *and* special, that’s my goal. If someone would’ve told me that as a child, I would’ve loved it.


What was Anna and Emmy’s reaction when you first read them this story?

I told the tale of Anny The Tall Girl hundreds of times to my daughters before I actually turned it into a book. They loved hearing it every time. The girls were very helpful during the creative process. For instance, in my original story, there is no dog. In the final version, I added a dog.  Why?  Because, according to my daughters, kids love dogs. Sure enough, when I read this story to a classroom filled with children, the appearance of the dog is one of their favorite moments in the book.   


Recently, you read Anny The Tall Girl to 20 kids at the Bethel Early Child Academy. Can you describe their reactions?

It’s funny…just eight weeks before this event, I was in front of an audience of 1,000 people giving a presentation. I had zero nerves. That was totally my comfort zone. But reading my book to these 20 kids? I was terrified! I had no idea how to manage the group. However, it turned out very well and was the highlight of my career. The children were engaged in the story, which proved the point that simple stories with good messages work.


After the reading, the children drew pictures illustrating what traits “made them special.” Children can say so much about themselves when you put colorful markers in their hands and tell them to create.  For instance, Daniel said what makes him special is that he eats pineapple (pictured).  It doesn’t get any better than that.



You’re donating all the 2018-2019 proceeds of the book to United Way’s education initiatives. Why?

I’ve been a longtime United Way donor, and I felt I needed to step up my game. For me, this is a great book for families, for schools, for anyone who wants to teach a child an important life lesson. We need to help our children form good perceptions at a very early age. Because, sadly, by the time we’re adults, it’s almost too late.


About Wei-Li Shao

Wei-Li Shao is an executive with 20 years of pharmaceutical and diagnostic imaging experience. He served in a variety of leadership roles for 17 years at Eli Lilly and Company. Prior to Lilly, Wei-Li worked at Pharmacia Corporation and Upjohn. He holds an MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and a bachelor’s in biochemistry from University of Wisconsin-Madison.