(CNN)Growing up as a Sikh boy in South Texas, Simran Jeet Singh longed for books with characters who looked like him and his family. But each visit to a bookstore or library ended in disappointment.
Kid's book about the world's oldest marathon runner is the first by a major publisher to center on a Sikh character
Fast forward about 30 years later, he went back to those same shelves in search of books that reflected his young daughters. But as it turns out, not much had changed.
"I didn't want them to feel invisible," Singh wrote in an email to CNN. "I wanted them to feel proud of their community and to know that their stories deserve to be told."
So he decided to write a children's book that centered on a Sikh character -- the book he never had.
That book is "Fauja Singh Keeps Going," published Tuesday by Penguin Random House. It tells the real-life story of Fauja Singh, a British Sikh centenarian who in 2011 became the oldest person believed to have run a marathon.
It's the first children's picture book by a major publisher to center on a Sikh story, according to the author, and was produced by an all-South Asian team.
"Fauja Singh's perseverance and resilience inspire me to this day, and they are exactly the values I want to instill in my own kids," Singh wrote.
"I also believe that this book can help cultivate empathy for children of all backgrounds: if our kids can learn to see the humanity in those who seem most different from them, they will see the humanity in everyone they meet."
The story begins in the humble village in Punjab, India, where Fauja Singh was born and raised in the early 1900s. Color illustrations by UK-based artist Baljinder Kaur help bring the story to life.
The book chronicles the challenges Fauja Singh faced as a young child, from the birth defect that prevented him from walking until age 5 to how his disability hindered him from getting an education to his persistent efforts to build up his own strength.
It follows Fauja Singh into adulthood as he gets married and has children, and as he decides to emigrate to England in his 80s to be with his family. It takes readers into the moment Fauja Singh decided to take up running in his 80s, and how he overcame obstacles to become the world-famous marathon runner he is today.
It might seem odd at first that a story aimed at children focuses on a man who is now 109 years old. He retired from marathons in 2013.
But one of the key lessons that Singh wanted to instill in young readers was being able to see the humanity in others, even those who look different from them, he said.