EXCLUSIVE! Actor + author Tal Anderson is helping kids feel seen with her new picture book

Actor, filmmaker, advocate...and now Tal Anderson is adding "author" to that impressive list of credentials with the release of her first children's book, Oh, Tal! Not Today.

If Tal looks familiar, it's probably because you've seen her light up your screen as Sid on the equal-parts-hilarious-and-heartwarming Netflix series Atypical. Now, she's on a mission to inspire kids with disabilities, differences or doubts by publishing her adorable (and inclusive) picture book.

We got to chat with Tal about her new title, her own fave reads and (sooo relatable) her love of chocolate croissants...

Girls' Life: Tell us about your new book. What inspired you to create it?

Tal Anderson: Oh, Tal! Not Today. is the first book in a series of picture books called Oh, Tal! that I've been planning to write for a long time. When I was a kid, I felt really misunderstood and confused by the world. I was always being told what not to do, and people were always asking me why I was doing what I was doing. I didn't speak until I was almost 4 years old, so I couldn't really explain what or why I was doing it. But I loved life as a kid, and thankfully I had loving, supportive and patient parents.

The book's illustrator, Michael Richey White, and I met after working together on Atypical. We became friends because we both feel very strongly about acceptance and celebrating everyone for who they are. We decided to collaborate on these books and create them for kids who feel confused, misunderstood or ignored.

That's why I tried to make the main character, Tal, look as universal as possible. We wanted Tal to represent every one of those kids—past, present, and future—no matter who they are or why they feel misunderstood, whether it's because of disability, neurodiversity, personality or identity. 

Girls' Life: What is your favorite page in the book and why? 

Tal: There's a spread in the book where Tal is in front of the TV with her face colored with magic marker. Tal's dad freaks out and clearly doesn't understand that Tal is just trying to become the character on the screen.

It's my favorite page because this story is one that comes directly from my life. I've been a storyteller my whole life, but I didn't speak a lot back then. My brain moved at lightning speed, and I would get pulled into stories on screen or in books so completely that I just wanted to be a part of them. Now, as a writer, actor and filmmaker, it all makes sense. It was hard for people to see that back then because I didn't have the language skills to communicate it. 

Girls' Life: What do you hope kids learn and experience from this book?

Tal: We created this book mainly for those unheard and misunderstood kids—to let them know that it's okay to think on a different track. By seeing a character in a book that you relate to, you feel like you're not the only one.

The book is also for the parents of those kids who might be worried their kid isn't like everyone else because they act or think differently. We wanted to help those parents understand that it's OK, and that if they listen closely and pay attention, they'll feel that they're starting to understand and speak their child's language instead of feeling like they need to force their kid to speak theirs.

Girls' Life: What's up next for the series?

Tal: We currently have two more books planned for the series. In one, Tal goes through a day of school, clubs and soccer, and is constantly being told to "try this instead" as people push Tal in doing things the "typical" way. I'm excited for this book because it highlights that there's more than one way of doing things. The third book concept isn't fully worked out yet, but we know that there will be at least three books in the series. 

Girls' Life: What do you wish more people knew about autism?

Tal: I wish that people understood that autism is a disability, but it's different for every person. It's important when you meet an autistic person that you assume they're competent, especially professionally, and you interact with them as such. A person with autism can be the mayor, but still need to wear headphones in crowds to avoid sensory overload—and that's perfectly OK. Neurodivergent people think differently, so it makes sense that they would also behave differently or have different needs than a neurotypical person might expect them to. That doesn't mean there's something wrong with them—it's just different, and so what if it is?

Girls' Life: What are the best parts of being Tal? What are the toughest parts? How do you get through challenging times?

Tal: Nobody's ever asked me this question before! I think the best part of being me is that I am OK with who I am. I didn't find out I was autistic until I was 15, and for me it was more of a "Hmmm..." moment where it explained a lot of things, but it didn't change anything for me drastically. I was just Tal—I still love horror movies, cats, sushi...and the best part of living in L.A. for me is getting to watch high-speed chases almost every day!

The toughest parts of being me are things like constantly apologizing when things go wrong because I still feel like everything bad that happens is because of me. I know it's irrational, and I continue to work on it. Also, socializing is really challenging. I have an auditory processing disorder as well, so sometimes my brain and mouth work at different speeds, making it hard to follow conversations. I'm also a perfectionist and I second-guess everything I do. It's also really hard not to give in to craving a chocolate croissant every day, or watching the same movies instead of a new one. These are all things that I struggle with!

I think life is challenging for everyone, but I know that my disability probably makes life a little more work for me. For me, happiness is very important. So, I find it helpful to make time to do things that bring me joy and to try not to let the stress of life outweigh being happy. I also have learned to take a moment when times are tough—to just breathe and remind myself that I have time.

Girls' Life: What's one thing most people would be surprised to know about you?

Tal: I'm a pretty open book, but one thing that I think people would find surprising is that I'm half Korean. I was adopted as a baby, and it turns out I had a Korean birth mother. I've known that I was part Korean, but I didn't know it was such a big part. I'd really like to embrace that part of my heritage going forward, both personally and in my work. 

Girls' Life: What never fails to cheer you up when you're feeling down?

Tal: When I'm feeling down or stressed, I can always depend on my cat Winifred to make me feel better. Taking care of another living thing is honestly a great way to stop focusing on yourself, and the love you get back from a pet is so rewarding. 

Girls' Life: What are your favorite books and favorite children's books? Are there any characters you really connect to?

Tal: As a child my favorite story books were always Disney, and for some reason I just really loved and connected with the villains. I think it's because villains were always way more interesting. I'm not really a fiction reader so I usually prefer non-fiction. I read mainly about history, especially the Civil Rights era, and there's always a biography in my house waiting to be read! I just finished reading the Alex Trebek and Matthew Perry biographies.

Growing up I did read some fiction, and I absolutely loved the Harry Potter series, and later loved a few novels like The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher. I liked both of these because the characters are unconventional. Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower is misunderstood and introverted, and I saw myself a little in him.

Girls' Life: What are your dreams for the future—near or far?

Tal: My dream has always been to work in the entertainment industry. I started that journey wanting to act in any way possible, onscreen or onstage. But after high school I decided to go to film school, and I have never regretted that decision. I'm finding that there are so many ways for me to continue telling stories, including being in front of the camera and in other ways like filmmaking, writing and speaking.

Acting is my first love, and I especially love television, so I continue working towards being a series regular. In the long term, I hope to have the opportunity to play a principal role in a major feature film. As a filmmaker, I have made several short films, but a dream I have is to produce a feature film—and I'm getting closer to accomplishing that. The dream farthest into the future is probably writing a pilot and pitching a television show. I'm currently working on a pitch, but I have a lot to learn about writing and television production before I can make this dream come true. Also...I'm still waiting to land that Scream-Queen role I've been waiting for since I was 13!

Girls' Life: What's one piece of advice you'd give another girl who is a lot like you? 

Tal: If you have a dream, go for it and don't believe anyone who tells you that your dream is out of reach. There will always be obstacles and challenges, but if you don't set goals and try your best to reach them, you've failed before you even start. I've achieved things a lot of people didn't think were possible, and I think it's because I worked hard and never gave up. If you have a passion, that's the best thing you have going for you, so use it!

Girls' Life: Anything else you'd like us to know?

Tal: I do what I do as an actor and as an advocate for disability representation because growing up I never connected with a character in media who I thought was like me. Everyone deserves to pick up a book, turn on the TV or sit in a movie theater and see a character they can relate to. Being represented makes you feel seen, and feeling seen helps you believe that you belong. My goal is channel this through all the work I do. 

For more, follow Tal on IG @thetalanderson!

All images: Ronnie Smith


by GL | 6/20/2024