Sasha Graham’s sons Finn and Indy love the 1992 film “3 Ninjas” — so much so that when they found out their mom was pregnant with her third child, a daughter, they ecstatically told her: “She can be our third ninja!”
The boys began affectionately calling their sister “tiny ninja.”
But “tiny ninja” would evolve into something bigger than merely Graham’s daughter Odessa’s nickname.
It became the whole premise — and message — behind Graham’s company, Tiny Ninja Books, and her first, recently published book, “Milo Does Not Like Mornings.”
“For years, I wrote stories about tiny ninjas. Sometimes [Odessa] was the tiny ninja, sometimes it was imaginary; and then about a year ago, it suddenly occurred to me that the tiny ninja was internal and suddenly it all just really worked,” said Graham, a former executive at Walt Disney Studios.
The idea is simple: We each have our own tiny ninja; all we have to do is listen.
“It’s that little voice; when you are scared or uncertain or debating what to do, if you listen to your tiny ninja, it all becomes clear,” the southern Scottsdale resident explained.
Published by Gatekeeper Press, the book tells the story of Milo who doesn’t like mornings and deliberately ignores his Tiny Ninja, who tries to help him wake up.
The book, which was illustrated by Uzbekistan-based Angelina Valieva, also includes four seek-and-find sections where readers are tasked to find the Tiny Ninjas.
“Part of the reason why I wanted to do this was that for pre-readers, it’s really important to engage kids in books before they’re even able to read the words, that it becomes a much more active experience,” Graham explained. “That’s a lot of the feedback I’m getting is the kids love these pages.”
“Milo” is the first in a series of Tiny Ninja Books targeting children ages 4 to 8.
The central idea of each book is “we are born with our own tiny ninja who is the bravest, strongest, most awesome version of us.”
“What I would really love is to have kids who know that the most important voice is the one inside — that they can really trust that voice instead of having to look externally for answers,” Graham said.
One of Graham’s goals — which are framed in her home office — is to publish the second book, “Whitney Wins Everything,” by September 2020.
She then plans to publish a new book every six months.
Graham’s other 2019 goals include selling more than 500 copies per month over the next year, increasing the Tiny Ninja Instagram following by 10,000 by her next birthday, creating a 15-minute presentation for schools and, of course, listening to her own Tiny Ninja.
“I started recognizing the potential beyond the children’s books,” Graham said, adding that she would like to visit as many schools as possible to read to kids.
“I love interacting with kids. I feel like their minds work in these incredible fantastical ways that we’ve trained ourselves out of. So, when I talk to kids and they just say these outlandish things, I feel like I should write it all down,” Graham said.
Graham began selling copies of her book at Kidstop Toys & Books in Scottsdale as a way of supporting local brick-and-mortar stores.
“This was a dream of mine,” she said. “[The owner] has been incredibly supportive and in a way that only I think independent and local businesses have the ability to do.”
Kidstop isn’t the only business showing support for Tiny Ninja Books, though.
In addition to Kidstop, Desert Stages Theatre, Scottsdale Gymnastics and Trampoline, Scottsdale Ranch Park Tennis Center, Sky Zone Trampoline Park Phoenix, SPF Parkour Academy in Scottsdale and Mesa, Tutu School Arcadia and PF Chang’s all participated in the Tiny Ninja Contest.
As part of the month-long contest held in August, visitors were encouraged to take their photo with the Milo and Tiny Ninja standee and post their photo to social media with the appropriate tags.
One winner from each participating location was chosen each week.
“They are just extraordinary,” Graham said. “All of these places have just embraced the book and embraced me and that feels really good.”
Graham returns the favor via Tiny Ninja Books’ “Listen to Your Tiny Ninja” award.
The award recognizes organizations and individuals who not only listen to their Tiny Ninja, but also do extraordinary things in their communities.
The organization’s first award went to Phoenix-based nonprofit Read Better Be Better (RBBB), which equips middle school students to help third graders struggling with reading comprehension and literacy skills.
“For our students, the visualization of a ‘tiny ninja’ inside who is their most awesome and kind self is outstanding self-actualization. We are happy Tiny Ninja Books recognizes RBBB’s efforts to help our students become the strongest versions of themselves,” said RBBB CEO and founder Sophie Etchart in a prepared statement.
RBBB partnered with 36 schools in seven Maricopa County districts, as well as four Boys & Girls Club branches — serving more than 1,152 third graders and 1,152 sixth through eighth graders.
“Read Better Be Better is doing incredibly important work with the students of Arizona, and we are thrilled to support their program through Tiny Ninja Books,” Graham said.
A portion of the proceeds from every copy of “Milo” sold in 2019 will go directly to RBBB. RBBB students helped with the book reading at the book’s launch party at Valley Martial Arts Academy.
“That’s really exciting for me to think about this book having an impact on a child in such a direct way,” Graham said. “That’s part of what’s been just so fun for me is really connecting with the community.”
The next Tiny Ninja Party takes place at Sky Zone on Sept. 19. Information: tinyninjabooks.com.